Competitive state of movements during planning predicts sequence performance

Myrto Mantziara, Tsvetoslav Ivanov, George Houghton, Katja Kornysheva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans can learn and produce skilled movement sequences from memory, yet the nature of sequence planning is not well understood. Previous computational and neurophysiological work suggests that movements in a sequence are planned as parallel graded activations and selected for output through competition. However, the relevance of this planning pattern to sequence production fluency and accuracy, as opposed to the temporal structure of sequences, is unclear. To resolve this question, we assessed the relative availability of constituent movements behaviorally during the preparation of motor sequences from memory. In three separate multisession experiments, healthy participants were trained to retrieve and produce four-element finger press sequences with particular timing according to an abstract sequence cue. We evaluated reaction time (RT) and error rate as markers of movement availability to constituent movement probes. Our results demonstrate that longer preparation time produces more pronounced differences in availability between adjacent sequence elements, whereas no effect was found for sequence speed or temporal grouping. Further, participants with larger position-dependent differences in movement availability tended to initiate correct sequences faster and with a higher temporal accuracy. Our results suggest that competitive preactivation is established gradually during sequence planning and predicts sequence skill, rather than the temporal structure of the motor sequence.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Sequence planning is an integral part of motor sequence control. Here, we demonstrate that the competitive state of sequential movements during sequence planning can be read out behaviorally through movement probes. We show that position-dependent differences in movement availability during planning reflect sequence preparedness and skill but not the timing of the planned sequence. Behavioral access to the preparatory state of movements may serve as a marker of sequence planning capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1251-1268
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity/physiology
  • Motor Skills/physiology
  • Reaction Time/physiology
  • Serial Learning/physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


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