Evidence for an error deadzone in compensatory tracking

D. M. Wolpert, R. C. Miall*, J. L. Winter, J. F. Stein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Humans and monkeys show intermittent arm movements while tracking moving targets. This intermittency has been explained by postulating either a psychological refractory period after each movement and/or an error deadzone, an area surrounding the target within which movements are not initiated. We present a technique to detect and quantify the size of this deadzone, using a compensatory tracking paradigm that distinguishes it from a psychological refractory period. An artificial deadzone of variable size was added around a visual target displayed on a computer screen. While the subject was within this area, he received visual feedback that showed him to be directly on target. The presence of this artificial deadzone could affect tracking performance only if it exceeded the size of his intrinsic deadzone. Therefore, the size of artificial deadzone at which performance began to be affected revealed the size of the intrinsic deadzone. Measured at the subjects' eye, the deadzone was found to vary between 0.06 and 0.38°, depending on the tracking task and viewing conditions; on the screen, this range was 1.3 mm to 3.3 mm. It increased with increasing speed of the target, with increasing viewing distance, and when the amplitude of the movement required was reduced. However, the deadzone size was not significantly correlated with the subjects' level of performance. We conclude that an intrinsic deadzone exists during compensatory tracking, and we suggest that its size is set by a cognitive process not simply related to the difficulty of the tracking task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-308
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of motor behavior
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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