Simultaneous encoding of the direction and orientation of potential targets during reach planning: Evidence of multiple competing reach plans

Brandie M. Stewart, Lee A. Baugh, Jason P. Gallivan, J. Randall Flanagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations


Reaches performed in many natural situations involve selecting a specific target from a number of alternatives. Recent studies show that before reaching, multiple potential reach targets are encoded in brain regions involved in action control and that, when people are required to initiate the reach before the target is specified, initial hand direction is biased by the spatial distribution of potential targets. These findings have led to the suggestion that the brain, during planning, simultaneously prepares multiple reaches to potential targets. In addition to hand direction, reach planning often involves specifying other parameters such as wrist orientation. For example, when posting a letter in a mail slot, both the location and orientation of the slot must be encoded to control hand direction and orientation. Therefore, if the brain prepares multiple reaches to potential targets and if these targets require the specification of hand direction and orientation, then both of these variables should be biased by the spatial distribution of potential targets. To test this prediction, we examined a task in which participants moved a hand-held rectangular tool toward multiple rectangular targets of varying location and orientation, one of which was selected, with equal probability as the actual target after movement initiation. We found that initial hand direction and orientation were biased by the spatial distributions of potential target locations and orientations, respectively. This result is consistent with the idea that the brain, in cases of target uncertainty, simultaneously plans fully specified reaching movements to all potential targets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)807-816
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 8 2013



  • Decision making
  • Goal-directed action
  • Human
  • Visually guided reaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology

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