Engagement of the motor system in position monitoring: reduced distractor suppression and effects of internal representation quality on motor kinematics

Christina Howard, Hayley Boulton, Emily Brown, Craig Arnold, Matthew Belmonte, Suvobrata Mitra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The position monitoring task is a measure of divided spatial attention in which participants track the changing positions of one or more objects, attempting to represent positions with as much precision as possible. Typically precision of representations declines with each target object added to participants’ attention load. Since the motor system requires precise representations of changing target positions, we investigated whether position monitoring would be facilitated by increasing engagement of the motor system. Using motion capture, we recorded the positions of participants’ index finger during pointing responses. Participants attempted to monitor the changing positions of between one and four target discs as they moved randomly around a large projected display. After a period of disc motion, all discs disappeared and participants were prompted to report the final position of one of the targets, either by mouse click or by pointing to the final perceived position on the screen. For mouse click responses, precision declined with attentional load. For pointing responses, precision declined only up to three targets and remained at the same level for four targets, suggesting obligatory attention to all four objects for loads above two targets. Kinematic profiles for pointing responses for highest and lowest loads showed greater motor adjustments during the point, demonstrating that, like external environmental task demands, the quality of internal representations affects motor kinematics. Specifically, these adjustments reflect the difficulty of both pointing to very precisely represented locations as well as keeping representations distinct from one another.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1445-1460
Number of pages16
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Early online date15 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

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