Coordination dynamics and attentional costs of continuous and discontinuous bimanual circle drawing movements

Jeffery Summers, Sabrina Maeder & Cynthia Hiraga

University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

It has been suggested that the temporal control of rhythmic unimanual movements is different between tasks requiring continuous (e.g., circle drawing) and discontinuous movements (e.g., finger tapping). Specifically, for continuous movements temporal regularities are an emergent property, whereas for tasks that involve discontinuities timing is an explicit part of the action goal. The present experiment further investigated the control of continuous and discontinuous movements by comparing the coordination dynamics and attentional demands of bimanual continuous circle drawing with bimanual intermittent circle drawing. The intermittent task required participants to insert a 400 ms pause between each cycle while circling. Using dual-task methodology, 15 right-handed subjects performed the two circle drawing tasks while vocally responding to randomly presented auditory probes. The circle drawing tasks were performed in symmetrical and asymmetrical coordination modes and at movement frequencies of 1 Hz and 1.7 Hz. Intermittent circle drawing exhibited superior spatial and temporal accuracy and stability than continuous circle drawing supporting the hypothesis that the two tasks have different underlying control processes. In terms of attentional cost, probe RT was significantly slower during the intermittent circle drawing task than the continuous circle drawing task across both coordination modes and movement frequencies. Of interest was the finding that in the intermittent circling task reaction time (RT) to probes presented during the pause between cycles did not differ from the RT to probes occurring during the circling movement. The differences in attentional demands between the intermittent and continuous circle drawing tasks may reflect the operation of explicit event timing and implicit emergent timing processes, respectively.