To successfully move our hand to a target, we must consider how to get there without hitting surrounding objects. In a dynamic environment this involves being able to respond quickly when our relationship with surrounding objects changes. People adjust their hand movements with a latency of about 120 ms when the visually perceived position of their hand or of the target suddenly changes. It is not known whether people can react as quickly when the position of an obstacle changes. Here we show that quick responses of the hand to changes in obstacle position are possible, but that these responses are direct reactions to the motion in the surrounding. True adjustments to the changed position of the obstacle appeared at much longer latencies (about 200 ms). This is even so when the possible change is predictable. Apparently, our brain uses certain information exceptionally quickly for guiding our movements, at the expense of not always responding adequately. For reaching a target that changes position, one must at some time move in the same direction as the target did. For avoiding obstacles that change position, moving in the same direction as the obstacle is not always an adequate response, not only because it may be easier to avoid the obstacle by moving the other way, but also because one wants to hit the target after passing the obstacle. Perhaps subjects nevertheless quickly respond in the direction of motion because this helps avoid collisions when pressed for time.

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Experimental Brain Research
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Aivar, P., Brenner, E., & Smeets, J. (2008). Avoiding moving obstacles. Experimental Brain Research, 190(3), 251–264. doi:10.1007/s00221-008-1475-9