To hit moving targets, one not only has to arrive at the right place but also at the right time. Moving quickly reduces spatial precision but increases temporal precision. This may explain why people usually move more quickly toward fast targets than toward slow ones, because arriving at the right time is more important when hitting fast targets. The temporal accuracy required depends not only on the target's speed but also on its length in the direction of motion; it decreases with increasing length. Here we investigate the effects of variations in the target's speed and dimensions on the subject's movement time. We asked subjects to hit targets that moved from left to right as quickly as possible with their index finger. The targets varied in length in the direction of motion (width: affecting both spatial and temporal demands), in length in the orthogonal direction (height: affecting spatial demand), and in speed (affecting temporal demand). Targets were presented in random order during one session and in blocks of trials with identical targets during another session. In the latter session subjects could optimize their strategy for each target separately. In the random condition subjects hit fast targets more quickly than slow ones. Their movement time was also affected by the target's size (the spatial demand), but not by the direction of the elongation. For the blocked condition, subjects did consider the direction of the elongation. We conclude that people do not consider an object's orientation to estimate the temporal demands of an interception task, but that they use the object's size and speed, and their experience from previous trials.

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Experimental Brain Research
Department of Neuroscience

Brouwer, A.-M., Smeets, J., & Brenner, E. (2005). Hitting moving targets: Effects of target speed and dimensions on movement time. Experimental Brain Research, 165(1), 28–36. doi:10.1007/s00221-005-2277-y