Movement preparation of bimanual asymmetric movements is longer than bimanual symmetric movements in choice reaction time conditions, even when movements are cued directly by illuminating the targets (Blinch et al. in Exp Brain Res 232(3):947–955, 2014). This bimanual asymmetric cost may be caused by increased processing demands on response programming, but this requires further investigation. The present experiment tested the demands on response programming for bimanual movements by temporally separating the preparation of each arm. This was achieved by precuing the target of one arm before the imperative stimulus. We asked: What was prepared in advance when one arm was precued? The answer to this question would suggest which process causes the bimanual asymmetric cost. Advance movement preparation was examined by comparing reaction times with and without a precue for the left target and by occasionally replacing the imperative stimulus with a loud, startling tone (120 dB). A startle tone releases whatever movement is prepared in advance with a much shorter reaction time than control trials (Carlsen et al. in Clin Neurophysiol 123(1):21–33, 2012). Participants made bimanual symmetric and asymmetric reaching movements in simple and 2-choice reaction time conditions and a condition with a precue for the left target. We found a bimanual asymmetric cost in 2-choice conditions, and the asymmetric cost was significantly smaller when the left target was precued. These results, and the results from startle trials, suggest (1) that the precued movement was not fully programmed but partially programmed before the imperative stimulus and (2) that the asymmetric cost was caused by increased processing demands on response programming. Overall, the results support the notion that bimanual movements are not the sum of two unimanual movements; instead, the two arms of a bimanual movement are unified into a functional unit. When one target is precued, this critical unification likely occurs during response programming.
- Bimanual symmetric and asymmetric movements
- Response programming
- Start-react effect