Decision making in slow and rapid reaching: Sacrificing success to minimize effort

Constanze Hesse* (Corresponding Author), Karina Kangur, Amelia R Hunt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
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Current studies on visuomotor decision making come to inconsistent conclusions regarding the optimality with which these decisions are made. When executing rapid reaching movements under uncertainty, humans tend to automatically select optimal movement paths that take into account the position of all potential targets (spatial averaging). In contrast, humans rarely employ optimal strategies when making decisions on whether to pursue two action goals simultaneously or prioritise one goal over another. Here, we manipulated whether spatial averaging or pre-selection of a single target would provide the optimal strategy by varying the spatial separation between two potential movement targets as well as the time available for movement execution. In Experiment 1, we aimed to determine the time needed to reach for targets with small and large separation between them and to measure baseline strategies under low time pressure. Given generous time limits, participants did not employ a pure averaging approach but instead tended to pre-select the target that was easiest to reach and corrected their movement path in-flight if required. In Experiment 2, a strict time limit was set such that the optimal strategy to reach the correct target depended on the separation between the potential targets: for small separations, there was enough time to employ averaging strategies, but higher success for larger separations required pre-selecting the final target instead. While participants varied in the strategies they preferred, none of them flexibly adjusted their movement strategies depending on the spatial separation of the targets. In Experiment 3, we confirm the bias toward targets that are easiest to reach and show that this comes at the expense of overall task success. The results suggest a strong tendency for humans to minimize immediate movement effort and a general failure to adapt movement strategies flexibly with changes in the task parameters.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104426
Number of pages18
Early online date14 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation (Scholar Award to ARH).
Supplementary Material
Data available at:


  • hand movements
  • visuomotor choice
  • optimality
  • movement preparation
  • multiple targets


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