The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
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Adaptive adjustments of strategies help optimize behavior in a dynamic and uncertain world. Previous studies in the countermanding (or stop-signal) paradigm have detailed how reaction times (RTs) change with trial sequence, demonstrating adaptive control of movement generation. Comparatively little is known about the adaptive control of movement cancellation in the countermanding task, mainly because movement cancellation implies the absence of an outcome and estimates of movement cancellation require hundreds of trials. Here, we exploit a within-trial proxy of movement cancellation based on recordings of neck muscle activity while human subjects attempted to cancel large eye-head gaze shifts. On a subset of successfully cancelled trials where gaze remains stable, small head-only movements to the target are actively braked by a pulse of antagonist neck muscle activity. The timing of such antagonist muscle recruitment relative to the stop signal, termed the "antagonist latency," tended to decrease or increase after trials with or without a stop-signal, respectively. Over multiple time scales, fluctuations in the antagonist latency tended to be the mirror opposite of those occurring contemporaneously with RTs. These results provide new insights into the adaptive control of movement cancellation at an unprecedented resolution, suggesting it can be as prone to dynamic adjustment as movement generation. Adaptive control in the countermanding task appears to be governed by a dynamic balance between movement cancellation and generation: shifting the balance in favor of movement cancellation slows movement generation, whereas shifting the balance in favor of movement generation slows movement cancellation.