Active braking of whole-arm reaching movements provides single-trial neuromuscular measures of movement cancellation

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Journal of Neuroscience





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Movement inhibition is an aspect of executive control that can be studied using the countermanding paradigm, wherein subjects try to cancel an impending movement following presentation of a stop signal. This paradigm permits estimation of the stop-signal reaction time or the time needed to respond to the stop signal. Numerous countermanding studies have examined fast, ballistic movements, such as saccades, even though many movements in daily life are not ballistic and can be stopped at any point during their trajectory. A benefit of studying the control of nonballistic movements is that antagonist muscle recruitment, which serves to actively brake a movement, presumably arises in response to the stop signal. Here, nine human participants (2 female) performed a center-out whole-arm reaching task with a countermanding component, while we recorded the activity of upper-limb muscles contributing to movement generation and braking. The data show a clear response on antagonist muscles to a stop signal, even for movements that have barely begun. As predicted, the timing of such antagonist recruitment relative to the stop signal covaried with conventional estimates of the stop-signal reaction time, both within and across subjects. The timing of antagonist muscle recruitment also attested to a rapid reprioritization of movement inhibition, with antagonist latencies decreasing across sequences consisting of repeated stop trials; such reprioritization also scaled with error magnitude. We conclude that antagonist muscle recruitment arises as a manifestation of a stopping process, providing a novel, accessible, and within-trial measure of the stop-signal reaction time.