Coordination of motor planning and memory processes in working memory

Research Areas: 

MOMEM explores how perceptual-motor control and short time storage of visual information are coordinated in working memory. By means of behavioural and neurocognitive methods we aim at measuring and describing the (dual-task) costs that arise when already established motor plans of grasping movements have to be updated. Understanding how the brain coordinates this motor updating while a concurrent verbal memory task is also drawing on working memory resources is the main goal of the project.

Methods and Research Questions: 

The ability to flexibly adapt movements to changing environments is vital. Previous research has shown that actions are measurable and planned in considerable detail prior to motor execution. It seems that action planning is not an isolated operation of the motor system but rather an active cognitive mechanism that interacts with processes of e.g. attention, perception and language.

However, there is a lack of systematic studies that explore the interaction of concurrent motor re-planning and verbal working memory processes. Hence, MOMEM investigates (1) the nature of dual-task costs that arise on side of the motor task and/or on side of the memory task; (2) the role of precision demands on side of the motor task; (3) whether the interaction rather arises on the level of motor planning or on the level of motor control; (4) whether the motor-memory interaction also occurs in movement observation scenarios (cp. action observation network (AON) of the brain); and (5) the electrophysiological basis of the motor-memory interaction.

Starting with a series of behavioral studies (Spiegel, Koester, Weigelt, Schack, in prep) we explore if the re-planning of an already established grasping movement plan interferes with verbal information that is to be held active in working memory during the motor update. The precision demands on side of the motor tasks are systematically varied to test the hypothesis that the re-planning of a high precision motor task leads to higher dual-tasks costs then the re-planning of a less demanding task. Dependent variables on side of the memory tasks are quantity and quality of remembered information and on side of the motor task action time and movement errors. In the second part of the project a movement observation scenario is used to test the hypothesis that motor activation evoked by observed movements also interferes with the active maintenance of verbal information in working memory. In the third part of the project the movement observation scenario is adapted for the use of neurocognitive methods to help understanding the neurophysiological basis of this information processing bottleneck.


The main expected outcome of MOMEM is a better understanding of how the brain coordinates concurrent motor and memory processes and to quantify and qualify dual-task costs that may arise during that interaction. More specifically, the role of motor precision demands will be addressed as well as the point of time of the interaction. The complementing use of different scenarios (motor execution vs. motor observation) and different methods (behavioural vs. neurocognitive) should provide profound information about the nature of the motor-memory cross-talk.