Hedging Your Bets: Intermediate Movements as Optimal Behavior in the Context of an Incomplete Decision

Adrian M. Haith, David M. Huberdeau, John W. Krakauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Existing theories of movement planning suggest that it takes time to select and prepare the actions required to achieve a given goal. These theories often appeal to circumstances where planning apparently goes awry. For instance, if reaction times are forced to be very low, movement trajectories are often directed between two potential targets. These intermediate movements are generally interpreted as errors of movement planning, arising either from planning being incomplete or from parallel movement plans interfering with one another. Here we present an alternative view: that intermediate movements reflect uncertainty about movement goals. We show how intermediate movements are predicted by an optimal feedback control model that incorporates an ongoing decision about movement goals. According to this view, intermediate movements reflect an exploitation of compatibility between goals. Consequently, reducing the compatibility between goals should reduce the incidence of intermediate movements. In human subjects, we varied the compatibility between potential movement goals in two distinct ways: by varying the spatial separation between targets and by introducing a virtual barrier constraining trajectories to the target and penalizing intermediate movements. In both cases we found that decreasing goal compatibility led to a decreasing incidence of intermediate movements. Our results and theory suggest a more integrated view of decision-making and movement planning in which the primary bottleneck to generating a movement is deciding upon task goals. Determining how to move to achieve a given goal is rapid and automatic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1004171
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 30 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics

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