Effect of task complexity on motor and cognitive preparatory brain activities

E. Mussini, M. Berchicci, V. Bianco, R. L. Perri, F. Quinzi, F. Di Russo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the present study, we investigated scalp-recorded activities of motor and cognitive preparation preceding stimulus presentation in relatively simple and complex visual motor discriminative response tasks (DRTs). Targets and non-targets were presented (with equal probability) in both tasks, and the complexity of the task depended on the discrimination and categorization processing load, which was based on the number of stimuli used (two stimuli in the simple- and four in the complex-DRT, respectively). We recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) in 16 participants in simple-DRT and 16 participants in complex-DRT. At the behavioral level, the performance was faster and more accurate in simple-DRT. Two pre-stimulus ERPs were considered: the central Bereitschaftspotential (BP) and the prefrontal negativity (pN). Both components showed earlier onset and larger amplitude in the complex-DRT. Overall, the simple-DRT required less motor and cognitive preparation in premotor and prefrontal areas compared to the complex-DRT. Present findings also suggest that the pN component was not reported in previous studies, likely because most ERP literature focusing on pre-stimulus ERP used simple-DRTs, and with such a task the pN amplitude is small and can easily go undetected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-16
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • BP
  • Cognitive load
  • ERP
  • pN

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)

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