The role of preparation in tuning anticipatory and reflex responses during catching

F. Lacquaniti, C. Maioli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The pattern of muscle responses associated with catching a ball in the presence of vision was investigated by independently varying the height of the drop and the mass of the ball. It was found that the anticipatory EMG responses comprised early and late components. The early components were produced at a roughly constant latency (about 130 msec) from the time of ball release. Their mean amplitude decreased with increasing height of fall. Late components represented the major build-up of muscle activity preceding the ball's impact and were accompanied by limb flexion. Their onset time was roughly constant (about 100 msec) with respect to the time of impact (except in wrist extensors). This indicates that the timing of these responses was based on an accurate estimate of the instantaneous values of the time-to-contact (time remaining before impact). The mean amplitude of the late anticipatory responses increased linearly with the expected momentum of the ball at impact. The reflex responses evoked by the ball's impact consisted in a short-latency coactivation of flexor and extensor muscles at the elbow and wrist joints. Their mean amplitude generally increased with the intensity of the perturbation both in the stretched muscles and in the shortening muscles. We argue that both the anticipatory and the reflex coactivation are centrally preset in preparation for catching and are instrumental for stabilizing limb posture after impact. A model with linear, time-varying viscoelastic coefficients was used to assess the neural and mechanical contributions to the damping of limb oscillations induced by the ball's impact. The model demonstrates that (1) anticipatory muscle stiffening and anticipatory flexion of the limb are synergistic in building up resistance of the hand to vertical displacement and (2) the reflex coactivation produces a further increment of hand stiffness and viscosity which tends to offset the decrement which would result from the limb extension produced by the impact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-148
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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