Rhythmic movements, such as walking, chewing or scratching, are phylogenetically old motor behaviors found in many organisms, ranging from insects to primates. In contrast, discrete movements, such as reaching, grasping or kicking, are behaviors that have reached sophistication primarily in younger species, particularly primates. Neurophysiological and computational research on arm motor control has focused almost exclusively on discrete movements, essentially assuming similar neural circuitry for rhythmic tasks. In contrast, many behavioral studies have focused on rhythmic models, subsuming discrete movement as a special case. Here, using a human functional neuroimaging experiment, we show that in addition to areas activated in rhythmic movement, discrete movement involves several higher cortical planning areas, even when both movement conditions are confined to the same single wrist joint. These results provide neuroscientific evidence that rhythmic arm movement cannot be part of a more general discrete movement system and may require separate neurophysiological and theoretical treatment.
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