Time for Action: Neural Basis of the Costs and Benefits of Temporal Predictability for Competing Response Choices
Abstract The brain can anticipate the time of imminent events to optimize sensorimotor processing. Yet, there can be behavioral costs of temporal predictability under situations of response conflict. Here, we sought to identify the neural basis of these costs and benefits by examining motor control processes in a combined EEG–EMG study. We recorded electrophysiological markers of response activation and inhibition over motor cortex when the onset-time of visual targets could be predicted, or not, and when responses necessitated conflict resolution, or not. If stimuli were temporally predictable but evoked conflicting responses, we observed increased intertrial consistency in the delta range over the motor cortex involved in response implementation, perhaps reflecting increased response difficulty. More importantly, temporal predictability differentially modulated motor cortex activity as a function of response conflict before the response was even initiated. This effect occurred in the hemisphere ipsilateral to the response, which is involved in inhibiting unwanted actions. If target features all triggered the same response, temporal predictability increased cortical inhibition of the incorrect response hand. Conversely, if different target features triggered two conflicting responses, temporal predictability decreased inhibition of the incorrect, yet prepotent, response. This dissociation reconciles the well-established behavioral benefits of temporal predictability for nonconflicting responses as well as its costs for conflicting ones by providing an elegant mechanism that operates selectively over the motor cortex involved in suppressing inappropriate actions just before response initiation. Taken together, our results demonstrate that temporal information differentially guides motor activity depending on response choice complexity.
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