Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Age-related changes of movement patterns in discrete Fitts’ task

Rita Sleimen-Malkoun12*, Jean-Jacques Temprado1 and Eric Berton1

Author Affiliations

1 Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, Institut des Sciences du Mouvement, UMR 7287 Marseille, France

2 Aix-Marseille Université, Inserm, Institut de Neurosciences des Systèmes, UMR 1106 Marseille, France

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:145  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-145

Published: 14 November 2013



Inspired by the framework of dynamical system theory, we aimed at exploring how the behavioural repertoire of the sensorimotor system can be reshaped with aging. Our reasoning was founded on the assumption that, with age, some of the existing patterns can be destabilized or even lost. In the present paper, this issue was investigated through the study of age-related changes in the movement patterns that are used to perform a discrete Fitts’ task. We analysed the performance of two groups of participants (young and older adults) across nine task difficulty levels, obtained via manipulation of target width.


Two movement patterns were revealed by the fact that increase in the index of the difficulty (ID) was accommodated through either the lengthening of both acceleration (AT) and deceleration (DT) times (co-variation pattern), or only DT (dissociation pattern). Analysis of the discontinuity in ID-AT relation showed that young participants switched from the co-variation to the dissociation pattern as ID increased. Pattern switching was accompanied by concomitant changes in the variability of AT/DT ratio. Older adults, on the other hand, used the dissociation pattern regardless of the ID. Consequently, they showed neither an abrupt discontinuity in ID-AT relation nor significant changes in the variability of AT/DT ratio across difficulty levels. Though the dissociation pattern was adaptive in young adults for high accuracy constraints, in older adults, it compromised task performance for lower difficulty levels.


These findings support the view that aging may result in a compression of the neuro-behavioural repertoire. In sensorimotor tasks, it can lead to a loss of multi-stability in terms of available movement patterns, thereby compromising the ability of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system to adapt and face task constraints.

Aging; Discrete Fitts’ task; Behavioural dynamics; Movement patterns