An optimization principle for determining movement duration

Hirokazu Tanaka, John W. Krakauer, Ning Qian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Movement duration is an integral component of motor control, but nearly all extant optimization models of motor planning prefix duration instead of explaining it. Here we propose a new optimization principle that predicts movement duration. The model assumes that the brain attempts to minimize movement duration under the constraint of meeting an accuracy criterion. The criterion is task and context dependent but is fixed for a given task and context. The model determines a unique duration as a trade-off between speed (time optimality) and accuracy (acceptable endpoint scatter). We analyzed the model for a linear motor plant, and obtained a closed-form equation for determining movement duration. By solving the equation numerically with specific plant parameters for the eye and arm, we found that the model can reproduce saccade duration as a function of amplitude (the main sequence), and arm-movement duration as a function of the ratio of target distance to size (Fitts's law). In addition, it explains the dependency of peak saccadic speed on amplitude and the dependency of saccadic duration on initial eye position. Furthermore, for arm movements, the model predicts a scaling relationship between peak velocity and distance and a reduction in movement duration with a moderate increase in viscosity. Finally, for a linear plant, our model predicts a neural control signal identical to that of the minimum-variance model set to the same movement duration. This control signal is a smooth function of time (except at the endpoint), in contrast to the discontinuous bang-bang control found in the time-optimal control literature. We suggest that one aspect of movement planning, as revealed by movement duration, may be to assign an endpoint accuracy criterion for a given task and context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3875-3886
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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