Do young and old adults exhibit different temporal control of gross and fine motor tasks? Evidence for dissociable timing mechanisms

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

2015 annual meeting of the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA)


North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA)


Portland, OR

Publication Date



Previous studies have shown that individual timing variability is correlated across similarly controlled tasks. More specifically, discretely produced tasks exhibit individual difference correlations (Zelaznik & Rosenbaum, 2010). Similarly, tasks that are either discretely or smoothly produced show different timing behavior (Huys et al. 2010). The purpose of the current study was to understand if young and old individuals showed different timing behavior for discrete and smooth gross and fine motor tasks. In order to understand whether a specific type of movement had an effect on the type of timing, the timing variance of four different motor tasks was decomposed into clock and motor variance. Subjects in two groups: young and old, performed four types of movements (gross: walking and cycling, fine: tapping (unimanual and bimanual) and circle drawing) to a metronome for 10 seconds and then without a metronome for 20 seconds. Each block consisted of 10 trials with a total of 50 trials. Clock variance was higher for smooth movements (cycling and circle drawing) for the young group compared to the old. However, clock variance for the discrete movements (walking and tapping) was less variable in the young group compared to the old. The young group had less motor variance for smooth movements (cycling and circle drawing) compared to the old. However, the motor variance was greater in the discrete tasks (walking and tapping). Additionally, the variance was higher in the older group compared to the young. These results show opposite behavior of the clock and motor variances based on the type of task and age. Our findings show that, with age, motor variance for discrete movement increases. However, this effect is not seen for the temporal control of smooth movements from which we conclude that older individuals do not exhibit deficits in controlling smooth movements.

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