Empirical support for 'hastening-through-re-automatization' by contrasting two motor-cognitive dual tasks


Motor-cognitive dual tasks have been intensely studied and it has been demonstrated that even well practiced movements like walking show signs of interference when performed concurrently with a challenging cognitive task. Typically walking speed is reduced, at least in elderly persons. In contrast to these findings, some authors report an increased movement frequency under dual-task conditions, which they call hastening. A tentative explanation has been proposed, assuming that the respective movements are governed by an automatic control regime. Though, under single-task conditions, these automatic processes are supervised by “higher-order” cognitive control processes. However, when a concurrent cognitive task binds all cognitive resources, the automatic process is freed from the detrimental effect of cognitive surveillance, allowing higher movement frequencies. Fast rhythmic movements (> 1 Hz) should more likely be governed by such an automatic process than low frequency discrete repetitive movements. Fifteen subjects performed two repetitive movements under single and dual-task condition, that is, in combination with a mental calculation task. According to the expectations derived from the explanatory concept, we found an increased movement frequency under dual-task conditions only for the fast rhythmic movement (paddleball task) but not for the slower discrete repetitive task (pegboard task). fNIRS measurements of prefrontal cortical load confirmed the idea of an automatic processing in the paddleball task, whereas the pegboard task seems to be more controlled by processes interfering with the calculation related processing.

Frontiers in Psychology