Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The cerebral cortex contains circuitry for continuously computing properties of the environment and one's body, as well as relations among those properties. The success of complex perceptuomotor performances requires integrated, simultaneous use of such relational information. Ball catching is a good example as it involves reaching and grasping of visually pursued objects that move relative to the catcher. Although integrated neural control of catching has received sparse attention in the neuroscience literature, behavioral observations have led to the identification of control principles that may be embodied in the involved neural circuits. Here, we report a catching experiment that refines those principles via a novel manipulation. Visual field motion was used to perturb velocity information about balls traveling on various trajectories relative to a seated catcher, with various initial hand positions. The experiment produced evidence for a continuous, prospective catching strategy, in which hand movements are planned based on gaze-centered ball velocity and ball position information. Such a strategy was implemented in a new neural model, which suggests how position, velocity, and temporal information streams combine to shape catching movements. The model accurately reproduces the main and interaction effects found in the behavioral experiment and provides an interpretation of recently observed target motion-related activity in the motor cortex during interceptive reaching by monkeys. It functionally interprets a broad range of neurobiological and behavioral data, and thus contributes to a unified theory of the neural control of reaching to stationary and moving targets.