Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 216, Issue 4, pp 499–514 | Cite as

Prospective versus predictive control in timing of hitting a falling ball

  • Hiromu KatsumataEmail author
  • Daniel M. Russell
Research Article


Debate exists as to whether humans use prospective or predictive control to intercept an object falling under gravity (Baurès et al. in Vis Res 47:2982–2991, 2007; Zago et al. in Vis Res 48:1532–1538, 2008). Prospective control involves using continuous information to regulate action. τ, the ratio of the size of the gap to the rate of gap closure, has been proposed as the information used in guiding interceptive actions prospectively (Lee in Ecol Psychol 10:221–250, 1998). This form of control is expected to generate movement modulation, where variability decreases over the course of an action based upon more accurate timing information. In contrast, predictive control assumes that a pre-programmed movement is triggered at an appropriate criterion timing variable. For a falling object it is commonly argued that an internal model of gravitational acceleration is used to predict the motion of the object and determine movement initiation. This form of control predicts fixed duration movements initiated at consistent time-to-contact (TTC), either across conditions (constant criterion operational timing) or within conditions (variable criterion operational timing). The current study sought to test predictive and prospective control hypotheses by disrupting continuous visual information of a falling ball and examining consistency in movement initiation and duration, and evidence for movement modulation. Participants (n = 12) batted a ball dropped from three different heights (1, 1.3 and 1.5 m), under both full-vision and partial occlusion conditions. In the occlusion condition, only the initial ball drop and the final 200 ms of ball flight to the interception point could be observed. The initiation of the swing did not occur at a consistent TTC, τ, or any other timing variable across drop heights, in contrast with previous research. However, movement onset was not impacted by occluding the ball flight for 280–380 ms. This finding indicates that humans did not need to be continuously coupled to vision of the ball to initiate the swing accurately, but instead could use predictive control based on acceleration timing information (TTC2). However, other results provide evidence for movement modulation, a characteristic of prospective control. Strong correlations between movement initiation and duration and reduced timing variability from swing onset to arrival at the interception point, both support compensatory variability. An analysis of modulation within the swing revealed that early in the swing, the movement acceleration was strongly correlated to the required mean velocity at swing onset and that later in the swing, the movement acceleration was again strongly correlated with the current required mean velocity. Rather than a consistent movement initiated at the same time, these findings show that the swing was variable but modulated for meeting the demands of each trial. A prospective model of coupling τ bat-ball with τ ball-target was found to provide a very strong linear fit for an average of 69% of the movement duration. These findings provide evidence for predictive control based on TTC2 information in initiating the swing and prospective control based on τ in guiding the bat to intercept the ball.


Interception Time-to-contact Timing Motor control 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Daito-Bunka UniversitySaitamaJapan
  2. 2.Old Dominion UniversityNorfolkUSA

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