Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 233, Issue 9, pp 2673–2683 | Cite as

Reduced motor preparation during dual-task performance: evidence from startle

  • Dana Maslovat
  • Neil M. Drummond
  • Michael J. Carter
  • Anthony N. Carlsen
Research Article


Previous studies have used a secondary probe reaction time (RT) task to assess attentional demands of a primary task. The current study used a startling acoustic stimulus (SAS) in a probe RT paradigm to test the hypothesis that attentional resources would be directly related to limitations in response preparation. Participants performed an easy or difficult version of a continuous primary task that was either primarily motor in nature (pursuit tracking) or cognitive (counting backward). Concurrently, participants responded to an auditory cue as fast as possible by performing a wrist extension secondary movement. On selected trials, the auditory cue was replaced with a SAS (120 dB), which is thought to involuntarily trigger a prepared response and thus bypass any response initiation bottleneck that may be present when trying to perform two movements. Although startle trials were performed at a shorter latency, both non-startle and startle probe trials resulted in a delayed RT, as compared to single-task trials, consistent with reduced preparation of the secondary task. In addition, analysis of SAS trial RT when a startle indicator was present versus absent provided evidence that the secondary task was at a lowered state of preparation when engaged in the cognitive primary task as compared to a motor primary task, suggesting a facilitative effect on preparatory activation when both the primary and secondary tasks are motoric in nature.


Activation Attention Dual-task Probe reaction time Preparation Startle 



Supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) discovery grant awarded to ANC (RGPIN: 418361-2012). We would also like to acknowledge the assistance of two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dana Maslovat
    • 1
    • 2
  • Neil M. Drummond
    • 3
  • Michael J. Carter
    • 3
  • Anthony N. Carlsen
    • 3
  1. 1.School of KinesiologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Department of KinesiologyLangara CollegeVancouverCanada
  3. 3.School of Human KineticsUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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