Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 217, Issue 1, pp 35–41 | Cite as

Reduced motor asymmetry in older adults when manually tracing paths

  • Rachael K. Raw
  • Richard M. WilkieEmail author
  • Peter R. Culmer
  • Mark Mon-Williams
Research Article


Handedness, a preference towards using the right or left hand, is established in early childhood. Such specialisation allows a higher level of skill to be maintained in the preferred hand on specific tasks through continuous practice and performance. Hand asymmetries might be expected to increase with age because of the time spent practising with the preferred hand. However, neurophysiological work has suggested reduced hemispheric function lateralisation in the ageing brain, and behavioural studies have found reduced motor asymmetries in older adults (Przybyla et al., in Neurosci Lett 489:99–104, 2011). We therefore tested the predictions of behavioural change from reduced hemispheric function by measuring tracing performance (arguably one of the most lateralised of human behaviours) along paths of different thickness in a group of healthy young and older adults. Participants completed the task once with their preferred (right) hand and once with their non-preferred (left) hand. Movement time (MT) and shape accuracy (SA) were dependant variables. A composite measure of MT and SA, the speed accuracy cost function (SACF) provided an overall measure of motor performance. Older participants were slower and less accurate when task demands were high. Combined analyses of both hands revealed reduced asymmetries in MT and SACF in the older group. The young were significantly faster when tracing with their preferred hand, but older participants were equally slow with either hand. Our results are consistent with the growing literature reporting decreased hemispheric function lateralisation in the ageing brain.


Manual control Movement Kinematic Motor asymmetry Ageing Older adult 



Rachael Raw was funded by a Medical Research Council (MRC, UK) CASE PhD studentship along with The Magstim Company Ltd.


  1. Bagesteiro LB, Sainburg RL (2002) Handedness: dominant arm advantages in control of limb dynamics. J Neurophysiol 88:2408–2421PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cabaza R, Grady CL, Nyberg L, McIntosh R, Tulving E, Kapur S (1997) Age-related differences in neural activity during memory encoding and retrieval: a positron emission tomogpraphy study. J Neurosci 17:391–400Google Scholar
  3. Cabeza R (2002) Hemispheric asymmetry reduction in Older Adults: The HAROLD model. Psychol Aging 17(1):85–100PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cabeza R, Anderson ND, Locantore JK, McIntosh AR (2002) Aging gracefully: compensatory brain activity in high-performing older adults. NeuroImage 17:1394–1402PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Calautti C, Serrati C, Baron J-C (2001) Efffects of age on brain activitaion during audiotry-cued thumb-to-index opposition. Stroke 32:139–146PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Culmer PR, Levesley MC, Mon-Williams M, Williams JHG (2009) A new tool for assessing human movement: the kinematic assessment tool. J Neurosci Meth 184(1):184–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Daselaar SM, Rombouts SA, Veltman DJ, Raaijmakers JG, Jonker C (2003) Similar network activated by young and old adults during the acquisition of a motor sequence. Neurobiol Aging 24(7):1013–1019PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Desrosiers J, Hebert R, Bravo G, Dutil E (1995) Upper-extremity motor coordination of healthy elderly people. Age Ageing 24:108–112PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fagard J (1987) Does manual asymmetry of right-handers change between six and nine years of age? Hum Movement Sci 6(4):321–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fang M, Li J, Lu G, Gong X, Yew DT (2005) A fMRI study of age related differential cortical patterns during cued motor movement. Brain Topogr 17(3):127–137PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grady CL, Bernstein LJ, Beig S, Siegenthaler AL (2002) The effects of encoding task on age-related differences in the functional neuroanatomy of face memory. Psychol Aging 17(1):7–23PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Johnson RL, Culmer P, Burke MR, Mon-Williams M, Wilkie RM (2010) Exploring structural learning in handwriting. Exp Brain Res 207(3–4):291–295PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Mattay VS, Fera F, Tessutire A, Hariri AR, Das S, Callicott JH, Weinberger DR (2002) Neurophysiological correlates of age-related changes in human motor function. Neurology 58:630–635PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Morgan M, Phillips JG, Bradshaw JL, Mattingly JB, Iansek R, Bradshaw JA (1994) Age-related motor slowness: simply strategic? J Gerontol Med Sci 49(3):M133–M139Google Scholar
  15. Myronenko A, SongPoint X (2010) Point set registration: coherent drift point. IEEE Trans Pattern Anal Mach Intell 32:1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Oldfield RC (1971) The assessment and analysis of handedness: the Edinburgh inventory. Neuropsychologia 9(1):97–113PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Peinemann A, Lehner C, Conrad B, Siebner HR (2001) Age-related decrease in paired-pulse intracortical inhibition in the human primary motor cortex. Neurosci Lett 313:33–36PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Pohl PS, Winstein CJ, Fisher BE (1995) The locus of age-related movement slowing: sensory processing in continuous goal-directed aiming. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 51B(2):94–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Przybyla A, Haaland KY, Bagesterio LB, Sainburg RL (2011) Motor asymmetry reduction in older adults. Neurosci Lett 489:99–104PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Raw RK, Kountouriotis GK, Mon-Williams M, Wilkie RM (in press) Movement control in older adults: does old age mean middle of the road? J Exp Psychol HumanGoogle Scholar
  21. Rowe JB, Sibner H, Filipovic SR, Cordivari C, Gerschlager W, Rothwell J, Frackowiak R (2006) Aging is associated with contrasting changes in local and distant cortical connectivity in the human motor system. NeuroImage 32:747–760PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sainburg RL, Kalakanis D (2000) Differences in control of limb dynamic during dominant and nondominant arm reaching. J Neurophysiol 83(5):2661–2675PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Teixeira LA (2008) Categories of manual asymmetry and their variation with advancing age. Cortex 44:707–716PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Truman G, Hammond GR (1990) Temporal regularity of tapping by the left and right hands in timed and untimed finger tapping. J Motor Behav 22(4):521–535Google Scholar
  25. Verkerk PH, Schouten JP, Oosterhuis HJGH (1990) Measurement of the handcoordination. Clin Neurol Neurosur 92(2):105–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wang J, Pryzbyla A, Wuebbenhorst K, Haaland KY, Sainburg RL (2011) Aging reduces asymmetries in interlimb transfer of visuomotor adaptation. Exp Brain Res 210:283–290PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ward NS, Frackowiak RSJ (2003) Age-related changes in the neural correlates of motor performance. Brain 126:873–888PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Welsh TN, Higgins L, Elliot D (2007) Are there age-related differences in learning to optimize speed, accuracy and energy expenditure? Hum Movement Sci 26:892–912CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachael K. Raw
    • 1
  • Richard M. Wilkie
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter R. Culmer
    • 2
  • Mark Mon-Williams
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Psychological SciencesUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  2. 2.School of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations