How does what we see influence our brain’s control over our movements?
And what happens in our brain when we change our actions at the last minute- say to move out of the path of a falling object, or to get away from danger?
Understanding how we make fast and accurate decisions and inhibit undesired actions, and how these abilities change during healthy ageing, is the focus of new research by the University of Tasmania’s School of Psychology.
Led by researcher Dr Mark Hinder, the project has exciting potential to uncover new knowledge in an area Dr Hinder describes as ‘poorly understood’
In daily life this might mean less falls and injuries, better upper limb coordination to maintain functional independence and even improved driving safety, among our senior community members.
“Humans have an extremely complex and adaptable motor system that allows engagement with the world through voluntary movement,” Dr Hinder said.
“Our movements are shaped and refined by internally generated cues, external stimuli from our environment and expectations based on prior experience.
“However, despite its fundamental nature, inhibitory control of motor action and cognitive processes remains incompletely understood.”
The three-year project funded by the Australian Government’s Australia Research Council (ARC) under the Discovery Projects scheme for 2020, combines brain stimulation, behavioural experiments and computational modelling and brings together a range of experts including overseas partner investigator Dr Dora Matzke, a world leader in the modelling of inhibitory control.
Most interestingly, the research will use the non-invasive technique of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to investigate the level of activation of different brain regions and how these regions communicate, while participants perform tasks in the laboratory.
“If we know more about how to maintain efficient inhibitory control in later life, it can bring with it significant economic and social benefits considering both our ageing population and workforce,” Dr Hinder said.
The research aims to not only bring to light new knowledge about the mechanisms of inhibitory control but also to help develop new mechanisms for maintaining this control into the later years- a prospect with promising benefits, potentially helping people to move better in their later years.
Examples of this in everyday scenarios might include less falls, improved driving safety and better upper limb coordinate to maintain functional independence, as we age.
“The research will produce fundamental new knowledge about the mechanisms of inhibitory control and how this facility degrades during later life,” Dr Hinder said.
“The data generated will provide an unparalleled picture of the latent psychological processes, and underlying neural mechanisms, associated with inhibitory control in young and healthy older adults.”
The School of Psychology is part of the University's College of Health and Medicine.