According to a study published in the journal Cell Reports, your brain's motor neurons ready for both possibilities before you've decided which action to take when choosing between options.
"The brain is continuously translating visual targets into actions that can be performed on those targets," study co-author Jason Gallivan, a neuroscientist at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, said in a statement
. "Even outside your conscious awareness, your motor system appears to always be operating in the background, coming up with these potential actions."
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Neuroscientists have long debated whether action sequences in the brain come before or after the brain makes a decision about a target. Thus, researchers in Canada tested how the brain readies for action.
In a study conducted by Gallivan and his colleagues, they observed 16 participants as they watch the cursor move on a computer screen, controlled by a mouse, toward one of two targets.
The vision of participants was fixed to the computer screen, meaning they don't see their hand. The participants were asked to begin their motion before they knew which of the two locations was the right target.
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The experts noticed that the participants plotted a line down the middle, in between the two largest, until they were told which target to aim for. But the researchers had the cursor shift slightly in discordance with the participants' hand and mouse after each iteration.
The participants, though, subconsciously compensated for the subtle shifts.
"When you're forced to launch an action without knowing which target is going to be selected, people simply launch actions that are right down the middle, between the targets," says Gallivan.
The researchers analyzed the movements and learned, the participants split the difference between the two most efficient paths to the two largest, not toward the average distance between the two targets.
"The faithful relationship between the two really surprised us," Gallivan said in a news release. "The spatial averaging behavior is not strategic or deliberate, and it's not linked to target locations."