Trading off speed and accuracy in rapid, goal-directed movements

Mark Dean, Shih Wei Wu, Laurence T. Maloney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many studies have shown that humans face a trade-off between the speed and accuracy with which they can make movements. In this article, we asked whether humans choose movement time to maximize expected gain by taking into account their own speed-accuracy trade-off (SAT). We studied this question within the context of a rapid pointing task in which subjects received a reward for hitting a target on a monitor. The experimental design we used had two parts. First, we estimated individual trade-offs by motivating subjects to perform the pointing task under four different time constraints. Second, we tested whether subjects selected movement time optimally in an environment where they were rewarded for both speed and accuracy; the value of the target decreased linearly over time to zero. We ran two conditions in which the subjects faced different decay rates. Overall, the performance of 13 out of 16 subjects was indistinguishable from optimal. We concluded that in planning movements, humans take into account their own SAT to maximize expected gain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 30 2007


  • Decision making
  • Movement planning
  • Optimality
  • Speed-accuracy trade-off
  • Statistical decision theory
  • Visuomotor control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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