The present work provides an empirical test of the Dynamic Field Theory of visuospatial cognition. The Dynamic Field Theory is a bi-stable neural network model applied to explain how visual information is integrated during the preparation of reaching responses (Erlhagen and Schöner). The dynamic field theory posits that motor cortices develop peaks of activation for each possible target in the visual field. Targets that are close in space produce neural peaks with overlapping distributions, whereas targets that are far apart produce distinct peaks with non-overlapping distributions. As such, the Dynamic Field Theory predicts reaction times to potential targets that are close in space will be faster than those to targets that are far apart. The present work examined how proximal and distal distractors impact reaction time in an upper-limb reaching task. The results demonstrated that distal distractors result in prolonged reaction times compared to proximal distractors. We suggest that reaction time represents the time required to inhibit neural activity representing the location of the distractor. Thus, prolonged reaction times observed for distal distractors reflect the temporal demands associated with the competition of two non-overlapping distributions of activity in the brain. These findings support the tenets of the Dynamic Field Theory and demonstrate that non-target stimuli in the visual field can influence movement preparation.
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