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Nobuyuki Inui and Yumi Katsura

We conducted an experiment to examine age-related differences in the control of force and timing in a finger-tapping sequence with an attenuated-force tap. Participants between 7 and 20 years old tapped on a load cell with feedback on practice trials. They were required to recall the force pattern (300 g, 300 g, 300 g, 100 g) and the intertap interval (400 ms) without feedback on test trials. Analysis indicated that the last attenuated tap affected the first three taps of the tapping sequence in adults and adolescents but not in children. Adults and adolescents appeared to respond with four taps as a chunk, resulting in a contextual effect on the timing of force control, but younger children had difficulty with such chunking. Further, adults and adolescents were able to more accurately produce individual force magnitudes to match target magnitudes than younger children. For the ratio of force in serial positions 1:4, 2:4, and 3:4, consequently, 7- to 8-year-old children had lower ratios than the other age groups. Although there was no difference among age groups for timing control of peak force to press duration as a control strategy of force, 7- to 8-year-old children spent more time to produce force than the other age groups. Peak force with a decreased force was more variable in the attenuated force serial position (4) than in the other serial positions in all five age groups. Peak force variability was particularly robust in younger children. These findings suggest that younger children have difficulty with both temporal and spatial (i.e., magnitude) components of force control.