I often hear the phrase "It's like patting your head and rubbing your tummy/belly" when referring to trying to perform two seemingly simple actions that inexplicably conflict with each other, preventing one or even both of the actions from being performed well.

Another popular example involves swinging your right foot in a clockwise motion while trying to draw the number 6.

It kind of reminds me of "cognitive dissonance", the uncomfortable feeling you get when holding two contradictory beliefs.

So is there a word for this sensation? "Operational dissonance" perhaps? I'd love to read more about it, but I've no idea what to search for.

  • $\begingroup$ How about confusion? $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2021 at 8:13

1 Answer 1


Given the ridiculously inaccessible language that some authors in this field use, it is no wonder that useful terms are hard to come by - like, who came up with this catchy title for a paper?

Bilateral phase entrainment by movement-elicited afference contributes equally to the stability of in-phase and antiphase coordination


Anyway, Franz, Zelaznik, & McCabe (1991), in their equally catchily titled paper "Spatial topological constraints in a bimanual task", came up with a much easier term to remember for the rubbing tummy / patting head phenomenon: The "spatial magnet effect".

This effect is a type of rhythmic or phase "entrainment" (as suggested by the cryptic title above), which is presumably the skill that allows dancers and musicians to coordinate their limb movements so well, at the expense of not being good at performing uncoordinated movements.


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