During the anticipation of a stimulus that induces a predetermined pattern of behavior, a slowly increasing negative electric potential can be recorded from the human scalp at central and parietal electrodes and has been named contingent negative variation (CNV). We used a simple and a choice reaction time paradigm to investigate premovement potentials in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) and in normal controls. There was a clear CNV in young subjects whereas it was negligible in the elderly control subjects and absent in the patients. In addition, we found a slowly increasing positive frontal potential. In normals the steepness of this potential decreased with the complexity of the task (simple vs. choice) and with age. This difference was abolished in the patients: If a slowly increasing positivity was observed at all, it was, on average, larger in the choice task. Reaction times of the patients were disproportionally prolonged in the simple compared to the complex task. These findings support the hypothesis that storing or initiating a simple preprogrammed motor response is more impaired in PD than selecting and initiating a motor response of a more complex task. The electrophysiological recordings suggest that impaired activation of the frontal lobes may be responsible for this deficit.