January 20, 2021

Previous motor actions outweigh sensory information in sensorimotor learning

Humans can use their previous experience in form of statistical priors to improve decisions. It is however unclear how such priors are learned and represented. Importantly, it has remained elusive whether prior learning is independent of the sensorimotor system involved in the learning process or not, as both modality-specific and modality-general learning have been reported in the past. Here, we used a saccadic eye movement task to probe the learning and representation of a spatial prior across a few trials. In this task, learning occurs in an unsupervised manner and through encountering trial-by-trial visual hints drawn from a distribution centered on the target location. Using a model-comparison approach, we found that participants’ prior knowledge is largely represented in the form of their previous motor actions, with minimal influence from the previously seen visual hints. By using two different motor contexts for response (looking either at the estimated target location, or exactly opposite to it), we could further compare whether prior experience obtained in one motor context can be transferred to the other. Although learning curves were highly similar, and participants seemed to use the same strategy for both response types, they could not transfer their knowledge between contexts, as performance and confidence ratings dropped to naive levels after a switch of the required response. Together, our results suggest that humans preferably use the internal representations of their previous motor actions, rather than past incoming sensory information, to form statistical sensorimotor priors on the timescale of a few trials.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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