November 27, 2020

Re-exposure to a sensorimotor perturbation produces opposite effects on explicit and implicit learning processes

The motor system demonstrates an exquisite ability to adapt to changes in the environment, and to quickly reset when these changes prove transient. If similar environmental changes are encountered in the future, learning may be faster, a phenomenon known as savings. In studies of sensorimotor learning, a central component of savings is attributed to the explicit recall of the task structure and appropriate compensatory strategies. Whether implicit adaptation also contributes to savings remains subject to debate (Leow et al., 2020; Yin and Wei, 2020). We tackled this question by measuring, in parallel, explicit and implicit adaptive responses in a visuomotor rotation task, employing a protocol that typically elicits savings. The initial rate of learning, a measure encompassing both processes, was faster in the second exposure to the perturbation. Surprisingly, the overall level of implicit adaptation was lower during relearning. Moreover, we found a significant decrease after relearning in aftereffect magnitudes during no-feedback trials, a direct measure of implicit adaptation. In a second experiment, we isolated implicit adaptation using clamped visual feedback, a method known to eliminate the contribution of explicit learning processes. Consistent with the results of the first experiment, participants exhibited a marked reduction in the adaptation function, as well as an attenuated aftereffect when re-learning from the clamped feedback. These results provide evidence that explicit and implicit sensorimotor processes exhibit opposite effects upon relearning: Explicit learning shows savings, while implicit adaptation becomes attenuated.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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