November 28, 2020

The effect of sequence learning on sensorimotor adaptation

Motor skill learning involves both sensorimotor adaptation (calibrating the response to task dynamics and kinematics), and sequence learning (executing the task elements in the correct order at the necessary speed). These processes typically occur together in natural behavior and share much in common, such as working memory demands, development, and possibly neural substrates. However, sensorimotor and sequence learning are usually studied in isolation in research settings, for example as force field adaptation or serial reaction time tasks (SRTT), respectively. It is therefore unclear whether having predictive sequence information during sensorimotor adaptation would facilitate performance, perhaps by improving sensorimotor planning, or if it would impair performance, perhaps by occupying neural resources needed for sensorimotor learning. Here we evaluated adaptation to a distance-dependent force field in two different SRTT contexts: In Experiment 1, 28 subjects reached between 4 targets in a sequenced or random order. In Experiment 2, 40 subjects reached to one target, but 3 force field directions were applied in a sequenced or random order. We did not observe any consistent influence of target position sequence on force field adaptation in Experiment 1. However, sequencing of force field directions facilitated sensorimotor adaptation and retention in Experiment 2. This is inconsistent with the idea that sensorimotor and sequence learning share neural resources in any mutually exclusive fashion. These findings indicate that under certain conditions, perhaps especially when the sequence is related to the sensorimotor perturbation itself as in Experiment 2, sequence learning may interact with sensorimotor learning in a facilitatory manner.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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