The role of proprioception and attention in a visuomotor adaptation task

Exp Brain Res. 2000 May;132(1):114-26. doi: 10.1007/s002219900322.


The role of proprioception in the control and adaptation of visuomotor relationships is still unclear. We have studied a deafferented subject, IW, and control subjects in a task in which they used single joint elbow extension to move to a visual target, with visual feedback of the terminal position provided by a cursor displayed in the plane of their movements. We report the differences in movement accuracy between the deafferented subject and controls in the normal task and when challenged with a cognitive load, counting backwards. All subjects were less accurate when counting; this was a small effect for the controls (<10% change) but much greater for the deafferented subject (>60% change). We also examined changes in movement kinematics when the instructed amplitude was altered via a changed gain between final arm position and presentation of the feedback cursor. The deafferented subject maintained temporal movement parameters stable and altered amplitude by scaling force (i.e. changed peak velocity), whereas the controls scaled both movement velocity and duration. Finally, we compared the subjects' adaptation of movement amplitude after a period of exposure to the changed visuomotor gain. The deafferented subject was able to adapt, but his adaptation was severely impaired by the counting task. These results suggest that proprioception is not an absolute requirement for adaptation to occur. Instead, proprioception has a more subtle role to play in the adjustment to visuomotor perturbations. It has an important role in the control of reaching movements, while in the absence of proprioception, attention appears necessary to monitor movements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Denervation
  • Elbow / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Proprioception / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reference Values