Cognitive Load and Prism Adaptation

J Mot Behav. 1992 Sep;24(3):238-246. doi: 10.1080/00222895.1992.9941619.


Subjects wore goggles with prisms that laterally displaced the visual field (rightward by 11.4 degree) and with full view of the limb engaged in paced (2-s rate) sagittal pointing at either an implicit ("straight ahead of the nose") target (Experiment 1) or an explicit (positioned leftward by 11.4 degree) target (in Experiment 2). In experimental conditions, subjects performed a secondary cognitive task (mental arithmetic) simultaneously during target pointing. In control conditions, no cognitive load was imposed. Aftereffect measures of adaptation to the prismatic displacement were not substantially different when problem solving was required, but terminal error of the exposure pointing task was reliably affected by cognitive load. These results are consistent with the hypothesis of separable mechanisms for adaptive coordination and adaptive alignment. Adaptive coordination may be mediated by strategically flexible coordinative linkage between sensory motor systems (eye-head and hand-head), but spatial alignment seems to be mediated by adaptive encoders within coordinatively linked subsystems. If the coordination task involves predominately automatic processing, coordinative linkage can be frequent enough under cognitive load for substantial realignment to occur even though exposure performance (adaptive coordination) may be less than optimal.