A spatial explicit strategy reduces error but interferes with sensorimotor adaptation

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Jun;105(6):2843-51. doi: 10.1152/jn.00002.2011. Epub 2011 Mar 30.


Although sensorimotor adaptation is typically thought of as an implicit form of learning, it has been shown that participants who gain explicit awareness of the nature of the perturbation during adaptation exhibit more learning than those who do not. With rare exceptions, however, explicit awareness is typically polled at the end of the study. Here, we provided participants with either an explicit spatial strategy or no instructions before learning. Early in learning, explicit instructions greatly reduced movement errors but also resulted in increased trial-to-trial variability and longer reaction times. Late in adaptation, performance was indistinguishable between the explicit and implicit groups, but the mechanisms underlying performance improvements remained fundamentally different, as revealed by catch trials. The progression of implicit recalibration in the explicit group was modulated by the use of an explicit strategy: these participants showed a lower level of recalibration as well as decreased aftereffects. This phenomenon may be due to the reduced magnitude of errors made to the target during adaptation or inhibition of implicit learning mechanisms by explicit processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Awareness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Young Adult