A single-rate context-dependent learning process underlies rapid adaptation to familiar object dynamics

PLoS Comput Biol. 2011 Sep;7(9):e1002196. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002196. Epub 2011 Sep 29.


Motor learning has been extensively studied using dynamic (force-field) perturbations. These induce movement errors that result in adaptive changes to the motor commands. Several state-space models have been developed to explain how trial-by-trial errors drive the progressive adaptation observed in such studies. These models have been applied to adaptation involving novel dynamics, which typically occurs over tens to hundreds of trials, and which appears to be mediated by a dual-rate adaptation process. In contrast, when manipulating objects with familiar dynamics, subjects adapt rapidly within a few trials. Here, we apply state-space models to familiar dynamics, asking whether adaptation is mediated by a single-rate or dual-rate process. Previously, we reported a task in which subjects rotate an object with known dynamics. By presenting the object at different visual orientations, adaptation was shown to be context-specific, with limited generalization to novel orientations. Here we show that a multiple-context state-space model, with a generalization function tuned to visual object orientation, can reproduce the time-course of adaptation and de-adaptation as well as the observed context-dependent behavior. In contrast to the dual-rate process associated with novel dynamics, we show that a single-rate process mediates adaptation to familiar object dynamics. The model predicts that during exposure to the object across multiple orientations, there will be a degree of independence for adaptation and de-adaptation within each context, and that the states associated with all contexts will slowly de-adapt during exposure in one particular context. We confirm these predictions in two new experiments. Results of the current study thus highlight similarities and differences in the processes engaged during exposure to novel versus familiar dynamics. In both cases, adaptation is mediated by multiple context-specific representations. In the case of familiar object dynamics, however, the representations can be engaged based on visual context, and are updated by a single-rate process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Robotics*
  • User-Computer Interface*