Beside the point: motor adaptation without feedback-based error correction in task-irrelevant conditions

J Neurophysiol. 2012 Feb;107(4):1247-56. doi: 10.1152/jn.00273.2011. Epub 2011 Dec 7.


Adaptation of movement may be driven by the difference between planned and actual motor performance, or the difference between expected and actual sensory consequences of movement. To identify how the nervous system differentially uses these signals, we asked: does motor adaptation occur when movement errors are irrelevant to the task goal? Participants reached on a digitizing tablet from a fixed start location to one of three targets: a point, an arc, or a ray. For the arc, reaches could be in any direction, but to a specific extent. For the ray, reaches could be to any distance, but in a targeted direction. After baseline reaching to the point, the direction or extent of continuous visual feedback was perturbed during training with either a cursor rotation or gain, respectively, while reaching to either the ray (goal = direction) or the arc (goal = extent). The perturbation, therefore, was either relevant or irrelevant to the task goal, depending on target type. During interspersed catch trials, the perturbation was removed and the target switched back to the point, identical to baseline. Although the goal of baseline and catch trials was the same, significant aftereffects in catch trials indicated behavioral adaptation in response to the perturbation. Adaptation occurred regardless of whether the perturbation was relevant to the task, and it was independent of feedback control. The presence of adaptation orthogonal to task demands supports the hypothesis that the nervous system can rely on sensory prediction to drive motor learning that can generalize across tasks.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Feedback*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time
  • Rotation*
  • Young Adult