Two ways to save a newly learned motor pattern

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Jun 1;113(10):3519-30. doi: 10.1152/jn.00965.2014. Epub 2015 Apr 8.


Savings, or faster relearning after initial learning, demonstrates humans' remarkable ability to retain learned movements amid changing environments. This is important within the context of locomotion, as the ability of the nervous system to "remember" how to walk in specific environments enables us to navigate changing terrains and progressively improve gait patterns with rehabilitation. Here, we used a split-belt treadmill to study precisely how people save newly learned walking patterns. In Experiment 1, we investigated savings by systematically varying the learning and unlearning environments. Savings was predominantly influenced by 1) previous exposure to similar abrupt changes in the environment and 2) the amount of exposure to the new environment. Relearning was fastest when these two factors coincided, and we did not observe savings after the environment was introduced gradually during initial learning. In Experiment 2, we then studied whether people store explicit information about different walking environments that mirrors savings of a new walking pattern. Like savings, we found that previous exposure to abrupt changes in the environment also drove the ability to recall a previously experienced walking environment accurately. Crucially, the information recalled was extrinsic information about the learning environment (i.e., treadmill speeds) and not intrinsic information about the walking pattern itself. We conclude that simply learning a new walking pattern is not enough for long-term savings; rather, savings of a learned walking pattern involves recall of the environment or extended training at the learned state.

Keywords: adaptation; gait; motor learning; savings; split-belt treadmill.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Environment
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Random Allocation
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Walking / physiology*
  • Young Adult