Formation of a long-term memory for visuomotor adaptation following only a few trials of practice

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Aug;114(2):969-77. doi: 10.1152/jn.00369.2015. Epub 2015 Jun 10.


The term savings refers to faster motor adaptation upon reexposure to a previously experienced perturbation, a phenomenon thought to reflect the existence of a long-term motor memory. It is commonly assumed that sustained practice during the first perturbation exposure is necessary to create this memory. Here we sought to test this assumption by determining the minimum amount of experience necessary during initial adaptation to a visuomotor rotation to bring about savings the following day. Four groups of human subjects experienced 2, 5, 10, or 40 trials of a counterclockwise 30° cursor rotation during reaching movements on one day and were retested the following day to assay for savings. Groups that experienced five trials or more of adaptation on day 1 showed clear savings on day 2. Subjects in all groups learned significantly more from the first rotation trial on day 2 than on day 1, but this learning rate advantage was maintained only in groups that had reached asymptote during the initial exposure. Additional experiments revealed that savings occurred when the magnitude, but not the direction, of the rotation differed across exposures, and when a 5-min break, rather than an overnight one, separated the first and second exposure. The overall pattern of savings we observe across conditions can be explained as rapid retrieval of the state of learning attained during the first exposure rather than as modulation of sensitivity to error. We conclude that a long-term memory for compensating for a perturbation can be rapidly acquired and rapidly retrieved.

Keywords: adaptation; cognition; explicit memory; recall; savings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Memory, Long-Term*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Psychophysics
  • Rotation
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception*
  • Young Adult