The motor system shows a remarkable capacity to generalize learned behavior to new contexts while simultaneously permitting learning of multiple and sometimes conflicting skills. To examine the influence of proprioceptive state on this capacity, we compared the effectiveness of changes in workspace location and limb orientation (horizontal vs. parasagittal plane posture) in facilitating learning of opposing dynamic force-field perturbations. When opposing fields were encountered in similar workspace positions and limb orientations, subjects failed to learn the two tasks. In contrast, differences in initial limb proprioceptive state were sufficient for significant learning to take place. The extent of learning was similar when the two fields were encountered in different arm orientations in a similar workspace location as compared to when learning took place in spatially separated workspace locations, consistent with the generalization of learning mainly in intrinsic joint coordinates. In keeping with these observations, examination of how trial-to-trial adaptation generalized showed that generalization tended to be greater across similar limb postures. However, when the two fields were encountered in distinct spatial locations, the extent of generalization of adaptation to one field depended on the limb orientation in which the other field was encountered. These results suggest that three-dimensional proprioceptive limb state plays an important role in modulating generalization patterns so as to permit the best compromise between broad generalization and the simultaneous learning of conflicting skills.
Keywords: Adaptation; Generalization; Interference; Motor learning; Reaching.