Delayed feedback during sensorimotor learning selectively disrupts adaptation but not strategy use

J Neurophysiol. 2016 Mar;115(3):1499-511. doi: 10.1152/jn.00066.2015. Epub 2016 Jan 20.


In sensorimotor adaptation tasks, feedback delays can cause significant reductions in the rate of learning. This constraint is puzzling given that many skilled behaviors have inherently long delays (e.g., hitting a golf ball). One difference in these task domains is that adaptation is primarily driven by error-based feedback, whereas skilled performance may also rely to a large extent on outcome-based feedback. This difference suggests that error- and outcome-based feedback may engage different learning processes, and these processes may be associated with different temporal constraints. We tested this hypothesis in a visuomotor adaptation task. Error feedback was indicated by the terminal position of a cursor, while outcome feedback was indicated by points. In separate groups of participants, the two feedback signals were presented immediately at the end of the movement, after a delay, or with just the error feedback delayed. Participants learned to counter the rotation in a similar manner regardless of feedback delay. However, the aftereffect, an indicator of implicit motor adaptation, was attenuated with delayed error feedback, consistent with the hypothesis that a different learning process supports performance under delay. We tested this by employing a task that dissociates the contribution of explicit strategies and implicit adaptation. We find that explicit aiming strategies contribute to the majority of the learning curve, regardless of delay; however, implicit learning, measured over the course of learning and by aftereffects, was significantly attenuated with delayed error-based feedback. These experiments offer new insight into the temporal constraints associated with different motor learning processes.

Keywords: forward model; internal model; motor adaptation; motor learning; reinforcement learning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology
  • Feedback, Physiological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Visual Perception