Movements can be learned implicitly in response to new environmental demands or explicitly through instruction and strategy. The former is often studied in an environment that perturbs movement so that people learn to correct the errors and store a new motor pattern. Here, we demonstrate in human walking that implicit learning of foot placement occurs even when an explicit strategy is used to block changes in foot placement during the learning process. We studied people learning a new walking pattern on a split-belt treadmill with and without an explicit strategy through instruction on where to step. When there is no instruction, subjects implicitly learn to place one foot in front of the other to minimize step-length asymmetry during split-belt walking, and the learned pattern is maintained when the belts are returned to the same speed, i.e., postlearning. When instruction is provided, we block expression of the new foot-placement pattern that would otherwise naturally develop from adaptation. Despite this appearance of no learning in foot placement, subjects show similar postlearning effects as those who were not given any instruction. Thus locomotor adaptation is not dependent on a change in action during learning but instead can be driven entirely by an unexpressed internal recalibration of the desired movement.
Keywords: adaptation; feedback; gait; motor learning; walking.
Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society.