Implicit motor learning is essential to the acquisition of motor skills. Examination of implicit motor learning, however, has largely involved single-finger button presses or two-dimensional movements of a computer mouse or joystick. The purpose of this study was to examine sequence-specific implicit motor learning during practice of a three-dimensional (3D) whole-arm reach task. Fifteen young, non-disabled individuals completed two consecutive days of practice of a 3D target task presented in a virtual environment with the dominant, right arm. Stimuli were displayed one at a time and alternated between an eight-target random sequence and an eight-target repeated sequence. Movement of the shoulder and elbow was required to successfully capture a target. Performance was indicated by time to complete a sequence (response time) and analyzed by sequence type (random, repeated). Kinematic data (total distance to complete a sequence, peak velocity, and time to peak velocity) were used to determine how movement changed over time. Results showed significant improvements in performance early in practice, regardless of sequence type. However, individuals completed the repeated sequence faster than the random sequence, indicating sequence-specific implicit motor learning. The difference in response time between the sequence types was driven by the total distance of the hand path; the distance traveled for the repeated sequence was shorter than the distance of the random sequence. Examination of implicit motor learning using 3D reach movements provides the opportunity to study learning using whole-arm movements, an important component of many real-world, functional tasks.
Keywords: Implicit motor learning; Reaching; Sequence learning; Virtual environment.