Practice induces a qualitative change in the memory representation for visuomotor learning

J Neurophysiol. 2019 Sep 1;122(3):1050-1059. doi: 10.1152/jn.00830.2018. Epub 2019 Aug 7.


Adaptation of our movements to changes in the environment is known to be supported by multiple learning processes that operate in parallel. One is an implicit recalibration process driven by sensory-prediction errors; the other process counters the perturbation through more deliberate compensation. Prior experience is known to enable adaptation to occur more rapidly, a phenomenon known as "savings," but exactly how experience alters each underlying learning process remains unclear. We measured the relative contributions of implicit recalibration and deliberate compensation to savings across 2 days of practice adapting to a visuomotor rotation. The rate of implicit recalibration showed no improvement with repeated practice. Instead, practice led to deliberate compensation being expressed even when preparation time was very limited. This qualitative change is consistent with the proposal that practice establishes a cached association linking target locations to appropriate motor output, facilitating a transition from deliberate to automatic action selection.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Recent research has shown that savings for visuomotor adaptation is attributable to retrieval of intentional, strategic compensation. This does not seem consistent with the implicit nature of memory for motor skills and calls into question the validity of visuomotor adaptation of reaching movements as a model for motor skill learning. Our findings suggest a solution: that additional practice adapting to a visuomotor perturbation leads to the caching of the initially explicit strategy for countering it.

Keywords: caching; explicit reaiming; learning; procedural memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Association*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult