The effects of awareness of the perturbation during motor adaptation on hand localization

PLoS One. 2019 Aug 9;14(8):e0220884. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220884. eCollection 2019.


Awareness of task demands is often used during rehabilitation and sports training by providing instructions which appears to accelerate learning and improve performance through explicit motor learning. However, the effects of awareness of perturbations on the changes in estimates of hand position resulting from motor learning are not well understood. In this study, people adapted their reaches to a visuomotor rotation while either receiving instructions on the nature of the perturbation, experiencing a large rotation, or both to generate awareness of the perturbation and increase the contribution of explicit learning. We found that instructions and/or larger rotations allowed people to activate or deactivate part of the learned strategy at will and elicited explicit changes in open-loop reaches, while a small rotation without instructions did not. However, these differences in awareness, and even manipulations of awareness and perturbation size, did not appear to affect learning-induced changes in hand-localization estimates. This was true when estimates of the adapted hand location reflected changes in proprioception, produced when the hand was displaced by a robot, and also when hand location estimates were based on efferent-based predictions of self-generated hand movements. In other words, visuomotor adaptation led to significant shifts in predicted and perceived hand location that were not modulated by either instruction or perturbation size. Our results indicate that not all outcomes of motor learning benefit from an explicit awareness of the task. Particularly, proprioceptive recalibration and the updating of predicted sensory consequences appear to be largely implicit. (data:, preprint:

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Awareness*
  • Female
  • Hand*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Proprioception*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Robotics
  • Rotation
  • Space Perception
  • Visual Perception

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant to DYPH and BM’tH was partially funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft: HA 6861/2-1. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.