Task Errors Drive Memories That Improve Sensorimotor Adaptation

J Neurosci. 2020 Apr 8;40(15):3075-3088. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1506-19.2020. Epub 2020 Feb 6.


Traditional views of sensorimotor adaptation (i.e., adaptation of movements to perturbed sensory feedback) emphasize the role of automatic, implicit correction of sensory prediction errors. However, latent memories formed during sensorimotor adaptation, manifest as improved relearning (e.g., savings), have recently been attributed to strategic corrections of task errors (failures to achieve task goals). To dissociate contributions of task errors and sensory prediction errors to latent sensorimotor memories, we perturbed target locations to remove or enforce task errors during learning and/or test, with male/female human participants. Adaptation improved after learning in all conditions where participants were permitted to correct task errors, and did not improve whenever we prevented correction of task errors. Thus, previous correction of task errors was both necessary and sufficient to improve adaptation. In contrast, a history of sensory prediction errors was neither sufficient nor obligatory for improved adaptation. Limiting movement preparation time showed that the latent memories driven by learning to correct task errors take at least two forms: a time-consuming but flexible component, and a rapidly expressible, inflexible component. The results provide strong support for the idea that movement corrections driven by a failure to successfully achieve movement goals underpin motor memories that manifest as savings. Such persistent memories are not exclusively mediated by time-consuming strategic processes but also comprise a rapidly expressible but inflexible component. The distinct characteristics of these putative processes suggest dissociable underlying mechanisms, and imply that identification of the neural basis for adaptation and savings will require methods that allow such dissociations.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Latent motor memories formed during sensorimotor adaptation manifest as improved adaptation when sensorimotor perturbations are reencountered. Conflicting theories suggest that this "savings" is underpinned by different mechanisms, including a memory of successful actions, a memory of errors, or an aiming strategy to correct task errors. Here we show that learning to correct task errors is sufficient to show improved subsequent adaptation with respect to naive performance, even when tested in the absence of task errors. In contrast, a history of sensory prediction errors is neither sufficient nor obligatory for improved adaptation. Finally, we show that latent sensorimotor memories driven by task errors comprise at least two distinct components: a time-consuming, flexible component, and a rapidly expressible, inflexible component.

Keywords: motor learning; motor memories; savings; sensorimotor adaptation; visuomotor rotation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Feedback, Sensory
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Rotation
  • Young Adult