Motor memories in manipulation tasks are linked to contact goals between objects

J Neurophysiol. 2020 Sep 1;124(3):994-1004. doi: 10.1152/jn.00252.2020. Epub 2020 Aug 20.


Skillful manipulation requires forming memories of object dynamics, linking applied force to motion. Although it has been assumed that such memories are linked to objects, a recent study showed that people can form separate memories when these are linked to different controlled points on an object (Heald JB, Ingram JN, Flanagan JR, Wolpert DM. Nat Hum Behav 2: 300-311, 2018). In that study, participants controlled the handle of a robotic device to move a virtual bar with circles (control points) on the left and right sides. Participants were instructed to move either the left or right control point to a target on the left or right, respectively, such that the required movement was constant. When these control points were paired with opposing force fields, adaptation was observed. In this previous study, both the controlled point and the target changed between contexts. To assess which of these factors is critical for learning, here, we used a similar paradigm but with a bar that automatically rotated as it was moved. In the first experiment, the bar rotated, such that the left and right control points moved to a common target. In the second experiment, the bar rotated such that a single control point moved to a target located on either the left or right. In both experiments, participants were able to learn opposing force fields applied in the two contexts. We conclude that separate memories of dynamics can be formed for different "contact goals," involving a unique combination of the controlled point on an object and the target location this point "contacts."NEW & NOTEWORTHY Skilled manipulation requires forming memories of object dynamics, previously assumed to be associated with entire objects. However, we recently demonstrated that people can form multiple motor memories when explicitly instructed to move different locations on an object to different targets. Here, we show that separate motor memories can be learned for different contact goals, which involve a unique combination of a control point and target.

Keywords: motor control; motor learning; motor memory; movement planning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult