Human Variation in Error-Based and Reinforcement Motor Learning Is Associated With Entorhinal Volume

Cereb Cortex. 2021 Dec 29;bhab424. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhab424. Online ahead of print.


Error-based and reward-based processes are critical for motor learning and are thought to be mediated via distinct neural pathways. However, recent behavioral work in humans suggests that both learning processes can be bolstered by the use of cognitive strategies, which may mediate individual differences in motor learning ability. It has been speculated that medial temporal lobe regions, which have been shown to support motor sequence learning, also support the use of cognitive strategies in error-based and reinforcement motor learning. However, direct evidence in support of this idea remains sparse. Here we first show that better overall learning during error-based visuomotor adaptation is associated with better overall learning during the reward-based shaping of reaching movements. Given the cognitive contribution to learning in both of these tasks, these results support the notion that strategic processes, associated with better performance, drive intersubject variation in both error-based and reinforcement motor learning. Furthermore, we show that entorhinal cortex volume is larger in better learning individuals-characterized across both motor learning tasks-compared with their poorer learning counterparts. These results suggest that individual differences in learning performance during error and reinforcement learning are related to neuroanatomical differences in entorhinal cortex.

Keywords: error-based learning; motor adaptation; motor learning; reaching; reinforcement learning.