Research Article: Context-dependent concurrent adaptation to static and moving targets

Date Published: February 8, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Maria N. Ayala, Denise Y. P. Henriques, Gavin Buckingham.


Is the neural control of movements towards moving targets independent to that of static targets? In the following experiments, we used a visuomotor rotation adaptation paradigm to examine the extent to which adapting arm movements to static targets generalize to that of moving targets (i.e. pursuit or tracking). In the first and second experiments, we showed that adaptation to perturbed tracking movements generalizes to reaching movements; reach aftereffects following perturbed tracking were about half the size (≈9°) of those produced following reach training (≈ 19°). Given these findings, in the final experiment we associated opposing perturbations (-30° and +30°) with either reaching or tracking movements and presented them within the same experimental block to determine whether these contexts allow for dual adaptation. We found that the group that experienced opposing perturbations was able to reduce both reaching and tracking errors, as well as produce reach aftereffects following dual training of ≈7°, which were substantially smaller than those produced when reach training was not concurrent with tracking training. This reduction in reach aftereffects is consistent with the extent of the interference from tracking training as measured by the reach aftereffects produced when only that condition was performed. These results suggest partial, but not complete, overlap in the learning processes involved in the acquisition of tracking and reaching movements.

Partial Text

In order to adapt and acquire new motor skills, the motor system must learn novel relationships between motor commands and their subsequent sensory consequences. The formation of these novel relationships (or “mappings”) allows us to maintain accurate movements despite having to switch from one behavioral or environmental context to another. To determine what affords the motor system this flexibility, we can associate specific contexts with distinct mappings and observe how this affects motor learning. When no context is provided, it is extremely difficult to adapt to opposing visuomotor maps [1,2]. However, when suitable contextual cues are associated with two or more distinct mappings, “dual adaptation” has been found to occur across different types of sensorimotor transformations including lateral prism shifts (e.g. [3]), force-fields (e.g. [4,5]), and visuomotor rotations (e.g. [6,7]). While a range of contextual cues have been examined, it remains unknown whether distinct types of movement can facilitate dual learning. Here, we explore the extent to which tracking movements (towards moving targets) generalize to reaching movements (towards static targets), and whether the motor system is able to distinguish and retrieve opposing visuomotor maps using these distinct movement types as contextual cues.

We examined whether visuomotor adaptation to tracking movements (towards moving targets) generalize to that of reaching movements (towards static targets) and further, whether these different types of movements were distinct enough to allow for dual adaptation to opposing perturbations. First, we tested whether participants can adapt tracking movements towards moving targets in response to a visuomotor perturbation and then immediately had them reach towards static targets and compared this to a group that only adapted their reaches to static targets. Next, we associated opposing perturbations to either reaching or tracking movements and presented them within the same experimental block.

Our present observations demonstrate three main points. First, we showed significant pursuit adaptation to moving targets (or tracking adaptation) following a small visuomotor perturbation to the hand-cursor. Second, while previous findings show complete interference between opposing visuomotor maps when each is associated with the same task, we found that tracking adaptation generalized to reaching movements, as reach aftereffects were present when visual feedback was withheld. These reach aftereffects following perturbed tracking movements were smaller in magnitude compared to those produced following perturbed reaching movements. Third, distinct movement types provided a strong contextual cue to the motor system when planning and producing movements for opposing visuomotor maps. This was evident in the reduction of movement errors for both reaching and tracking trials when both types of perturbed movements were experienced within the same experimental training block. Our findings support the idea that intrinsic or motor-based contextual cues, such as movement type, allow for disambiguation and retrieval of recently acquired motor memories.

Perturbed tracking of moving targets produced significant reach aftereffects that are smaller than those produced for static targets. This suggests that visually-guided changes in tracking movements generalize to reaching movements. Since this generalization is not complete, we tested whether this distinction in movement type can be used to contextualize and thus, facilitate dual adaptation to opposing visuomotor rotations. We found further evidence that motor-based cues such as movement type provide a strong context for the motor system when they are the only cues provided to dissociate between two opposing rotations, and thus, two different visuomotor maps, even when desired cursor trajectories are identical.




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