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Publication Detail
When money is not enough: awareness, success, and variability in motor learning.
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Publication Sub Type:
    Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Authors:
    Manley H, Dayan P, Diedrichsen J
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
    e86580, ?
  • Journal:
    PloS one
  • Volume:
  • Issue:
  • Medium:
  • Status:
  • Print ISSN:
  • Language:
  • Keywords:
    Humans, Exploratory Behavior, Awareness, Learning, Reward, Task Performance and Analysis, Motor Skills, Movement, Female, Male, Young Adult
  • Addresses:
    Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom ; Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance, Bangor University, Bangor, United Kingdom.
When performing a skill such as throwing a dart, many different combinations of joint motions suffice to hit the target. The motor system adapts rapidly to reduce bias in the desired outcome (i.e., the first-order moment of the error); however, the essence of skill is to produce movements with less variability (i.e., to reduce the second-order moment). It is easy to see how feedback about success or failure could sculpt performance to achieve this aim. However, it is unclear whether the dimensions responsible for success or failure need to be known explicitly by the subjects, or whether learning can proceed without explicit awareness of the movement parameters that need to change. Here, we designed a redundant, two-dimensional reaching task in which we could selectively manipulate task success and the variability of action outcomes, whilst also manipulating awareness of the dimension along which performance could be improved. Variability was manipulated either by amplifying natural errors, leaving the correlation between the executed movement and the visual feedback intact, or by adding extrinsic noise, decorrelating movement and feedback. We found that explicit, binary, feedback about success or failure was only sufficient for learning when participants were aware of the dimension along which motor behavior had to change. Without such awareness, learning was only present when extrinsic noise was added to the feedback, but not when task success or variability was manipulated in isolation; learning was also much slower. Our results highlight the importance of conscious awareness of the relevant dimension during motor learning, and suggest that higher-order moments of outcome signals are likely to play a significant role in skill learning in complex tasks.
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