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Front Syst Neurosci. 2012 Aug 14;6:60. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2012.00060. eCollection 2012.

Adaptation to sequence force perturbation during vertical and horizontal reaching movement-averaging the past or predicting the future?

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Beer-Sheva, Israel.


Several studies conducted during the past decade have suggested that episodic memory is better equipped to handle the future than the past. Here, we consider this premise in the context of motor memory. State-of-the-art computational models for trial-by-trial motor adaptation to constant and stochastic force field perturbations in a horizontal reaching paradigm have shown that motor memory registers a weighted sum of past experiences to predict force perturbation in a subsequent trial. In the current study, we used the standard horizontal reaching movement paradigm and a novel vertical reaching movement paradigm to test motor memory function during adaptation to force fields increasing in magnitude in a simple predictable linear series. We found that adaptation to constant and sequence force fields are similar in vertical and horizontal reaching. For both horizontal and vertical reaching, we found that the expectation in a particular trial was the average of the previous few trials rather than an expectation of a larger perturbation, as would be expected from a simple extrapolation. These findings are not consistent with those of our previous studies on lifting and grasping tasks, in which we found that the grip force is correctly adjusted to the next weight in a series of tasks with gradually increasing weights, thus predicting the future rather than averaging the past. The results of the current study devoted to reaching movements and of our previous study addressing a lifting task suggest that the brain can generate at least two different types of motor representation, either addressing the past in reaching or predicting the future in lifting. We propose that prior experience and the effect of environment's variability are the reasons for the observed differences in expectation during lifting and reaching. Finally, we discuss these two types of memory mechanisms with respect to the distinct neural circuits responsible for lifting and reaching.


force perturbations; grasping; motor memory; reaching movements; vertical reaching

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