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Biol Cybern. 2002 Jul;87(1):1-9.

Drifting towards a diffuse control model of exploratory motor learning: A comparison of global and within-trial performance measures.

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Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, King Henry Building, King Henry I Street, Portsmouth PO1 2DY, UK.


Accurate measurement is crucial for understanding the processes that underlie exploratory patterns in motor learning. Accordingly, measures of learning should be sensitive to the changes that take place during skill acquisition. Most studies, however, use trial-based global measures that assess performance but do not actually measure gradual changes taking place within trials. The present study attempted to remedy this shortcoming by analysing a visual adaptation task, and comparing traditional global measures of learning with new, within-trial measures. Movement time was the only global measure sensitive to changes in the movement trajectory during learning. Three new measures were expected to reveal changes to the movement trajectory that are associated with learning: (i) the length of runs, (ii) change of trajectory angle in relation to the target, and (iii) drift (change in distance from the target). All three measures were sensitive to learning and indicated a gradual straightening of the movement trajectories over trials. Furthermore, three different methods to partition trajectories into segments were examined. The new within-trial measures, irrespective of partitioning method, prove promising for the development of a diffuse control model of exploratory learning.

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