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J Neurophysiol. 2007 Sep;98(3):1392-404. Epub 2007 Jul 5.

Trial-by-trial transformation of error into sensorimotor adaptation changes with environmental dynamics.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.


Humans can rapidly change their motor output to make goal-directed reaching movements in a new environment. Theories that describe this adaptive process have long presumed that adaptive steps scale proportionally with error. Here we show that while performing a novel reaching task, participants did not adopt a fixed learning rule, but instead modified their adaptive response based on the statistical properties of the movement environment. We found that as the directional bias of the force distribution shifted from strongly biased to unbiased, participants transitioned from an adaptive process that scaled proportionally with error to one that adapted to the direction, but not magnitude, of error. Participants also modified their response as the likelihood of the perturbation changed; as the likelihood decreased from 80 to 20% of trials, participants adopted an increasingly disproportional strategy. We propose that people can rapidly switch between learning processes within minutes of experiencing a novel environment.

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