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J Neurophysiol. 2009 May;101(5):2218-29. doi: 10.1152/jn.01138.2007. Epub 2008 Dec 10.

Learning of a sequential motor skill comprises explicit and implicit components that consolidate differently.

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CUNY Medical School, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Harris Hall Suite 210, 138th and Convent Avenue, New York, NY 10031, USA.


The ability to perform accurate sequential movements is essential to normal motor function. Learning a sequential motor behavior is comprised of two basic components: explicit identification of the order in which the sequence elements should be performed and implicit acquisition of spatial accuracy for each element. Here we investigated the time course of learning of these components for a first sequence (SEQA) and their susceptibility to interference from learning a second sequence (SEQB). We assessed explicit learning with a discrete index, the number of correct anticipatory movements, and implicit learning with a continuous variable, spatial error, which decreased during learning without subject awareness. Spatial accuracy to individual sequence elements reached asymptotic levels only when the whole sequence order was known. Interference with recall of the order of SEQA persisted even when SEQB was learned 24 h after SEQA. However, there was resistance to interference by SEQB with increased initial training with SEQA. For implicit learning of spatial accuracy, SEQB interfered at 5 min but not 24 h after SEQA. As in the case of sequence order, prolonged initial training with SEQA induced resistance to interference by SEQB. We conclude that explicit sequence learning is more susceptible to anterograde interference and implicit sequence learning is more susceptible to retrograde interference. However, both become resistant to interference with saturation training. We propose that an essential feature of motor skill learning is the process by which discrete explicit task elements are combined with continuous implicit features of movement to form flawless sequential actions.

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