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J Neurophysiol. 2010 Jul;104(1):426-38. doi: 10.1152/jn.00886.2009. Epub 2010 May 12.

Generalization of dynamics learning across changes in movement amplitude.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada.


Studies on generalization show the nature of how learning is encoded in the brain. Previous studies have shown rather limited generalization of dynamics learning across changes in movement direction, a finding that is consistent with the idea that learning is primarily local. In contrast, studies show a broader pattern of generalization across changes in movement amplitude, suggesting a more general form of learning. To understand this difference, we performed an experiment in which subjects held a robotic manipulandum and made movements to targets along the body midline. Subjects were trained in a velocity-dependent force field while moving to a 15 cm target. After training, subjects were tested for generalization using movements to a 30 cm target. We used force channels in conjunction with movements to the 30 cm target to assess the extent of generalization. Force channels restricted lateral movements and allowed us to measure force production during generalization. We compared actual lateral forces to the forces expected if dynamics learning generalized fully. We found that, during the test for generalization, subjects produced reliably less force than expected. Force production was appropriate for the portion of the transfer movement in which velocities corresponded to those experienced with the 15 cm target. Subjects failed to produce the expected forces when velocities exceeded those experienced in the training task. This suggests that dynamics learning generalizes little beyond the range of one's experience. Consistent with this result, subjects who trained on the 30 cm target showed full generalization to the 15 cm target. We performed two additional experiments that show that interleaved trials to the 30 cm target during training on the 15 cm target can resolve the difference between the current results and those reported previously.

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