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Neuron. 2011 May 26;70(4):787-801. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.04.012.

Rethinking motor learning and savings in adaptation paradigms: model-free memory for successful actions combines with internal models.

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Motor Performance Laboratory, Department of Neurology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, USA.


Although motor learning is likely to involve multiple processes, phenomena observed in error-based motor learning paradigms tend to be conceptualized in terms of only a single process: adaptation, which occurs through updating an internal model. Here we argue that fundamental phenomena like movement direction biases, savings (faster relearning), and interference do not relate to adaptation but instead are attributable to two additional learning processes that can be characterized as model-free: use-dependent plasticity and operant reinforcement. Although usually "hidden" behind adaptation, we demonstrate, with modified visuomotor rotation paradigms, that these distinct model-based and model-free processes combine to learn an error-based motor task. (1) Adaptation of an internal model channels movements toward successful error reduction in visual space. (2) Repetition of the newly adapted movement induces directional biases toward the repeated movement. (3) Operant reinforcement through association of the adapted movement with successful error reduction is responsible for savings.

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