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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Mar;107(6):1711-7. doi: 10.1152/jn.00773.2011. Epub 2011 Dec 21.

Nonhomogeneous transfer reveals specificity in speech motor learning.

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McGill University, Montreal, Canada.


Does motor learning generalize to new situations that are not experienced during training, or is motor learning essentially specific to the training situation? In the present experiments, we use speech production as a model to investigate generalization in motor learning. We tested for generalization from training to transfer utterances by varying the acoustical similarity between these two sets of utterances. During the training phase of the experiment, subjects received auditory feedback that was altered in real time as they repeated a single consonant-vowel-consonant utterance. Different groups of subjects were trained with different consonant-vowel-consonant utterances, which differed from a subsequent transfer utterance in terms of the initial consonant or vowel. During the adaptation phase of the experiment, we observed that subjects in all groups progressively changed their speech output to compensate for the perturbation (altered auditory feedback). After learning, we tested for generalization by having all subjects produce the same single transfer utterance while receiving unaltered auditory feedback. We observed limited transfer of learning, which depended on the acoustical similarity between the training and the transfer utterances. The gradients of generalization observed here are comparable to those observed in limb movement. The present findings are consistent with the conclusion that speech learning remains specific to individual instances of learning.

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