Overcoming motor "forgetting" through reinforcement of learned actions

Lior Shmuelof, Vincent S. Huang, Adrian M. Haith, Raymond J. Delnicki, Pietro Mazzoni, John W. Krakauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


The human motor system rapidly adapts to systematic perturbations but the adapted behavior seems to be forgotten equally rapidly. The reason for this forgetting is unclear, as is how to overcome it to promote long-term learning. Here we show that adapted behavior can be stabilized by a period of binary feedback about success and failure in the absence of vector error feedback. We examined the time course of decay after adaptation to a visuomotor rotation through a visual error-clamp condition-trials in which subjects received false visual feedback showing perfect directional performance, regardless of the movements they actually made. Exposure to this error-clamp following initial visuomotor adaptation led to a rapid reversion to baseline behavior. In contrast, exposure to binary feedback after initial adaptation turned the adapted state into a new baseline, to which subjects reverted after transient exposure to another visuomotor rotation. When both binary feedback and vector error were present, some subjects exhibited rapid decay to the original baseline, while others persisted in the new baseline. Wepropose that learning can be decomposed into two components-a fast-learning, fast-forgetting adaptation process that is sensitive to vector errors and insensitive to task success, and a second process driven by success that learns more slowly but is less susceptible to forgetting. These two learning systems may be recruited to different degrees across individuals. Understanding this competitive balance and exploiting the long-term retention properties of learning through reinforcement is likely to be essential for successful neuro-rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14617-14621
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number42
StatePublished - Oct 17 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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