Reciprocal intralimb transfer of skilled isometric force production

Vikram A. Rajan, Robert M. Hardwick, Pablo A. Celnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Motor control theories propose that the same motor plans can be employed by different effectors (e.g., the hand and arm). Skills learned with one effector can therefore “transfer” to others, which has potential applications in clinical situations. However, evidence from adaptation suggests this effect is not reciprocal; learning can be generalized from proximal to distal effectors (e.g., arm to hand), but not from distal to proximal effectors (e.g., hand to arm). We propose that skill learning may not follow the same pattern, because it relies on multiple learning processes beyond error detection and correction. Participants learned a skill task involving the production of isometric forces. We assessed their ability to perform the task with the hand and arm. One group then trained to perform the task using only their hand, whereas a second group trained using only their arm. In a final assessment, we found that participants who trained with either effector improved their skill in performing the task with both their hand and arm. There was no change in a control group that did not train between assessments, indicating that gains were related to the training, not the multiple assessments. These results indicate that in contrast to adaptation, motor skills can generalize from both proximal to distal effectors and from distal to proximal effectors. We propose this is due to differences in the processes underlying skill acquisition as compared with adaptation. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Prior research indicates that motor learning transfers from proximal to distal effectors, but not vice versa. However, this work focused on adapting existing behavior; we questioned whether different results would occur during learning of new motor skills. We found that the benefits of training on a skill task with either the hand or arm transferred across both effectors. This highlights important differences between adaptation and skill learning, and may allow therapeutic benefits for patients with impairments in specific effectors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-65
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • Motor control
  • Motor learning
  • Movement control
  • Movement skill learning
  • Skill acquisition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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