Recent human-machine interaction studies have suggested that movement augmented with negative viscosity can enhance performance and can even promote better motor learning. To test this, we investigated how negative viscosity influences motor adaptation to an environment where forces acted only in one axis of motion. Using a force-feedback device, subjects performed free exploratory movements with a purely inertia generating forces proportional to hand acceleration, negative viscosity generating destabilizing forces proportional to hand velocity, or a combination of the acceleration and velocity fields. After training, we evaluated each subject's ability to perform circular movements in only the inertial field. Combined training resulted in lowest error and revealed similar responses as inertia training in catch trials. These findings are remarkable because negative viscosity, available only during training, evidently enhanced learning when combined with inertia. This success in generalization is consistent with the ability of the nervous system to decompose the perturbing forces into velocity and acceleration dependent components. Compared with inertia, the combined group exhibited a broader range of speeds along the direction of maximal perturbing force. Broader exploration was also correlated with better performance in subsequent evaluation trials; this suggests that negative viscosity improved performance by enhancing identification of each force field. These findings shed light on a new way to enhance sensorimotor adaptation through robot-applied augmentation of mechanics.
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