Neural correlates of skill acquisition: Decreased cortical activity during a serial interception sequence learning task

Eric W. Gobel*, Todd B. Parrish, Paul J. Reber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Learning of complex motor skills requires learning of component movements as well as the sequential structure of their order and timing. Using a Serial Interception Sequence Learning (SISL) task, participants learned a sequence of precisely timed interception responses through training with a repeating sequence. Following initial implicit learning of the repeating sequence, functional MRI data were collected during performance of that known sequence and compared with activity evoked during novel sequences of actions, novel timing patterns, or both. Reduced activity was observed during the practiced sequence in a distributed bilateral network including extrastriate occipital, parietal, and premotor cortical regions. These reductions in evoked activity likely reflect improved efficiency in visuospatial processing, spatio-motor integration, motor planning, and motor execution for the trained sequence, which is likely supported by nondeclarative skill learning. In addition, the practiced sequence evoked increased activity in the left ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex, while the posterior cingulate was more active during periods of better performance. Many prior studies of perceptual-motor skill learning have found increased activity in motor areas of the frontal cortex (e.g., motor and premotor cortex, SMA) and striatal areas (e.g., the putamen). The change in activity observed here (i.e., decreased activity across a cortical network) may reflect skill learning that is predominantly expressed through more accurate performance rather than decreased reaction time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1150-1157
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 15 2011


  • FMRI
  • Implicit learning
  • Motor control
  • Nondeclarative memory
  • Sequence learning
  • Timing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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