The dynamics of motor learning through the formation of internal models

Camilla Pierella*, Maura Casadio, Ferdinando A. Mussa-Ivaldi, Sara A. Solla

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


A medical student learning to perform a laparoscopic procedure or a recently paralyzed user of a powered wheelchair must learn to operate machinery via interfaces that translate their actions into commands for an external device. Since the user’s actions are selected from a number of alternatives that would result in the same effect in the control space of the external device, learning to use such interfaces involves dealing with redundancy. Subjects need to learn an externally chosen many-to-one map that transforms their actions into device commands. Mathematically, we describe this type of learning as a deterministic dynamical process, whose state is the evolving forward and inverse internal models of the interface. The forward model predicts the outcomes of actions, while the inverse model generates actions designed to attain desired outcomes. Both the mathematical analysis of the proposed model of learning dynamics and the learning performance observed in a group of subjects demonstrate a first-order exponential convergence of the learning process toward a particular state that depends only on the initial state of the inverse and forward models and on the sequence of targets supplied to the users. Noise is not only present but necessary for the convergence of learning through the minimization of the difference between actual and predicted outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007118
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics

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