The nervous system uses nonspecific motor learning in response to random perturbations of varying nature

Kunlin Wei*, Daniel Wert, Konrad Körding

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


We constantly make small errors during movement and use them to adapt our future movements. Movement experiments often probe this error-driven learning by perturbing movements and analyzing the after-effects. Past studies have applied perturbations of varying nature such as visual disturbances, position- or velocity-dependent forces and modified inertia properties of the limb. However, little is known about how the specific nature of a perturbation influences subsequent movements. For a single perturbation trial, the nature of a perturbation may be highly uncertain to the nervous system, given that it receives only noisy information. One hypothesis is that the nervous system can use this rough estimate to partially correct for the perturbation on the next trial. Alternatively, the nervous system could ignore uncertain information about the nature of the perturbation and resort to a nonspecific adaptation. To study how the brain estimates and responds to incomplete sensory information, we test these two hypotheses using a trial-by-trial adaptation experiment. On each trial, the nature of the perturbation was chosen from six distinct types, including a visuomotor rotation and different force fields. We observed that corrective forces aiming to oppose the perturbation in the following trial were independent of the nature of the perturbation. Our results suggest that the nervous system uses a nonspecific strategy when it has high uncertainty about the nature of perturbations during trial-by-trial learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3053-3063
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology

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