Combining Observation and Physical Practice: Benefits of an Interleaved Schedule for Visuomotor Adaptation and Motor Memory Consolidation

MSL research field: 
Skill acquisition
TitleCombining Observation and Physical Practice: Benefits of an Interleaved Schedule for Visuomotor Adaptation and Motor Memory Consolidation
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsLarssen, BC, Ho, DK, Kraeutner, SN, Hodges, NJ
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Date PublishedApr-02-2021
KeywordsAction observation, consolidation, distributed practice, implicit processes, Motor learning, spaced practice

Visuomotor adaptation to novel environments can occur via non-physical means, such as observation. Observation does not appear to activate the same implicit learning processes as physical practice, rather it appears to be more strategic in nature. However, there is evidence that interspersing observational practice with physical practice can benefit performance and memory consolidation either through the combined benefits of separate processes or through a change in processes activated during observation trials. To test these ideas, we asked people to practice aiming to targets with visually rotated cursor feedback or engage in a combined practice schedule comprising physical practice and observation of projected videos showing successful aiming. Ninety-three participants were randomly assigned to one of five groups: massed physical practice (Act), distributed physical practice (Act+Rest), or one of 3 types of combined practice: alternating blocks (Obs_During), or all observation before (Obs_Pre) or after (Obs_Post) blocked physical practice. Participants received 100 practice trials (all or half were physical practice). All groups improved in adaptation trials and showed savings across the 24-h retention interval relative to initial practice. There was some forgetting for all groups, but the magnitudes were larger for physical practice groups. The Act and Obs_During groups were most accurate in retention and did not differ, suggesting that observation can serve as a replacement for physical practice if supplied intermittently and offers advantages above just resting. However, after-effects associated with combined practice were smaller than those for physical practice control groups, suggesting that beneficial learning effects as a result of observation were not due to activation of implicit learning processes. Reaction time, variable error, and post-test rotation drawings supported this conclusion that adaptation for observation groups was promoted by explicit/strategic processes.

Short TitleFront. Hum. Neurosci.
Refereed DesignationRefereed