Direct and indirect cues can enable dual adaptation, but through different learning processes

Publication Year


Journal Article

Switching between motor tasks requires accurate adjustments for changes in dynamics (grasping a cup) or sensorimotor transformations (moving a computer mouse). Dual-adaptation studies have investigated how learning of context-dependent dynamics or transformations is enabled by sensory cues. However, certain cues, such as color, have shown mixed results. We propose that these mixed results may arise from two major classes of cues: “direct” cues, which are part of the dynamic state and “indirect” cues, which are not. We hypothesized that explicit strategies would primarily account for the adaptation of an indirect color cue but would be limited to simple tasks, whereas a direct visual separation cue would allow implicit adaptation regardless of task complexity. To test this idea, we investigated the relative contribution of implicit and explicit learning in relation to contextual cue type (colored or visually shifted workspace) and task complexity (1 or 8 targets) in a dual-adaptation task. We found that the visual workspace location cue enabled adaptation across conditions primarily through implicit adaptation. In contrast, we found that the color cue was largely ineffective for dual adaptation, except in a small subset of participants who appeared to use explicit strategies. Our study suggests that the previously inconclusive role of color cues in dual adaptation may be explained by differential contribution of explicit strategies across conditions.

NEW & NOTEWORTHY We present evidence that learning of context-dependent dynamics proceeds via different processes depending on the type of sensory cue used to signal the context. Visual workspace location enabled learning different dynamics implicitly, presumably because it directly enters the dynamic state estimate. In contrast, a color cue was only successful where learners were apparently able to leverage explicit strategies to account for changed dynamics. This suggests a unification for the previously inconclusive role of color cues.

dual-adaptation; explicit strategies; implicit adaptation; force field adaptation; motor learning

J Neurophysiol