Implications of plan-based generalization in sensorimotor adaptation

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Generalization is a fundamental aspect of behavior, allowing for the transfer of knowledge from one context to another. The details of this transfer are thought to reveal how the brain represents what it learns. Generalization has been a central focus in studies of sensorimotor adaptation, and its pattern has been well characterized: Learning of new dynamic and kinematic transformations in one region of space tapers off in a Gaussian-like fashion to neighboring untrained regions, echoing tuned population codes in the brain. In contrast to common allusions to generalization in cognitive science, generalization in visually guided reaching is usually framed as a passive consequence of neural tuning functions rather than a cognitive feature of learning. While previous research has presumed that maximum generalization occurs at the instructed task goal or the actual movement direction, recent work suggests that maximum generalization may occur at the location of an explicitly accessible movement plan. Here we provide further support for plan-based generalization, formalize this theory in an updated model of adaptation, and test several unexpected implications of the model. First, we employ a generalization paradigm to parameterize the generalization function and ascertain its maximum point. We then apply the derived generalization function to our model and successfully simulate and fit the time course of implicit adaptation across three behavioral experiments. We find that dynamics predicted by plan-based generalization are borne out in the data, are contrary to what traditional models predict, and lead to surprising implications for the behavioral, computational, and neural characteristics of sensorimotor adaptation. The pattern of generalization is thought to reveal how the motor system represents learned actions. Recent work has made the intriguing suggestion that maximum generalization in sensorimotor adaptation tasks occurs at the location of the learned movement plan. Here we support this interpretation, develop a novel model of motor adaptation that incorporates plan-based generalization, and use the model to successfully predict surprising dynamics in the time course of adaptation across several conditions.

J Neurophysiol
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Alternate Journal
J. Neurophysiol.