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While typing on a keyboard or punching on the ATM buttons or playing a piano, we exert a pressure called muscle memory, also referred to as motor learning,
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have explored about this type of memory. They have reached to an unexpected conclusion that say we tend to learn the motor commands at faster pace while revisiting a task.
The reason behind this is that while doing so we two separate memories:
- The first one is the muscle memory of how to perform the task
- And the second one is the memory of errors that we made the first time around.
Scientists explain during the second memory, the brain identifies the errors that it made before and hence makes corrections.
Dr. Reza Shadmehr, a Biomedical Engineering Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, “In learning a new motor task, there appear to be two processes happening at once. One is the learning of the motor commands in the task, and the other is critiquing the learning, much the way a coach behaves.”
To understand the phenomenon in a better way, the researchers carried a study on how motor learning takes place.
The team of researchers created an experiment in which study participants were asked to stand in front of a joystick which was placed beneath a screen. The joysticks were not visible to the participants. However, the participants can trace it via a blue dot appearing on the screen.
On the other hand, a target was placed which was represented by a red dot on the screen. As the participants moved the joystick towards the target, the blue dot could be programmed to move slightly off-kilter from where they pointed it. This resulted in an error.
While experiencing an error, the participants adjusted the movement of the joystick and after several trials, they began to smoothly take the joystick to its target.
According to the researchers, the participants responded quicker to smaller errors, which in turn push them consistently in one direction. Hence, the errors are minimized.
“They learned to give the frequent errors more weight as learning cues, while discounting those that seemed like flukes,” says David Herzfeld, a graduate student in Shadmehr’s laboratory who led the study.
“The results may improve movement rehabilitation strategies for the many who have suffered strokes and other neuromotor injuries,” said Dr. Daofen Chen, who works at National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Researchers say the study is a way forward towards better understanding how we learn a motor skill.