Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers Find New Learning Strategy

Date:
August 7, 2006
Source:
Washington University in St. Louis
Summary:
Central to being human is the ability to adapt: we learn from our mistakes. Previous theories of learning have assumed that the size of learning naturally scales with the size of the mistake. But now biomedical engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have shown that people can use alternative strategies: Learning does not necessarily scale proportionally with error.

In the Thoroughman laboratory, volunteers play games on a computer screeen using a robotic arm so that Thoroughman and his colleagues can study how people learn motor skills. Understanding learning patterns some day will help define robust physical therapy protocols for people suffering from neurological problems.
Credit: Image courtesy of Washington University in St. Louis

Central to being human is the ability to adapt: We learn from our mistakes. Previous theories of learning have assumed that the size of learning naturally scales with the size of the mistake. But now biomedical engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have shown that people can use alternative strategies: Learning does not necessarily scale proportionally with error.

Related Articles


In so doing, Kurt Thoroughman, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University, and his graduate student, Michael Fine, have discovered a new learning strategy they call categorical adaptation in which steps of learning are sensitive to the direction of error, but do not scale proportionally with the size of the error. Eventually, their findings could have an impact in the rehabilitation of people with neurological ailments such as strokes by making use of different learning environments.

If you make a movement error in one direction, in makes sense that your next movement would correct toward the opposite direction, in exact proportion to the error. An example would be a pitcher correcting to the right, after missing home plate to the left with a pitch.

"We show that learning does not necessarily scale with error," said Thoroughman. "I think we have uncovered a part of human adaptation that certainly doesn't do that. We are not claiming that all previous theories are false in the behaviors that were captured. It's just that we have for the first time found a part of human adaptation that clearly does not scale with the size of the error."

Thoroughman is interested in how humans learn motor skills incrementally, how information from a single movement can inform the generation of the next movement. He and Fine asked volunteers to make reaching movements while holding the end of a robotic arm. Volunteers were trained for about 40 minutes a day for two days. On each day, subjects were asked to make half-second, 10-centimeter reaching movements, directed away from their bodies.

Subjects learned the baseline task on the first day. On the second day Thoroughman and Fine tricked volunteers by having the robotic arm push the human hand with a perturbing pulse of force in 20 percent of movements. The pulse pushed subjects from their normal trajectory, either to the right or the left, with three different pulse strengths. Thoroughman and Fine observed how the pulse altered that trajectory and how subjects corrected, or adapted, in the very next movement.

"The pulse should induce an error in that movement that scales with the size of the pulse," said Thoroughman, who also has appointments in Neurobiology and Physical Therapy at the Washington University School of Medicine. "And we did see that - big pulse, big error; small pulse, small error. But then we expected, just as previous theories would predict, that the adaptation in the next movement would also scale with the size of the force pulse. But it didn't - the adaptation countered the direction of the pulse but was flat with respect to the size of the pulse."

The results were published in the August 2006 issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Thoroughman said the discovery raises interesting new questions in motor learning and neurophysiology and eventually could have an impact on physical therapy protocols.

"By changing environments in a specific way and by not providing the same environment all of the time, we can change the way that people learn," he said. "We're hopeful that this kind of technology can help in neurological rehabilitation so that stroke patients, for instance, could better relearn movements and reduce recovery time."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Washington University in St. Louis. "Researchers Find New Learning Strategy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 August 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060807154647.htm>.
Washington University in St. Louis. (2006, August 7). Researchers Find New Learning Strategy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060807154647.htm
Washington University in St. Louis. "Researchers Find New Learning Strategy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060807154647.htm (accessed February 27, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, February 27, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Best Foods to Battle Stress

The Best Foods to Battle Stress

Buzz60 (Feb. 26, 2015) If you&apos;re dealing with anxiety, there are a few foods that can help. Krystin Goodwin (@krystingoodwin) has the best foods to tame stress. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little Might Increase Stroke Risk

Newsy (Feb. 26, 2015) People who sleep more than eight hours per night are 45 percent more likely to have a stroke, according to a University of Cambridge study. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mayor Says District of Columbia to Go Ahead With Pot Legalization

Mayor Says District of Columbia to Go Ahead With Pot Legalization

Reuters - News Video Online (Feb. 25, 2015) Washington&apos;s mayor says the District of Columbia will move forward with marijuana legalization, despite pushback from Congress. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Marijuana Nowhere Near As Deadly As Alcohol: Study

Marijuana Nowhere Near As Deadly As Alcohol: Study

Newsy (Feb. 25, 2015) A new study says marijuana is about 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins