Learning and generalization in an isometric visuomotor task Academic Article uri icon


  • Adaptation is a prominent feature of the human motor system, and has been studied extensively in reaching movements. This study characterizes adaptation and generalization during isometric reaching, in which the arm remains stationary and the participant controls a virtual cursor via force applied by the hand. We measured how learning of a visual cursor rotation generalizes across workspace to (1) determine the coordinate system that predominates visual rotation learning, and (2) ascertain whether mapping type, namely position or velocity control, influences transfer. Participants performed virtual reaches to one of two orthogonal training targets with the applied rotation. In a new workspace, participants reached to a single target, similar to the training target in either hand or joint space. Further, a control experiment measured within-workspace generalization to an orthogonal target. Across position and velocity mappings, learning transferred predominantly in intrinsic (joint) space, though the transfer was incomplete. The velocity mapping resulted in significantly larger aftereffects and broader within-workspace generalization than the position mapping, potentially due to slower peak speeds, longer trial times, greater target overshoot, or other factors. While we cannot rule out a mixed reference frame in our task, the predominance of intrinsic coding of cursor kinematics in the isometric environment opposes the extrinsic coding of arm kinematics in real reaching, but matches the intrinsic coding of dynamics found in prior work. These findings have implications for the design of isometric control systems in human-machine interaction or in rehabilitation, when coordinated multi-degree-of-freedom movement is difficult to achieve. Copyright © 2014, Journal of Neurophysiology.

publication date

  • January 1, 2015