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Neural Substrates of Motor Learning During Execution and Visualization of a Novel Motor Task

Jo T Shattuck, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


A two-part study was conducted to investigate the neural substrates of learning a timed motor sequence task. In part 1, a multi-day experiment was performed to determine 1) whether neural patterns reflecting motor learning were detectable during the execution and visualization of a novel repetitive drawing task, and 2) whether neural patterns were correlated with task performance. Participants completed visualization and execution of a timed drawing task in both sequenced and random conditions with concurrent EEG in alternating blocks of each condition. In part 2, participants under continual EEG simply visualized themselves performing two different repetitive sequenced skills of their choosing, 1) a known skill in which they are proficient, and 2) an unknown skill in which they are familiar but not at all proficient. The relative amplitude of four frequency bands over frontal and temporal/parietal regions were compared across the visualization and execution tasks, between the random and sequenced tasks, and between known and unknown skill visualizations. Results from Part 1 revealed significant differences in neural patterns across conditions; specifically, the alpha band (8-12Hz) in the frontal regions was the most responsive to task demands. A pattern of concurrent decreasing alpha was associated with increasing skill level during the trail making execution and visualization conditions. Hierarchical regression indicated that frontal alpha activity accounted for 5-7% of the variance in trial times. The results from Part 2 did not reveal differences in alpha levels between subjects’ known or unknown skill during skill visualization. However, alpha levels during the well-learned trail making sequence were more similar to the known skill visualization than to unknown skill visualization. These results are in line with the current literature regarding temporal and spatial shifts in brain activity during motor skill learning. This project provided promising results in pursuing neural markers as predictors of motor learning during the execution of in-laboratory movements, and during visualization of larger real-world movements. Future research examining alpha activity with varying practice types and teaching techniques may lead to improved pedagogy of motor skill acquisition.

Subject Area

Neurosciences|Kinesiology|Physiological psychology

Recommended Citation

Shattuck, Jo T, "Neural Substrates of Motor Learning During Execution and Visualization of a Novel Motor Task" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13860994.