Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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Using a real-world chopping task to study motor learning and memory
Typically task interference is studied using reaching adaptation tasks (visuomotor rotation and/or force-field learning). Participants in these experiments are already experts at the base task (point-to-point, planar reaching) and their ability to adapt reaching to the imposed perturbation is studied. The pattern of data induced by the perturbation is used to make inferences about the nature and neural correlates of our learning and memory for reaching perturbations, specifically, and motor performance in general. We wanted to see if it is possible to demonstrate this same interference pattern using a novel vegetable-chopping task, where we can easily recreate natural performance settings using a task for which we can easily identify non-experts. Participants performed a chopping task in which they are asked to chop a sweet potato into 5 mm-wide slices, matching the beat of a metronome (120 bpm). Following this initial learning, participants were exposed to an interference condition. Participants then performed trials of the original task again. Interference was inferred if the second performance of the original task was impaired, compared to initial performance. Experiment 1 involved novice choppers, and either the force or frequency of chops was manipulated. Only the altered frequency task produced interference effects. In Experiment 2, competent and expert choppers had to manage either a faster or slower frequency. We found evidence for interference in competents, but not experts. These results support the idea that the vulnerability to interference of motor memory changes with practice, and so any inferences made about memory structure must take into account not only expert performance, but every level of skill. Author Keywords: expertise, interference, motor learning, reaching adaptation
Assessing the Clinical Usefulness of Three Tablet-Based Visuomotor Tasks to Evaluate Closed Head Injury
Evidence suggests that visuomotor system behaviour may be more sensitive to the prolonged effects of mild brain injuries than neuropsychological tests. We evaluated whether participants with a mild closed head injury (CHI) would show lingering visuomotor deficits, but not cognitive deficits, up to three years post-injury compared to participants with an orthopaedic injury and healthy controls. All three groups completed a tablet-based visuomotor assessment tool and a brief neuropsychological test battery. The CHI participants scored comparable to the control groups on the neuropsychological tests, but when assessed for visuomotor function requiring adjustment to a changing stimulus, CHI participants showed poorer performance than the control groups. Combined, these findings add to the evidence that CHI can lead to persistent visuomotor deficits that extend beyond those of neuropsychological tests. Therefore, visuomotor assessment should be included in brain injury and recovery evaluation, and this can be accomplished easily using tablet-based tasks. Author Keywords: closed head injury, neuropsychological assessment, recovery, tablet, traumatic brain injury, visuomotor
De novo transcriptome assembly, functional annotation, and SNP discovery in North American flying squirrels (genus Glaucomys)
Introgressive hybridization between northern (Glaucomys sabrinus) and southern flying squirrels (G. volans) has been observed in some areas of Canada and the USA. However, existing molecular markers lack the resolution to discriminate late-generation introgressants and describe the extent to which hybridization influences the Glaucomys gene pool. I report the first North American flying squirrel (genus Glaucomys) functionally annotated de novo transcriptome assembly with a set of 146,621 high-quality, annotated putative species-diagnostic SNP markers. RNA-sequences were obtained from two northern flying squirrels and two southern flying squirrels sampled from Ontario, Canada. I reconstructed 702,228 Glaucomys transcripts using 193,323,120 sequence read-pairs, and captured sequence homologies, protein domains, and gene function classifications. These genomic resources can be used to increase the resolution of molecular techniques used to examine the dynamics of the Glaucomys hybrid zone. Author Keywords: annotation, de novo transcriptome, flying squirrels, high-throughput sequencing, hybridization, single nucleotide polymorphisms
Practicing and Rewarding Task-Relevant Motor Variability to Optimize Motor Performance
It is universally accepted that human motor performance is variable in both its timing and spatial qualities. However, it is unclear to what extent motor variability impedes performance when learning a new skill and to what extent it enables our ability to learn. The first experiment examined whether performance during a test task depended on whether participants practiced to constrain or vary the task-relevant parameter. Participants used their right hand to make simple point-to-point movements. Results demonstrated the importance of paying attention to test task demands to evaluate which form of practice is most beneficial. The second experiment examined whether levels of variability could be manipulated using a reward-based paradigm to enhance learning when adapting to a perturbation of a simple visually-guided reaching movement. A reward-based feedback task was designed to encourage exploration along the task-relevant dimension, specifically movement direction variability. Overall, I did not find any significant results. Author Keywords: Adaptation, Motor Control, Motor Learning, Reaching
Long-Term Population Dynamics of an Unexploited Lacustrine Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) Population
Long-term studies of demographic processes such as survival and abundance conducted in unexploited systems provide unique insight into the natural population ecology of fish, but are rarely available. I used historical tagging records of a sanctuary population of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in Algonquin Park, Ontario to investigate long-term population dynamics in an unexploited population. Adult brook trout in Mykiss Lake (23.5ha) were surveyed and tagged biannually (May and October) between 1990 and 2004. Open-population capture-mark-recapture models were used to test the importance of time, size, sex and season on estimates of apparent survival and abundance. Seasonal population growth and recruitment were estimated and compared with large-scale climate indices. Time-dependent survival and abundance estimates fluctuated, with distinct periods of increase. Population growth and recruitment were positively correlated with summer NAO and ENSO values, whereas survival was negatively correlated. Seasonally, larger individuals experienced higher apparent survival during winter and decreased survival during summer. These findings provide valuable insights into the natural demography of unexploited brook trout populations, and should help inform sustainable management of inland fisheries. Author Keywords: capture-mark-recapture, long-term, population dynamics, Salvelinus fontinalis, seasonal variation, survival
Non-Hippocampal Memory Systems Contributing to Reinstated Context Memory
Damage to the hippocampus (HPC) typically causes retrograde amnesia for contextual fear conditioning. Reinstating the conditioning over several sessions, however, can mitigate the retrograde amnesic effects. Reinstatements, thus, establish a sufficiently strong memory in non-HPC systems to no longer require the HPC for expression, meaning that it has become HPC independent. This thesis aimed to determine the structures comprising the non-HPC system supporting reinstated context fear memory. The contribution of the perirhinal cortex (PRH) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) were examined because of their established role in context memory. Initially, it was demonstrated that HPC damage indeed causes retrograde amnesia for single session, but not reinstated, contextual fear conditioning. Then, it was demonstrated that combined HPC and PRH damage causes retrograde amnesia for reinstated contextual fear conditioning, whereas combined HPC and ACC damage had lesser effects. Therefore, the PRH is a key structure within the non-HPC memory system for reinstated context fear memory. Author Keywords: anterior cingulate cortex, contextual fear conditioning, hippocampus, memory, perirhinal cortex, retrograde amnesia
Tool-use and near-tool effects
After active tool-use visual stimuli near a tool are processed more quickly and accurately than those farther away from a tool. Can these near-tool effects be modulated by training demands? To investigate this we asked the participants to complete a tool training task followed by a cross-modal interference task. During the training task the participants performed quick and accurate pointing movements to reach a strict or moderate criterion. The results indicated that the strict group made faster movements than the moderate group. During the cross-modal interference task visual distractors were presented along handheld tools in conjunction with vibrotactile stimuli on the hand. No significant compatibility effects were found for visual distractors near the hand or tool tip, and no consistent group differences were found. Our findings demonstrate the importance of using a novel tool during training, and that virtual stimuli may not be effective to elicit near-tool effects. Author Keywords: bimodal neurons, cross-modal interference, near-tool effects, tool training, training demands
Comparing Two Tablet-Based Visuomotor Tasks to Standard Laboratory Versions
The assessment of visuomotor function can provide important information about neurological status. Several visuomotor tasks exist for testing in the laboratory, although attempts to make these tests portable to allow quick and reliable assessment have been limited. We developed an assessment tool using two laboratory visuomotor tests as a tablet application: the double-step task, and an interception task. Performance was assessed by measuring the participants’ ability to reach toward unpredictably moving targets in each task. Response patterns were compared across equipment types to determine if participants were responding similarly to the moving targets in the standard laboratory and the tablet version of the tasks. On the double-step task, participants adjusted to the displaced target adequately in both the lab and tablet versions. On the interception task, participants intercepted non-accelerating targets, and performed worse on accelerating targets in both versions of the task. These findings suggest that the tablet version of these tasks assesses similar visuomotor processing as the respective laboratory version. Author Keywords: concussion assessment, double-step task, interception task, visuomotor processing, visuomotor system
Influence of Habitat on Woodland Caribou Site Fidelity
Site fidelity is the behaviour of individuals to return to the same location; for female woodland caribou it may reflect reproductive success and depend on habitat quality. I investigated the influence of landscape and disturbance conditions on fidelity among three populations in Manitoba and Ontario, Canada. Habitat classifications were based on Forest Resource Inventory (FRI) and Landsat TM landcover maps. A total of 261 sites were ground-truthed to determine mapping accuracy. An amalgamated map incorporating FRI and Landsat TM data was estimated from field measurements to have an overall accuracy of 69.0%. Site fidelity was expressed as the distance between consecutive-year locations of individuals and was investigated during five week-long periods representing calving, early and late post-calving, winter, and breeding. Site fidelity was strongest during the post-calving seasons and weakest during the winter. Habitat had little influence on site fidelity in all seasons, excepting winter, even under highly disturbed conditions, suggesting maintenance of fidelity may be a maladaptive trait. Individual variation proved a strong predictor and cursory mapping indicated that caribou may return to sites visited two or more years earlier. Conservation management and policy should recognize that site fidelity may represent an ecological trap. Author Keywords: calving, disturbance, habitat, movement, Rangifer tarandus caribou, site fidelity
Role of Multiple Nights of Sleep in the Consolidation of an Engaging and Complex Motor Learning Task
The present study examined the role of multiple nights of sleep in the consolidation of a complex motor learning task. Participants were 24 Trent undergraduates, 12 in the learning group (Mage = 20.33, SD = 1.87, 10 female) and 12 in the control group (Mage = 21.92, SD = 3.42, 7 female). Participants underwent 5 consecutive nights of polysomnographic recordings, with a Rock Band learning session on the third night. A series of 2(group)x4(night) ANOVAs were performed on the sleep variables. Interactions were found in the number of spindles detected at Pz, F(333) = 9.19, p <.01, and in the density of spindles detected at Pz, F(3,33) = 4.06, p <.05. The pattern of changes from baseline was significantly different between the two groups; spindles increased in the learning group and decreased in the control group. The novel finding was that spindle number/density remained elevated at the third post-learning night of sleep. Author Keywords: Motor Learning, Procedural Memory, Sleep, Sleep Spindles
Near-Hand Effects and Recruitment of Visual-Tactile Bimodal Cells
Near-hand benefits are seen when individuals are able to process targets more quickly, accurately, and with greater precision when a hand is placed near, rather than far from a target. One possibility is that near-hand stimuli recruit visual-tactile bimodal cells. Research reports that placing a hand near a target delayed immediate saccade onset and speeded delayed saccade onset. Study 1 examined saccade onset to targets appearing near a real hand, a realistic fake hand, or a non-hand visual cue. Immediate saccades were facilitated and delayed saccades were slowed with a real hand in the display, in comparison to a fake hand and no-hand. To establish the link between near-hand effects and bimodal cells, Study 2 used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to depress cortical activity in PMd. RTMS did not induce a reversal of interference induced by near-hand, congruent targets. However, a reversal of the hand effect was found in the stimulation group; a real hand in the display may delay immediate saccades and improve delayed saccades post-stimulation. This finding may double dissociate the effect of the real hand from the fake hand and may be inconsistent with the hypothesis that the hand is attracting attention. Author Keywords: multisensory integration, near-hand effects, PMd, premotor cortex, rTMS, visual-tactile bimodal neurons
TESTING THE ROLE OF BIMODAL CELLS IN NEAR-HAND EFFECTS
We investigated whether hand-proximity effects arise from the recruitment of visual-tactile bimodal cells. In Experiment 1, we executed right-hand open-loop reaching movements to targets, presented either near or far from the resting left-hand, and after applying repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to suppress neuronal activity in the PMd and AIP, in Experiment 2. Results from Experiment 1, indicated that near-hand targets improved accuracy and reduced variability. In Experiment 2, suppressing PMd showed similar near-hand effects as above. In contrast, applying rTMS to AIP disrupted the representation of target location, indicating less accuracy and greater error. Near-hand proximity effects possibly arise from the recruitment of visual-tactile bimodal cells within the human AIP. Author Keywords: anterior intraparietal sulcus, peripersonal space, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), , rTMS, anterior intraparietal sulcus, AIP., visual-tactile bimodal neurons

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