Graduate Theses & Dissertations

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

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