Variability, Noise, and Sensitivity to Error in Learning a Motor Task

Dagmar Sternad and Masaki O. Abe

in Motor Control

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780195395273
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199863518 | DOI:
Variability, Noise, and Sensitivity to Error in Learning a Motor Task

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Variability is a ubiquitous characteristic in even highly skilled performance, and it can serve as a useful window into the determinants of skill acquisition and control. Variability is specifically informative when a task is redundant (i.e., the same result can be obtained in many different ways). This chapter discusses a novel analysis technique which has been developed for redundant tasks that parses observed variability into three components: tolerance, noise, and covariation. Three experiments addressed the following questions: What aspects of variability decrease with practice? Are actors sensitive to their intrinsic noise in selecting strategies? For all experiments, a throwing task served as the model system. Using a virtual set-up, subjects threw a pendular projectile in a simulated concentric force field to hit a target. The movement was experimentally constrained such that only two variables, angle and velocity of ball release, fully determined the projectile's trajectory and thereby the accuracy of the throw. While leaving the task redundant, this simplification facilitated analysis and decomposition of variability.

Keywords: variability; skill; skill acquisition; control; tolerance; noise; covariation; practice; throwing

Chapter.  8521 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience

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