Brain-behavior correlates of optimizing learning through interleaved practice.

Department of Neurology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.13). 03/2011; 56(3):1758-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.02.066
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Understanding how to make learning more efficient and effective is an important goal in behavioral neuroscience. The notion of "desirable difficulties" asserts that challenges for learners during study result in superior learning. One "desirable difficulty" that has a robust benefit on learning is contextual interference (CI), in which different tasks are practiced in an interleaved order rather than in a repetitive order. This study is the first to combine functional imaging and paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation to analyze the neural basis of the CI effect in skill learning. Difficulty during practice of a serial reaction time task was manipulated by presenting sequences of response locations in a repetitive or an interleaved order. Participants practiced 3 sequences for 2 days and were tested on day 5 to examine sequence-specific learning. During practice, slower response times (RT), greater frontal-parietal blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal, and higher motor cortex (M1) excitability were found in the interleaved condition compared to the repetitive condition. Consistent with the CI effect, we found faster RT, decreased BOLD signal in frontal-parietal regions, and greater M1 excitability during the day 5 retention task when subjects had practiced interleaved sequences. Correlation analyses indicated that greater BOLD signal in contralateral sensorimotor region and M1 excitability during interleaved practice were interrelated. Furthermore, greater BOLD signal in prefrontal, premotor and parietal areas and greater M1 excitability during interleaved practice correlated with the benefit of interleaved practice on retention. This demonstrates that interleaved practice induces interrelated changes in both cortical hemodynamic responses and M1 excitability, which likely index the formation of enhanced memory traces and efficient long-term retrieval.

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    ABSTRACT: Cerebellar contributions to motor learning are well-documented. For example, under some conditions, patients with cerebellar damage are impaired at visuomotor adaptation and at acquiring new action sequences. Moreover, cerebellar activation has been observed in functional MRI (fMRI) investigations of various motor learning tasks. The early phases of motor learning are cognitively demanding, relying on processes such as working memory, which have been linked to the cerebellum as well. Here, we investigated cerebellar contributions to motor learning using activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis. This allowed us to determine, across studies and tasks, whether or not the location of cerebellar activation is constant across differing motor learning tasks, and whether or not cerebellar activation in early learning overlaps with that observed for working memory. We found that different regions of the anterior cerebellum are engaged for implicit and explicit sequence learning and visuomotor adaptation, providing additional evidence for the modularity of cerebellar function. Furthermore, we found that lobule VI of the cerebellum, which has been implicated in working memory, is activated during the early stages of explicit motor sequence learning. This provides evidence for a potential role for the cerebellum in the cognitive processing associated with motor learning. However, though lobule VI was activated across both early explicit sequence learning and working memory studies, there was no spatial overlap between these two regions. Together, our results support the idea of modularity in the formation of internal representations of new motor tasks in the cerebellum, and highlight the cognitive processing relied upon during the early phases of motor skill learning.
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