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Simultaneous Learning of Multiple Sensorimotor Transformations (2015-2018; 2018-2021)


Mathias Hegele

Prof. Dr. Mathias Hegele                    

Principal Investigator

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Lisa Langsdorf

Lisa Langsdorf              

PhD candidate

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Former Team Members

Raphael Schween

Dr. Raphael Schween              

Former PhD candidate

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Abstract (2018-2021)

While previous research on human task switching has accumulated convincing evidence for the existence of task representations in the human mind, studies concerning the implicit and explicit learning of these task sets are sparse (but see Dreisbach, Goschke, & Haider, 2007). Typically, studies on task switching comprise supervised experimental procedures, within which the relevant control policies (or abstract rules) are explicitly known to the participants and refer to already established stimulus-response mappings. In the literature on sensorimotor learning, however, one can find more than a hundred years of research investigating the acquisition of novel, unknown control policies by means of supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning (e.g. Galea, Mallia, Rothwell, & Diedrichsen, 2015; Heuer, Hegele, & Suelzenbrueck, 2011; Todorov, 2003; Welch, 1972; Helmholtz, 1909; Stratton, 1896). Most of this research, however, has focused on the acquisition of a single a control policy as for example in learning how to move under a novel sensorimotor transformation introduced by prism goggles, force-fields or visuomotor rotations. Among those who sought to investigate simultaneous learning of multiple control policies, only very few have addressed the simultaneous learning at different levels of processing, i.e. the interplay of (implicit) learning of internal representations of abstract rules based on the experienced stimulus-response- mappings and (explicitly and/or implicitly represented) states that contextualize those abstract rules and can potentially give rise to (explicit) cognitive control of otherwise spontaneously executed movements. Within the SPP, the present project offers a unique perspective on task-switching in terms of the way humans simultaneously acquire multiple control policies for goal-directed behavior.

Abstract (2015-2018)

The project investigates simultaneous learning of multiple sensorimotor transformations. Previous research on this topic revealed inconclusive evidence regarding the concurrent development of two internal models of the transformations. Based on unresolved issues in sensorimotor learning, the project will [a] shed light on the nature of contextual cues that allow for the simultaneous development of two internal models in dual adaptation, [b] examine the way in which explicit knowledge of the transformations and its application in terms of conscious strategic corrections modulate the implicit acquisition of multiple internal models of the transformations, and [c] systematically study the influence of the type of transformations to be learned.


To this end, the project will investigate dual sensorimotor learning by breaking it down into its explicit and implicit component processes by a series of pre- and posttests (Heuer and Hegele, 2008). Three hypotheses constitute the theoretical basis for the planned series of experiments.

(1)  The distinct-motor-requirements hypothesis postulates that the amount of interference between any novel transformations depends on the extent to which there is a conflict between the adjustments required to the adapted motor commands;

(2)  The strategy hypothesis proposes that learning of multiple visuomotor transformations is mediated by explicit knowledge of the transformations;

(3)  The vector-adaptation-hypothesis states that adaptation of movement amplitude and movement direction is fundamentally different phenomena with distinct neural substrates and different learning characteristics such as the time course of learning or the pattern of generalization.


In three series of experiments, we will examine 1) the roles of different contextual cues, 2) the interaction of explicit and implicit components 3) the impact of different types of transformations on subjects’ ability to concurrently learn two visuomotor transformations (dual learning). In addition to the individual knowledge gains by these three approaches, we aim to generate general theoretical insights into the roles of explicit and implicit mechanisms in performing and learning two tasks at the same time.


Project Output


Langsdorf, L., Goehringer, F., Schween, R., Schenk, T., & Hegele, M. (2022). Additional cognitive load decreases performance but not adaptation to a visuomotor transformation. Acta Psychol (Amst), 226, 103586.

Langsdorf L, Maresch J, Hegele M, McDougle SD, Schween R. (2021). Prolonged response time helps eliminate residual errors in visuomotor adaptation. Psychon Bull Rev.

Schween, R., McDougle, S.D., Hegele, M. & Taylor, J.A. (2020). Assessing explicit strategies in force field adaptation. J Neurophysiol 123(4): 1552-65.

Schween, R., Langsdorf, L., Taylor, J. A. & Hegele, M. (2019). Of hands, tools, and exploding dots: How different action states and effects separate visuomotor memories. bioRxiv 548602. doi: 0.1101/548602

Schween, Taylor, & Hegele (2018).  Plan-based generalization shapes local implicit adaptation to opposing visuomotor transformationsJournal of Neurophysiology. doi: 10.1152/jn.00451.2018

Schween, R., & Hegele, M. (2017). Feedback delay attenuates implicit but facilitates explicit adjustments to a visuomotor rotation. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 140, 124-133. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2017.02.015


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