Motor Learning in a Goal-Oriented Visuospatial Task

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Williams, Erin Skyler
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There have been numerous studies that investigate motor learning at large, but there is a lack of research focusing on three-dimensional visuospatial learning and action observation in the setting of a goal-oriented motor task. There are even fewer that test these variables while introducing a social component in which the subject must execute motor control based off another person’s directed movements. The objective of this study is to investigate how factors, such as action observation, social intention, motor control, and goal-oriented behavior impact motor learning of a subject during a structure building task. Twelve right-hand dominant subjects engaged with the researcher during two rounds (each consisting of 15 trials) with each round resulting in a static structure that the subject constructed by imitating the movements of the researcher. Half of the subjects completed this paradigm while wearing a transradial body-powered prosthetic simulator device on their right arm (experimental group) to test if the prosthesis altered motor learning. The research questions aimed to assess subjects’ ability to display evidence of motor learning throughout the task, if this evidence is associated with increased gaze position in the researcher’s quadrant, and if these trends remain consistent when subjects are wearing the prosthesis. Eye-gaze patterns, task completion time, performance and task errors, and behavioral observations were used as methods of data collection, and statistical analyses, including t-tests, sample means, and surface distributions, were performed to evaluate the hypotheses. Results revealed subjects in both groups demonstrated motor learning between round one and two, and while the addition of the prosthesis increased task completion time and error values, subjects within the experimental group were also able to demonstrate significant decreases in the latter round. In addition, eye-tracking data revealed increased gaze patterns on the researcher’s path of movement vs. the quadrant itself for the experimental group compared to the control group. This suggests that social intent and action observation are likely facilitating an increase in motor learning in subjects tasked with completing goal-directed movements with the unfamiliar prosthesis.
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