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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

March 2018, Vol. 30, No. 3, Pages 290-306
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01204)
© 2018 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Structure and Acquisition of Sensorimotor Maps
Article PDF (3.57 MB)
One of the puzzles of learning to talk or play a musical instrument is how we learn which movement produces a particular sound: an audiomotor map. Existing research has used mappings that are already well learned such as controlling a cursor using a computer mouse. By contrast, the acquisition of novel sensorimotor maps was studied by having participants learn arm movements to auditory targets. These sounds did not come from different directions but, like speech, were only distinguished by their frequencies. It is shown that learning involves forming not one but two maps: a point map connecting sensory targets with motor commands and an error map linking sensory errors to motor corrections. Learning a point map is possible even when targets never repeat. Thus, although participants make errors, there is no opportunity to correct them because the target is different on every trial, and therefore learning cannot be driven by error correction. Furthermore, when the opportunity for error correction is provided, it is seen that acquiring error correction is itself a learning process that changes over time and results in an error map. In principle, the error map could be derived from the point map, but instead, these two maps are independently acquired and jointly enable sensorimotor control and learning. A computational model shows that this dual encoding is optimal and simulations based on this architecture predict that learning the two maps results in performance improvements comparable with those observed empirically.