, Volume 222, Issue 3, pp 201-210
Date: 12 Aug 2012

Dual-task practice enhances motor learning: a preliminary investigation

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Abstract

Practicing a motor task under dual-task conditions can be beneficial to motor learning when the secondary task is difficult (Roche et al. in Percept Psychophys 69(4):513–522, 2007) or when it engages similar processes as the primary motor task (Hemond et al. in J Neurosci 30(2):650–654, 2010). The purpose of this pilot study was to determine which factor, difficulty level or engaged processes, of a secondary task is more critical in determining dual-task benefit. Participants practiced a discrete arm task in conjunction with an audio-vocal reaction time (RT) task. We presented two different RT tasks that differed in difficulty, simple versus choice (i.e., more difficult), at two different arm task phases that differed in engaged processes, preparation versus execution, resulting in four dual-task conditions. A simple RT task is thought to predominantly engage motor execution processes, therefore would engage similar processes as the arm movement task when it is presented during the execution phase, while a choice RT task is thought to engage planning processes and therefore would engage similar processes too when it is presented during the preparation phase. Enhanced motor learning was found in those who engaged similar process as the primary task during dual-tasking (i.e., choice RT presented during preparation and simple RT presented during execution). Moreover, those who showed enhanced learning also demonstrated high dual-task cost (poor RT task performance) during practice, indicating that both tasks were taxing the same resource pool possibly due to engaging similar cognitive processes. To further test the relation between dual-task cost and enhanced learning, we delayed the presentation timing of the choice RT task during the preparation phase and the simple RT task during the execution phase in two control experiments. Dual-task cost was reduced in these delayed timing conditions, and the enhanced learning effect was attenuated. Together, our preliminary findings suggest that it is the similarity hypothesis and not the difficulty hypothesis that mediates the enhanced motor learning under dual-task conditions.