Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 194, Issue 1, pp 143–155 | Cite as

The serial reaction time task revisited: a study on motor sequence learning with an arm-reaching task

  • Clara Moisello
  • Domenica Crupi
  • Eugene Tunik
  • Angelo Quartarone
  • Marco Bove
  • Giulio Tononi
  • M. Felice GhilardiEmail author
Research Article


With a series of novel arm-reaching tasks, we have shown that visuomotor sequence learning encompasses the acquisition of the order of sequence elements, and the ability to combine them in a single, skilled behavior. The first component, which is mostly declarative, is reflected by changes in movement onset time (OT); the second, which occurs without subject’s awareness, is measured by changes in kinematic variables, including movement time (MT). Key-press-based serial reaction time tasks (SRTT) have been used to investigate sequence learning and results interpreted as indicative of the implicit acquisition of the sequence order. One limitation to SRT studies, however, is that only one measure is used, the response time, the sum of OT and MT: this makes interpretation of which component is learnt difficult and disambiguation of implicit and explicit processes problematic. Here, we used an arm-reaching version of SRTT to propose a novel interpretation of such results. The pattern of response time changes we obtained was similar to the key-press-based tasks. However, there were significant differences between OT and MT, suggesting that both partial learning of the sequence order and skill improvement took place. Further analyses indicated that the learning of the sequence order might not occur without subjects’ awareness.


Incidental learning Intentional learning Implicit learning Explicit learning Motor strategy Movement time 



Supported by a grant from McDonnell Foundation (MFG), NIH R01 NS054864 (MFG), R01 NS055185 (GT) and a large grant from NPF (MFG, GT). We thank Dr. John Krakauer for countless discussions and helpful advice. Data were collected with custom-designed software, MotorTaskManager, produced by E.T.T. s.r.l. (

Supplementary material

221_2008_1681_MOESM1_ESM.doc (2.8 mb)
Supplementary material (DOC 2823 kb)


  1. Curran T, Keele S (1993) Attentional and nonattentional forms of sequence learning. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 19:189–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Destrebecqz A, Cleeremans A (2001) Can sequence learning be implicit? New evidence with the process dissociation procedure. Psychon Bull Rev 8:343–350PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Doyon J, Gaudreau D, Laforce R Jr, Castonguay M, Bedard PJ, Bedard F, Bouchard JP (1997) Role of the striatum, cerebellum, and frontal lobes in the learning of a visuomotor sequence. Brain Cogn 34:218–245PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ghilardi MF, Alberoni M, Rossi M, Franceschi M, Mariani C, Fazio F (2000) Visual feedback has differential effects on reaching movements in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Brain Res 876:112–123PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ghilardi MF, Eidelberg D, Silvestri G, Ghez C (2003) The differential effect of PD and normal aging on early explicit sequence learning. Neurology 60:1313–1319PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Ghilardi MF, Feigin AS, Battaglia F, Silvestri G, Mattis P, Eidelberg D, Di Rocco A (2007) l-Dopa infusion does not improve explicit sequence learning in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism Relat Disord 13:146–151PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ghilardi MF, Silvestri G, Feigin A, Mattis P, Zgaljardic D, Moisello C, Crupi D, Marinelli L, Dirocco A, Eidelberg D (2008) Implicit and explicit aspects of sequence learning in pre-symptomatic Huntington’s disease. Parkinsonism Relat Disord 14:457–464PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ghilardi MF, Moisello C, Silvestri G, Ghez C, Krakauer JW (in press) Sequential motor skill learning comprises explicit and implicit components that consolidate differently. J NeurophysiolGoogle Scholar
  9. Goedert KM, Willingham DB (2002) Patterns of interference in sequence learning and prism adaptation inconsistent with the consolidation hypothesis. Learn Mem 9:279–292PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Grafton ST, Mazziotta JC, Presty S, Friston KJ, Frackowiak RS, Phelps ME (1992) Functional anatomy of human procedural learning determined with regional cerebral blood flow and PET. J Neurosci 12:2542–2548PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Huber R, Ghilardi MF, Massimini M, Ferrarelli F, Riedner BA, Peterson MJ, Tononi G (2006) Arm immobilization causes cortical plastic changes and locally decreases sleep slow wave activity. Nat Neurosci 9:1169–1176PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. McIntosh AR, Rajah MN, Lobaugh NJ (1999) Interactions of prefrontal cortex in relation to awareness in sensory learning. Science 284:1531–1533PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Moisello C, Bove M, Huber R, Abbruzzese G, Battaglia F, Tononi G, Ghilardi MF (2008a) Short-term limb immobilization affects motor performance. J Mot Behav 40:165–176PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Moisello C, Sanguineti V, Bove M, Crupi D, Perfetti B, Ghilardi MF (2008b) Selection of motor strategy: I. Effects of task demands. Soc Neurosci Abstracts 861:22Google Scholar
  15. Nissen M, Bullemer P (1987) Attentional requirements of learning: evidence from performance measures. Cogn Psychol 19:1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pascual-Leone A, Grafman J, Clark K, Stewart M, Massaquoi S, Lou JS, Hallett M (1993) Procedural learning in Parkinson’s disease and cerebellar degeneration. Ann Neurol 34:594–602PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Proteau L, Marteniuk RG, Lévesque L (1992) A sensorimotor basis for motor learning: evidence indicating specificity of practice. Q J Exp Psychol 44:557–575Google Scholar
  18. Robertson EM (2007) The serial reaction time task: implicit motor skill learning? J Neurosci 27:10073–10075PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Schendan HE, Searl MM, Melrose RJ, Stern CE (2003) An FMRI study of the role of the medial temporal lobe in implicit and explicit sequence learning. Neuron 37:1013–1025PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Schmidt RA, Lee TD (1998) Motor control and learning—a behavioral emphasis. Kinetics Publishers, ChampaignGoogle Scholar
  21. Squire LR, Zola SM (1996) Structure and function of declarative and nondeclarative memory systems. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 93:13515–13522PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Todorov E (2004) Optimality principles in sensorimotor control. Nat Neurosci 7:907–915PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Wilkinson L, Shanks DR (2004) Intentional control and implicit sequence learning. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 30:354–369PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Willingham DB, Nissen MJ, Bullemer P (1989) On the development of procedural knowledge. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 15:1047–1060PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clara Moisello
    • 1
    • 2
  • Domenica Crupi
    • 1
    • 3
  • Eugene Tunik
    • 4
  • Angelo Quartarone
    • 3
  • Marco Bove
    • 2
  • Giulio Tononi
    • 5
  • M. Felice Ghilardi
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.SMILabs Without Frontiers, Department of Physiology and PharmacologyCUNY Medical SchoolNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.SMILabs Without Frontiers, Department of Experimental Medicine, Human PhysiologyUniversity of GenoaGenoaItaly
  3. 3.SMILabs Without Frontiers, Department of Neuroscience, Anesthesiology and PsychiatryUniversity of MessinaMessinaItaly
  4. 4.University of Medicine and Dentistry of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of MadisonMadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations