Exploring structural learning in handwriting


Structural learning suggests that the human nervous system learns general rules that can be applied when controlling actions involving similar structures (e.g. using a variety of bicycles when learning to ride). These general rules can then facilitate skill acquisition in novel but related situations (e.g. a new bicycle). We tested this concept by investigating whether learned asymmetries in handwriting (greater ease in moving the hand rightwards and downwards within Western-educated populations) are present in the non-preferred hand as predicted by structural learning. We found these asymmetries in both hands of a right-handed population when tracing abstract shapes. We then ruled out biomechanical explanations by finding the same results with a left-handed population. These findings provide support for structural learning and explain: (1) the rapidity with which individuals can learn to write with their non-preferred hand; (2) the presence of a higher abstract (effector independent) level within voluntary motor control organisation.

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We are grateful to The Magstim Company Limited and the Biomedical and Health Research Centre at the University of Leeds for their support of this project.

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Correspondence to Richard M. Wilkie.

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Johnson, R.L., Culmer, P.R., Burke, M.R. et al. Exploring structural learning in handwriting. Exp Brain Res 207, 291–295 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-010-2438-5

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  • Handwriting
  • Kinematic
  • Learning
  • Motor control
  • Non-preferred hand
  • Preferred hand
  • Structural learning
  • Task structure