Overcoming Learned Nonuse A New Approach to Treatment in Physical Medicine

  • Edward Taub
Part of the The Plenum Series in Behavioral Psychophysiology and Medicine book series (SSBP)


When an injury to the nervous system or other part of the body results in an initial loss of motor ability, the long-term result is generally considered to involve one of two possible outcomes: (1) The injury permanently destroyed an anatomical substrate or structure on which the lost movement was based; thus, motor function will never return. (2) The injured substrate will recover or heal, either entirely or in part, and motor function will then return to the maximum extent permitted by the underlying restitution of the anatomical substrate. The assumption that these are the two main possible outcomes is sufficiently strong that alternate outcomes are rarely considered. The purpose of this chapter is to suggest a third possibility related to the existence of a new mechanism, termed “learned nonuse.” This mechanism is behavioral in nature. It is proposed here that the mechanism often prevents the return of motor function following a number of different types of injury to a level consistent with the recovery of the substrate, thereby making an initial motor deficit permanent. However, the mechanism can be overcome or reversed by behavioral means so that all or much of the lost capability can be reinstated.


Motor Ability Baseline Session Comparison Subject Motor Improvement Dorsal Rhizotomy 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward Taub
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Alabama at BirminghamBirminghamUSA

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