Implicit adaptation to mirror reversal is in the correct coordinate system but the wrong direction

Tianhe Wang, Jordan A. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Learning in visuomotor adaptation tasks is the result of both explicit and implicit processes. Explicit processes, operationalized as reaiming an intended movement to a new goal, account for a significant proportion of learning. However, implicit processes, operationalized as error-dependent learning that gives rise to aftereffects, appear to be highly constrained. The limitations of implicit learning are highlighted in the mirror-reversal task, where implicit corrections act in opposition to performance. This is surprising given the mirror-reversal task has been viewed as emblematic of implicit learning. One potential issue not being considered in these studies is that both explicit and implicit processes were allowed to operate concurrently, which may interact, potentially in opposition. Therefore, we sought to further characterize implicit learning in a mirror-reversal task with a clamp design to isolate implicit learning from explicit strategies. We confirmed that implicit adaptation is in the wrong direction for mirror reversal and operates as if the perturbation were a rotation and only showed a moderate attenuation after 3 days of training. This result raised the question of whether implicit adaptation blindly operates as though perturbations were a rotation. In a separate experiment, which directly compared a mirror reversal and a rotation, we found that implicit adaptation operates in a proper coordinate system for different perturbations: adaptation to a mirror reversal and rotational perturbation is more consistent with Cartesian and polar coordinate systems, respectively. It remains an open question why implicit process would be flexible to the coordinate system of a perturbation but continue to be directed inappropriately. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Recent studies have found that implicit learning may operate inappropriately in some motor tasks, requiring explicit strategies to improve performance. However, this inappropriate adaptation could be attributable to competitive interactions between explicit and implicit processes. After isolating implicit processes, we found that implicit adaptation remained in the wrong direction for a mirror reversal, acting as if it were a rotation. Interestingly, however, the implicit system is sensitive to a particular coordinate system, treating mirror reversal and rotation differently.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1478-1489
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


  • Coordinate system
  • Implicit adaptation
  • Mirror reversal
  • Motor learning
  • Sensorimotor adaptation


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