Learned motor programs directly influence the visual perception of movements

When novel movements are learned--for example, in sports--visual and motor learning take place simultaneously. A karate master not only executes a kick better than a beginner, but he also perceives karate movements much more accurately. A variety of recent studies suggest that motor programs may influence the visual recognition of movements. However, this idea is difficult to test because--as for the karate expert--visual and motor experience are typically highly correlated. The fact that the karate expert is better in the perception of karate movements could be explained just by the fact that he has much more visual experience with these patterns. In findings reported this week, researchers present an experiment that separates the influences of visual and motor learning during the acquisition of a new motor behavior and demonstrate that motor learning imparts a direct influence on visual perception, independently of visual familiarity with learned movements.

The findings are reported by Antonino Casile and Martin Giese of University Clinic Tübingen, Germany.

In the experiment, blindfolded subjects, deprived of visual stimuli, were trained to execute a new type of body movement. Before and after this motor training, the researchers tested the subjects' accuracy in their visual recognition of movements. The training resulted in a highly selective improvement of the perception of the trained movement pattern--in spite of the absence of any visual stimulation during training. A more detailed analysis showed that subjects who were very skilled in the execution of the novel pattern were also more accurate in its perception.

The study demonstrates that there is a direct influence of learned motor programs on visual action recognition, and that this influence is not a sole consequence of visual experience. The accurate visual perception of the karate master might arise for two reasons: because of his visual experience, and because he can use his more accurate motor programs to support his visual recognition of karate movements.

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The researchers include Antonino Casile and Martin A. Giese of the University Clinic Tübingen in Tübingen, Germany. This work was supported by the Volkswagenstiftung, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and Human Frontier Science Program. M.A.G. is Visiting Fellow of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University. The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen provided additional support.

Casile et al.: "Non-Visual Motor Training Influences Biological Motion Perception." Publishing in Current Biology Vol. 16, Issue 1, pages 69–74, January 10, 2006. DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2005.10.071 www.current-biology.com


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