Special-purpose device hypothesis in motor learning:
Maia Pacheco, Matheus
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Motor learning is central to understand both the underlying processes of how behavior comes to be the way it is as well as to provide the best approaches to intervene on it. Despite its importance in human behavior, the area is far from a proper characterization of what it is that is learned with practice. In the present dissertation, I provide a review of the traditional and contemporary positions on what is learned in practice and, in failing to find convergence between theoretical and empirical results, derive a hypothesis from the view of the dynamical systems approach. The general hypothesis holds that individuals learn what is in effect a special-purpose device that is specific, individual, and generalizable. The special-purpose device is a coordination function that is specific (i.e., functional) to the task at hand and can be generalized to other conditions depending on its properties. Given the differences on initial states, search-strategies and the redundancy at the task level, individuals find different solutions that influence their performance when new situations are presented. Experiment 1 assessed the proposition that learning results in an individual learned solution. I tested whether individuals would diverge during practice showing equally functional responses with different coordination functions and whether the properties of these learned solutions predicted performance in two transfer tests. Experiment 2 investigated the special-purpose device hypothesis against the traditional assumption of group homogeneity in learning. The experiment tested whether the individual properties of the coordination function would be more appropriate to explain differences on subsequent transfer tests of performance when compared to predictions considering groups and their respective practice conditions. The findings showed that individuals diverged in terms of the learned coordination function and these demonstrated a high relation to tests performed after practice. The present proposition of learning as the formation of a special purpose device provides an understanding of how learning emerges from the constraints present from the interaction of the organism, environment and task.