How individual differences in pre-dispositions of behavioral repertoires influence motor learning and performance
Verhoeven, Floris Martijn
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This study investigated the effect of preferred behavioral dynamics on performance and learning of a target-based throwing task. Two experiments were performed, revealing that differences in pre-dispositions between individuals result in a large variety of movement solutions, while maintaining similar performance output across all individuals. In Experiment 1, participants demonstrated changes in preferred patterns of coordination in response to alteration of the target distance and/or throwing hand. The notion that these behavioral preferences are relatively stable across time was tested and confirmed in a sub-set of participants who performed the same task twice, in a behaviorally similar manner. This finding becomes particularly relevant considering that these preferences and their relative stability provide the background on which subsequent learning takes place. In Experiment 2, individuals were assigned to a prolonged practice intervention where they were instructed to maintain one movement pattern that was either congruent or incongruent to their initially preferred pattern. The results suggest that the strength of preference of this initially preferred pattern determines the learning pathway. Higher absolute autocorrelation values were observed for individuals who were asked to learn a coordination pattern more dissimilar to their preferred pattern. Autocorrelation values provided insight into the structure of variability, with higher values suggesting a more directed exploration of the task space. This early exploration proved successful for transfer to other target conditions, as the overall performance improvement between PRE- and POST- test showed a strong relation with the amount of autocorrelation early in practice. These results provide a framework to more strongly consider the effect of initial differences in pre-dispositions of behavior and performance in both scientific and applied settings, as these differences have a clear effect on the learning pathway. Particularly, rather than using a retrospective approach to the issue of individual differences, the proactive approach employed in this study was successful in relating individual differences in preferences to learning pathways. Furthermore, the effect of additional instructional constraints is strongly determined by the predisposition of the individual, further substantiating the need for change agents to consider learning within the context of the individual.