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Although intermixing different motor learning tasks via random schedules enhances long-term retention compared with “blocked” schedules, the mechanism underlying this contextual interference effect has been unclear. Furthermore, previous studies have reported inconclusive results in individuals poststroke. We instructed participants to learn to produce three grip force patterns in either random or blocked schedules and measured the contextual interference effect by long-term forgetting: the change in performance between immediate and 24-h posttests. Nondisabled participants exhibited the contextual interference effect: no forgetting in the random condition but forgetting in the blocked condition. Participants at least 3 mo poststroke exhibited no forgetting in the random condition but marginal forgetting in the blocked condition. However, in participants poststroke, the integrity of visuospatial working memory modulated long-term retention after blocked schedule training: participants with poor visuospatial working memory exhibited little forgetting at 24 h. These counterintuitive results were predicted by a computational model of motor memory that contains a common fast process and multiple slow processes, which are competitively updated by motor errors. In blocked schedules, the fast process quickly improved performance, therefore reducing error-driven update of the slow processes and thus poor long-term retention. In random schedules, interferences in the fast process led to slower change in performance, therefore increasing error-driven update of slow processes and thus good long-term retention. Increased forgetting rates in the fast process, as would be expected in individuals with visuospatial working memory deficits, led to small updates of the fast process during blocked schedules and thus better long-term retention.

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APA Citation

Schweighofer, N., Lee, J.-Y., Goh, H.-T., Choi, Y., Kim, S. S., Stewart, J. C., Lewthwaite, R., & Winstein, C. J. (2011). Mechanisms of the contextual interference effect in individuals poststroke. Journal of Neurophysiology, 106(5), 2632–2641.


© 2011 the American Physiological Society