Motor variability plays an important role in motor learning, although the exact mechanisms of how variability affects learning are not well understood. Recent evidence suggests that motor variability may have different effects on learning in redundant tasks, depending on whether it is present in the task space (where it affects task performance) or in the null space (where it has no effect on task performance). We examined the effect of directly introducing null and task space variability using a manipulandum during the learning of a motor task. Participants learned a bimanual shuffleboard task for 2 days, where their goal was to slide a virtual puck as close as possible toward a target. Critically, the distance traveled by the puck was determined by the sum of the left- and right-hand velocities, which meant that there was redundancy in the task. Participants were divided into five groups, based on both the dimension in which the variability was introduced and the amount of variability that was introduced during training. Results showed that although all groups were able to reduce error with practice, learning was affected more by the amount of variability introduced rather than the dimension in which variability was introduced. Specifically, groups with higher movement variability during practice showed larger errors at the end of practice compared with groups that had low variability during learning. These results suggest that although introducing variability can increase exploration of new solutions, this may adversely affect the ability to retain the learned solution. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We examined the role of introducing variability during motor learning in a redundant task. The presence of redundancy allows variability to be introduced in different dimensions: the task space (where it affects task performance) or the null space (where it does not affect task performance). We found that introducing variability affected learning adversely, but the amount of variability was more critical than the dimension in which variability was introduced.
Cardis, M., Casadio, M., & Ranganathan, R. (2018). High variability impairs motor learning regardless of whether it affects task performance. Journal of Neurophysiology, 119(1), 39–48. https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.00158.2017