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A novel task for the investigation of action acquisition.

Stafford T, Thirkettle M, Walton T, Vautrelle N, Hetherington L, Port M, Gurney K, Redgrave P - PLoS ONE (2012)

Bottom Line: The task allows the study of how the specific elements of behaviour which cause the reinforcing signal are identified, refined and stored by the participant.Most importantly it allows for repeated measures, since when a novel action is acquired the criterion for triggering reinforcement can be changed requiring a new action to be discovered.Here, we present data using both humans and rats as subjects, showing that our task is easily scalable in difficulty, adaptable across species, and produces a rich set of behavioural measures offering new and valuable insight into the action learning process.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom. t.stafford@shef.ac.uk

ABSTRACT
We present a behavioural task designed for the investigation of how novel instrumental actions are discovered and learnt. The task consists of free movement with a manipulandum, during which the full range of possible movements can be explored by the participant and recorded. A subset of these movements, the 'target', is set to trigger a reinforcing signal. The task is to discover what movements of the manipulandum evoke the reinforcement signal. Targets can be defined in spatial, temporal, or kinematic terms, can be a combination of these aspects, or can represent the concatenation of actions into a larger gesture. The task allows the study of how the specific elements of behaviour which cause the reinforcing signal are identified, refined and stored by the participant. The task provides a paradigm where the exploratory motive drives learning and as such we view it as in the tradition of Thorndike [1]. Most importantly it allows for repeated measures, since when a novel action is acquired the criterion for triggering reinforcement can be changed requiring a new action to be discovered. Here, we present data using both humans and rats as subjects, showing that our task is easily scalable in difficulty, adaptable across species, and produces a rich set of behavioural measures offering new and valuable insight into the action learning process.

Show MeSH
Greater exploration associated with improved performance, across different participants.
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pone-0037749-g007: Greater exploration associated with improved performance, across different participants.

Mentions: A prediction from learning theory is that greater exploration is associated with improved final performance [6]. We assessed this by calculating the variability in performance for the first half of trials, and comparing it with the average performance in the second half of trials. Path length from the beginning of a trial until the target was reached was used as a proxy for performance. This was positively skewed so all distances were log transformed. The average path length for the first 5 and last 5 of 10 trials was used as a measure of first half and second half performance respectively. The standard deviation over the first 5 and last 5 of 10 trials was used as a measure of variability. Looking at the average performance and variability for each individual subject, those that were more inconsistent at the beginning of learning were better in the second half (see Figure 7). This effect also holds within subjects, so that for individual targets which were learnt over ten trials, those for which subjects explored more initially also showed better performance subsequently (Figure 8). The average correlation between first half performance and second half performance, across 30 human subjects, was (one sample t-test, different from zero with , ).


A novel task for the investigation of action acquisition.

Stafford T, Thirkettle M, Walton T, Vautrelle N, Hetherington L, Port M, Gurney K, Redgrave P - PLoS ONE (2012)

Greater exploration associated with improved performance, across different participants.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3366962&req=5

pone-0037749-g007: Greater exploration associated with improved performance, across different participants.
Mentions: A prediction from learning theory is that greater exploration is associated with improved final performance [6]. We assessed this by calculating the variability in performance for the first half of trials, and comparing it with the average performance in the second half of trials. Path length from the beginning of a trial until the target was reached was used as a proxy for performance. This was positively skewed so all distances were log transformed. The average path length for the first 5 and last 5 of 10 trials was used as a measure of first half and second half performance respectively. The standard deviation over the first 5 and last 5 of 10 trials was used as a measure of variability. Looking at the average performance and variability for each individual subject, those that were more inconsistent at the beginning of learning were better in the second half (see Figure 7). This effect also holds within subjects, so that for individual targets which were learnt over ten trials, those for which subjects explored more initially also showed better performance subsequently (Figure 8). The average correlation between first half performance and second half performance, across 30 human subjects, was (one sample t-test, different from zero with , ).

Bottom Line: The task allows the study of how the specific elements of behaviour which cause the reinforcing signal are identified, refined and stored by the participant.Most importantly it allows for repeated measures, since when a novel action is acquired the criterion for triggering reinforcement can be changed requiring a new action to be discovered.Here, we present data using both humans and rats as subjects, showing that our task is easily scalable in difficulty, adaptable across species, and produces a rich set of behavioural measures offering new and valuable insight into the action learning process.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom. t.stafford@shef.ac.uk

ABSTRACT
We present a behavioural task designed for the investigation of how novel instrumental actions are discovered and learnt. The task consists of free movement with a manipulandum, during which the full range of possible movements can be explored by the participant and recorded. A subset of these movements, the 'target', is set to trigger a reinforcing signal. The task is to discover what movements of the manipulandum evoke the reinforcement signal. Targets can be defined in spatial, temporal, or kinematic terms, can be a combination of these aspects, or can represent the concatenation of actions into a larger gesture. The task allows the study of how the specific elements of behaviour which cause the reinforcing signal are identified, refined and stored by the participant. The task provides a paradigm where the exploratory motive drives learning and as such we view it as in the tradition of Thorndike [1]. Most importantly it allows for repeated measures, since when a novel action is acquired the criterion for triggering reinforcement can be changed requiring a new action to be discovered. Here, we present data using both humans and rats as subjects, showing that our task is easily scalable in difficulty, adaptable across species, and produces a rich set of behavioural measures offering new and valuable insight into the action learning process.

Show MeSH