Procedural motor learning includes a period when no substantial gain in performance improvement is obtained even with repeated, daily practice. Prompted by the potential benefit of high-frequency transcutaneous electrical stimulation, we examined if the stimulation to the hand reduces redundant motor activity that likely exists in an acquired hand motor skill, so as to further upgrade stable motor performance. Healthy participants were trained until their motor performance of continuously rotating two balls in the palm of their right hand became stable. In the series of experiments, they repeated a trial performing this cyclic rotation as many times as possible in 15 s. In trials where we applied the stimulation to the relaxed thumb before they initiated the task, most reported that their movements became smoother and they could perform the movements at a higher cycle compared to the control trials. This was not possible when the dorsal side of the wrist was stimulated. The performance improvement was associated with reduction of amplitude of finger displacement, which was consistently observed irrespective of the task demands. Importantly, this kinematic change occurred without being noticed by the participants, and their intentional changes of motor strategies (reducing amplitude of finger displacement) never improved the performance. Moreover, the performance never spontaneously improved during one-week training without stimulation, whereas the improvement in association with stimulation was consistently observed across days during training on another week combined with the stimulation. The improved effect obtained in stimulation trials on one day partially carried over to the next day, thereby promoting daily improvement of plateaued performance, which could not be unlocked by the first-week intensive training. This study demonstrated the possibility of effectively improving a plateaued motor skill, and pre-movement somatic stimulation driving this behavioral change.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)