Decomposition of a sensory prediction error signal for visuomotor adaptation

Peter A. Butcher, Jordan A. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


To accomplish effective motor control, the brain contains an internal forward model that predicts the expected sensory consequence of a motor command. When this prediction is inaccurate, a sensory prediction error is produced which adapts the forward model to make more accurate predictions of future movements. Other types of errors, such as task performance errors or reward, play less of a role in adapting a forward model. This raises the following question: What unique information is conveyed by the sensory prediction error that results in forward model adaptation? sensory prediction errors typically contain both the magnitude and direction of the error, but it is unclear if both components are necessary for adaptation or a single component is sufficient. In this article, we address this by having participants learn to counter a visuomotor rotation, which induces an angular mismatch between movements of the hand and visual feedback. We manipulated the information content of the visual feedback, in the form of a line, which accurately represented only the magnitude (distance), direction, or both magnitude and direction, of the virtual cursor relative to the target. We demonstrate that sensorimotor adaptation does not occur, or is minimal, when feedback is limited to information about the magnitude of an error. In contrast, sensorimotor adaptation is present when feedback is limited only to the direction of an error or when it contains combined direction and magnitude information. This result stands in contrast to current computational models of cerebellar-based sensorimotor adaptation that use error magnitude to drive adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)176-194
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Error decomposition
  • Explicit learning
  • Motor learning
  • Sensorimotor adaptation
  • Sensory prediction error


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