Chunk Concatenation Evolves with Practice and Sleep-Related Enhancement Consolidation in a Complex Arm Movement Sequence

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Klaus Blischke, Andreas Malangre

This paper addresses the notion of chunk concatenation being associated with sleep-related enhancement consolidation of motor sequence memory, thereby essentially contributing to improvements in sequence execution speed. To this end, element movement times of a multi-joint arm movement sequence incorporated in a recent study by Malangré et al. (2014) were reanalyzed. As sequence elements differed with respect to movement distance, element movement times had to be purged from differences solely due to varying trajectory lengths. This was done by dividing each element movement time per subject and trial block by the respective “reference movement time” collected from subjects who had extensively practiced each sequence element in isolation. Any differences in these “relative element movement times” were supposed to reflect element-specific “production costs” imposed solely by the sequence context. Across all subjects non-idiosyncratic, lasting sequence segmentation was shown, and four possible concatenation points (i.e. transition points between successive chunks) within the original arm movement sequence were identified. Based on theoretical suppositions derived from previous work with the discrete sequence production task and the dual processor model (Abrahamse et al., 2013), significantly larger improvements in transition speed occurring at these four concatenation points as compared to the five fastest transition positions within the sequence (associated with mere element execution) were assumed to indicate increased chunk concatenation. As a result, chunk concatenation was shown to proceed during acquisition with physical practice, and, most importantly, to significantly progress some more during retention following a night of sleep, but not during a waking interval.
DOI: 10.1515/hukin-2015-0163
Key words
motor sequence learning, memory consolidation, offline learning, sleep, gross motor skill

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