Comparison of Brain and Behavioral Measures During a 3D-Computer Maze Task in Order to Examine the Learning Process

Gomes, Nicole
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University of Delaware
Motor learning is a "set of processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent gains in the capability for skilled performance." A performance curve can be used to chart performance progress on a task, to ultimately infer learning of the skill. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is highly involved in motor learning, as it is controls conscious executive functions such as planning and decision-making. As learning progresses, a skill requires less conscious control and the prefrontal cortex becomes less involved in movement execution. The fNIRS device, which emits infrared light, is worn on the forehead and can indirectly measure brain activity. The purpose of this study is to investigate the link between brain and behavioral measures during a cognitive-motor task. Three participants, ages 18-22, completed either 10 or 20 trials of a 3D-computer maze constructed in the program MazeSuite (number of trials depended on their success with the task). Throughout the task, levels of oxygenated hemoglobin in the prefrontal cortex were measured as the brain measure. Path length was measured as the behavioral measures. Our results showed that in general, path length decreases as trial number increased. This demonstrates that the participants learned the maze. For two of the three participants, oxygenated hemoglobin also decreased as path length increased. This indicates a decrease in prefrontal cortex activity as the task became better learned. The relationship between path length and oxygenated hemoglobin was not consistent among participants. More participants, and the use of more advanced statistics are necessary to draw more accurate conclusions from this data. Additionally, future studies can further this research by using this experimental protocol to study the contextual interference effect, as well as differences in brain activity between adults, typically developing children, and children with disabilities.
Exercise Science