Dynamic sensorimotor planning during long-term sequence learning: the role of variability, response chunking and planning errors.
Many everyday skills are learned by binding otherwise independent actions into a unified sequence of responses across days or weeks of practice. Here we looked at how the dynamics of action planning and response binding change across such long timescales. Subjects (N = 23) were trained on a bimanual version of the serial reaction time task (32-item sequence) for two weeks (10 days total). Response times and accuracy both showed improvement with time, but appeared to be learned at different rates. Changes in response speed across training were associated with dynamic changes in response time variability, with faster learners expanding their variability during the early training days and then contracting response variability late in training. Using a novel measure of response chunking, we found that individual responses became temporally correlated across trials and asymptoted to set sizes of approximately 7 bound responses at the end of the first week of training. Finally, we used a state-space model of the response planning process to look at how predictive (i.e., response anticipation) and error-corrective (i.e., post-error slowing) processes correlated with learning rates for speed, accuracy and chunking. This analysis yielded non-monotonic association patterns between the state-space model parameters and learning rates, suggesting that different parts of the response planning process are relevant at different stages of long-term learning. These findings highlight the dynamic modulation of response speed, variability, accuracy and chunking as multiple movements become bound together into a larger set of responses during sequence learning.