Published on June 13, 2012 at 7:38 AM
The researchers' goal was to look at which areas of the brain support the two-part process of chunking. "We feel that the motor process, or the concatenation process as we refer to it in the paper, tends to take over as you continue to practice and continue to learn the sequences," Wymbs said. "That's the one that's tied to the motor output system -- the thing that's actually accomplishing what we set out to do."
With the experience of repeating a motor sequence, such as typing out a phone number, speaking, typing on a computer, or even texting, it becomes more automatic. "With automaticity comes the recruitment of core motor output regions," Wymbs said.
The scientists discovered that the putamen -- a brain region that is critically important to movement -- supports the concatenation process of motor chunking, with robust connectivity to parts of the brain that are intimately tied to the output of skilled motor behavior. On the other hand, they found that cortical regions in the left hemisphere respond more during the parsing process of motor chunking. "These regions have been linked to the manipulation of motor information, which is something that we probably do more of when we just begin to learn the sequences as chunks," Wymbs said.
"Initially, when you're doing one of these 12-element sequences, you want to pause," Wymbs added. "That would evoke more of the parsing mechanism. But then, over time, as you learn a sequence so that it becomes more automatic, and the concatenation process takes over and it wants to put all of these individual elements into a single fluid behavior."
According to Wymbs, the findings could have implications for the study and diagnosis of Parkinson's and other diseases of the motor system that involve action. "We show here that there are two potentially competing systems that lead to the isolation of different systems that both work to allow us to process things efficiently when we're learning," Wymbs said.
Source: University of California - Santa Barbara