Why Your Clever Brain Turns Steps Into Chunks To Learn New Moves

Why Your Clever Brain Turns Steps Into Chucks To Learn New Moves

When children learn how to tie their shoelaces, they do so in discrete steps—making a loop or tugging at the lace.

After enough repetition, our brain turns these steps into “chunks.”

Movement chunking, as the phenomenon is known, is a strategy that reduces long strings of information into shorter, more manageable pieces that are easier to remember.

“Chunking is the natural byproduct of a clever strategy that minimizes learning costs.”

Scientists know that for people with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and stroke, this movement chunking is severely disrupted. Understanding chunking and how it works is crucial for early diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation therapy. Yet, science has no concrete explanation for it.

But now, researchers have developed a comprehensive theory for why chunking occurs. The research frames chunking as an economic tradeoff in the motor system, where merging small chunks becomes optimally “cost-effective” at certain learning stages. The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.

“The nervous system aims to produce movements as efficiently as possible,” says Scott Grafton, a neurology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “However, there is a computational cost to calculating efficient trajectories. The sweet spot between these goals results in chunks.”

Difficult and efficient

Grafton and colleagues used tools of computational motor control, which produce computer models to discover how the brain controls limbs and the goals and constraints of the motor system. In this context, researchers have had difficulty explaining how humans and other animals transition from computationally simple but inefficient movements to computationally demanding but efficient ones.

“Our study resolves this difficulty by showing—theoretically and experimentally—that the most cost-effective complexity-efficiency learning paths are the ones that produce chunking,” says Grafton. “Therefore, chunking is the natural byproduct of a clever strategy that minimizes learning costs.”

The investigators measured how rhesus macaques produced movement sequences over several days of practice and found that these animals are indeed cost-effective learners. By selecting when to meld chunks together in an intelligent way, the monkeys achieved savings on the cumulative costs of learning.

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

They divided the movement sequence into chunks, optimized for efficiency within chunks, and then merged chunks only when further gains in efficiency were required.

“Movement chunking has been extensively characterized in health and disease across humans and animals, but until now, a normative theory was lacking,” says Grafton, “Our theory derives optimal movement trajectories, and these experiments in which monkeys learn to produce a novel sequence of movements over an extended period of time demonstrate that our theory explains the essential features of the chunks that emerge in their movements.”

Framing the chunking phenomenon as an economic tradeoff offers a fresh perspective on motor learning and its disorders.

For example, the irregular nature of movements post-stroke may be attributed to lower computational budgets for motor learning, and the inefficient movements seen in stroke may thus be adaptive to these budgets, Grafton explains. Any rehabilitation approach could benefit from this insight, he adds.

“Our computational perspective on chunking also opens up new questions regarding how the brain controls movements,” Grafton says. “In particular, recent evidence for the neural coding of chunking in the brain must be re-examined in the light of computational theories.

“Are neurons coding kinematic decisions, computational budgets or efficiency goals? These are broad open questions for the entire field of motor control.”

Source: UC Santa Barbara

Related Books

at InnerSelf Market and Amazon


More Articles By This Author

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration




spreading disease at home 11 26
Why Our Homes Became COVID Hotspots
by Becky Tunstall
While staying home protected many of us from catching COVID at work, at school, at the shops or…
christmas traditions explained 11 30
How Christmas Became an American Holiday Tradition
by Thomas Adam
Each season, the celebration of Christmas has religious leaders and conservatives publicly…
grieving for pet 11 26
How to Help Grieve the Loss of a Beloved Family Pet
by Melissa Starling
It’s been three weeks since my partner and I lost our beloved 14.5-year-old dog, Kivi Tarro. It’s…
a man and woman in a kayak
Being in the Flow of Your Soul Mission and Life Purpose
by Kathryn Hudson
When our choices distance us from our soul mission, something inside us suffers. There is no logic…
grey-haired woman wearing funky pink sunglasses singing holding a microphone
Putting on the Ritz and Improving Well-Being
by Julia Brook and Colleen Renihan
Digital programming and virtual interactions, initially considered to be stop-gap measures during…
how to kow if something true 11 30
3 Questions to Ask Whether Something Is True
by Bob Britten
Truth can be tricky to determine. Every message you read, see or hear comes from somewhere and was…
essential oil and flowers
Using Essential Oils and Optimizing Our Body-Mind-Spirit
by Heather Dawn Godfrey, PGCE, BSc
Essential oils have a multitude of uses, from ethereal and cosmetic to psycho-emotional and…
two climbers, with one giving the other a helping hand
Why Doing Good Deeds Is Good For You
by Michael Glauser
What happens to the doers of good deeds? Numerous studies confirm that those who regularly engage…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.