Generalisation of new sequence knowledge depends on response modality.
Rosenthal CR., Ng TW., Kennard C.
New visuomotor skills can guide behaviour in novel situations. Prior studies indicate that learning a visuospatial sequence via responses based on manual key presses leads to effector- and response-independent knowledge. Little is known, however, about the extent to which new sequence knowledge can generalise, and, thereby guide behaviour, outside of the manual response modality. Here, we examined whether learning a visuospatial sequence either via manual (key presses, without eye movements), oculomotor (obligatory eye movements), or perceptual (covert reorienting of visuospatial attention) responses supported generalisation to direct and indirect tests administered either in the same (baseline conditions) or a novel response modality (transfer conditions) with respect to initial study. Direct tests measured the use of conscious knowledge about the studied sequence, whereas the indirect tests did not ostensibly draw on the study phase and measured response priming. Oculomotor learning supported the use of conscious knowledge on the manual direct tests, whereas manual learning supported generalisation to the oculomotor direct tests but did not support the conscious use of knowledge. Sequence knowledge acquired via perceptual responses did not generalise onto any of the manual tests. Manual, oculomotor, and perceptual sequence learning all supported generalisation in the baseline conditions. Notably, the manual baseline condition and the manual to oculomotor transfer condition differed in the magnitude of general skill acquired during the study phase; however, general skill did not predict performance on the post-study tests. The results demonstrated that generalisation was only affected by the responses used to initially code the visuospatial sequence when new knowledge was applied to a novel response modality. We interpret these results in terms of response-effect distinctiveness, the availability of integrated effector- and motor-plan based information, and discuss their implications for neurocognitive accounts of sequence learning.