Voluntary limb modifications must be integrated with basic walking patterns during visually guided walking. Here we tested whether voluntary gait modifications can become more automatic with practice. We challenged walking control by presenting visual stepping targets that instructed subjects to modify step length from one trial to the next. Our sequence learning paradigm is derived from the serial reaction-time (SRT) task that has been used in upper limb studies. Both random and ordered sequences of step lengths were used to measure sequence-specific and sequence non-specific learning during walking. In addition, we determined how age (i.e., healthy young adults vs. children) and biomechanical factors (i.e., walking speed) affected the rate and magnitude of locomotor sequence learning. The results showed that healthy young adults (age 24 ± 5 years, N = 20) could learn a specific sequence of step lengths over 300 training steps. Younger children (age 6-10 years, N = 8) have lower baseline performance, but their magnitude and rate of sequence learning was the same compared to older children (11-16 years, N = 10) and healthy adults. In addition, learning capacity may be more limited at faster walking speeds. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that spatial sequence learning can be integrated with a highly automatic task like walking. These findings suggest that adults and children use implicit knowledge about the sequence to plan and execute leg movement during visually guided walking.
- Copyright © 2015, Journal of Neurophysiology