MSUToday
Published: Oct. 4, 2018

MSU professor studies the learning and relearning of movement

Contact(s): Lauren Knapp College of Education office: 517-353-3429 laeknapp@msu.edu

Rajiv Ranganathan, a professor in the Michigan State University Department of Kinesiology, will examine the process of learning and relearning movement with a more than $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

"There's very little we understand about how prior learned experiences, like a golfer's swing, affect future relearning," Ranganathan said. "We want to try to understand these principles."

The research could potentially help with making adjustments to skills and repertoire in sports and music, as well as adjusting rehabilitation practices for movement disorders.

Ranganathan and his collaborators have designed a novel lab task where participants will wear a glove to control a mouse cursor on a computer. Wiggling the index finger could cause the cursor to move in one direction; shifting the pinky might cause the cursor to move in another.  

The idea is that wearing the glove and learning to control the cursor movements will be totally unique to each participant, and Ranganathan and his team can watch the learning process in action.

Researchers will adjust how the cursor responds to the glove motion and use metrics like time and accuracy of movement to see how participants relearn the task all over again. 

A small group of participants will be part of an additional component to the study, where the glove movements will revert back to what they had learned at first. The researchers will try to quantify what happens with motor memories of old tasks and how new memories can interfere with them.

During the summers, Ranganathan will test out relearning in a real-world context as well. Working with Maura Casadio and Leigh Mrotek from Marquette University, the team will work with novice and expert violinists and present them with violins where the strings are slightly changed from a typical instrument and examine how they adapt. The results will complement the findings from the lab studies.

"There is this sort of paradox," Ranganathan said. "You think of experts being excellent at what they do. Professional athletes practice their craft for years and can produce what seems to be extremely consistent movement patterns every time they perform, but consistency can be a bad thing if you have to change. How can experts manage to be consistent and still be adaptable at relearning? That's what we are really trying to understand."

The research ties into other work conducted by Ranganathan involving rehabilitation of movement disorders primarily for people after a stroke.

"If we understand the basic principles of movement, of learning to move and how to teach it well, it could have a big effect on rehabilitation," he said.

Over the next three years, the researchers expect to work with 60-80 participants per year at MSU and hope to begin collecting data as soon as next month.

Rajiv Ranganathan, a professor in the Michigan State University Department of Kinesiology, will examine the process of learning and relearning movement with a new grant from the National Science Foundation. Courtesy photo.

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