Evidence against replay-mediated offline learning during the first minutes of motor skill acquisition

Throughout life, humans acquire new motor skills, for example, when interacting with novel tools. Understanding the resources that determine the efficiency of skill learning is therefore important. In the last four years, there has been considerable interest in the idea that short breaks, in the order of seconds, improve early skill acquisition via offline learning, mediated by neural replay of the trained movement sequence in hippocampus and sensorimotor cortex. Rapid wakeful offline consolidation could thus provide a resource for skill learning. However, previous studies have left important questions unanswered. In a series of seven behavioral experiments, including an online crowdsourcing experiment, and one MEG experiment, we observe improvements across short breaks during early motor skill learning, which, however, cannot be fully explained by replay-mediated offline learning. Instead, we propose that the reasons for improved performance after a short break are multifactorial, including recovery from inhibition or fatigue, and pre-planning.

Elena Azañón