Why I Suck At Basketball
Practice does not make perfect after all:
Mark Churchland and colleagues at Stanford University in California, US, made the discovery after training macaque monkeys to repeat a simple reaching task thousands of times.
"The nervous system was not designed to do the same thing over and over again," says Churchland, whose team investigated the way the brain plans and calculates motion.
The team showed the monkeys a coloured spot and rewarded them for reaching out to touch it at different speeds. During the exercise, they monitored the promoter cortex of the monkeys' brains, which is the region responsible for movement planning, and tracked the speed of the resulting motion.
Over the course of thousands of reaches, the monkeys rarely moved with exactly the same speed. Small variations in reach speed followed small variations in brain activity during movement planning, the researchers say.
Contrary to conventional wisdom that movement variability is caused by muscle activity, Churchland’s team found that neural activity accounts for about half the variations. In other words, training muscles to perform a certain way through practice, such as countless hours teeing off or shooting a basketball, will not produce the same shot every time because the brain's behaviour is inconsistent.
After an initial training period, the monkeys' reach accuracy did not improve over time, suggesting that lots of practice can only improve movement control so much, says team member Krishna Shenoy.