Do motor memories decay?

No, says new study - its more about noticing errors

A hand punching in the waterThe word “motor memories” may trigger childhood memories  about times spent inside a car, but in fact it refers to the ability of our body to do a task properly over and over. How much effort is needed to pick an empty glass and how it has to go up to pick  a full one, how much is too much when we bang a car door  shut, even to move our hands to place something delicately — all of these are motor memories.

In their research study published  in the The Journal of Neuroscience, the team of researchers from John Hopkins examine how motor memories are formed and lost.  If people are unable to perceive their  errors as they complete a routine, simple task, their skill will decline over time, Johns Hopkins researchers have found. But not because human brain passively “forgets” the  technique, but because of the absence of the corrective feedback loop.

“It had been assumed that the decline was due to the decay of memories in the absence of reinforcement”, says Reza Shadmehr, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

But her research proves otherwise.

Their study proves the drop in technique “isn’t just a process of forgetting,” says Vaswani, part of the research team. “Your brain notices that you are doing this task perfectly, and you see what you can do differently.”

Adds Shadmehr, “Our results correct a component of knowledge we thought we understood. Neuroscientists thought decay was intrinsic to motor memories, but in fact it’s not decay — it’s selection.”



  1. The amount of force needed to lift an empty glass versus a full one, to shut a car door or pick up a box, even to move a limb accurately from one place to another — all of these are motor memories.


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