In this issue of Cell Reports, Ossmy and Mukamel (2016) show that virtual reality enhances learning of new motor sequences through practice with one hand and synchronous feedback of the other hand moving. The approach holds promise for motor rehabilitation.
Everyday tasks require sequences of movements with one or both hands. For example, many times a day, you may use one hand to unzip your pocket, find your keys, and unlock your car. We take such practiced sequences for granted because they are so well practiced as to seem effortless. However, imagine that you have had a stroke and struggle to control one of your hands. In such cases, learning or relearning even simple motor sequences would be frustratingly difficult. You might be able to take advantage of the fact that motor learning shows some transfer between hands—learn the task with the good right hand and your problematic left hand may also benefit—but such effects are modest. But what if there were a way to boost your motor sequence learning with the help of virtual reality?
In this issue of Cell Reports, Ori Ossmy and Roy Mukamel at Tel-Aviv University show that virtual reality can help people learn movement sequences rapidly ( Ossmy and Mukamel, 2016). Healthy participants performed an arbitrary sequence of digit movements as rapidly as possible for 30 seconds with one hand and then with the other. Then they spent five minutes practicing the sequence with real movements of the right hand in a virtual reality setup. Finally, they repeated the test sequence with each hand (Figure 1).