Representing multiple object weights: Competing priors and sensorimotor memories

Lee A. Baugh, Amelie Yak, Roland S. Johansson, J. Randall Flanagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


When lifting an object, individuals scale lifting forces based on long-term priors relating external object properties (such as material and size) to object weight. When experiencing objects that are poorly predicted by priors, people rapidly form and update sensorimotor memories that can be used to predict an object’s atypical size-weight relation in support of predictively scaling lift forces. With extensive experience in lifting such objects, long-term priors, assessed with weight judgments, are gradually updated. The aim of the present study was to understand the formation and updating of these memory processes. Participants lifted, over multiple days, a set of black cubes with a normal size-weight mapping and green cubes with an inverse size-weight mapping. Sensorimotor memory was assessed with lifting forces, and priors associated with the black and green cubes were assessed with the size-weight illusion (SWI). Interference was observed in terms of adaptation of the SWI, indicating that priors were not independently adjusted. Half of the participants rapidly learned to scale lift forces appropriately, whereas reduced learning was observed in the others, suggesting that individual differences may be affecting sensorimotor memory abilities. A follow-up experiment showed that lifting forces are not accurately scaled to objects when concurrently performing a visuomotor association task, suggesting that sensorimotor memory formation involves cognitive resources to instantiate the mapping between object identity and weight, potentially explaining the results of experiment 1. These results provide novel insight into the formation and updating of sensorimotor memories and provide support for the independent adjustment of sensorimotor memory and priors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1615-1625
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Object lifting
  • Sensorimotor integration
  • Sensorimotor memory
  • Weight prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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