Featured Researcher

Dr. Jane Clark

Department of Kinesiology
School of Public Health
University of Maryland, College Park

Portrait of Dean Jane Clark, Dean of the School of Public Health.

Check out Dr. Clark's latest work featured here:

Du, Y., Valentini, N., Kim, M.J., Whitall, J., & Clark, J.E. (2017).  Children and adults both learn motor sequences quickly, but do so differently. Frontiers in Psychology.DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00158

Du, Y., Clark, J. E. The "Motor" in Implicit Motor Sequence Learning: A Foot-stepping Serial Reaction Time Task. J. Vis. Exp. (135), e56483, doi:10.3791/56483 (2018).

This protocol describes a modified serial reaction time (SRT) task used to study implicit motor sequence learning. Unlike the classic SRT task that involves finger-pressing movements while sitting, the modified SRT task requires participants to step with both feet while maintaining a standing posture. This stepping task necessitates whole body actions that impose postural challenges. The foot-stepping task complements the classic SRT task in several ways. The foot-stepping SRT task is a better proxy for the daily activities that require ongoing postural control, and thus may help us better understand sequence learning in real-life situations. In addition, response time serves as an indicator of sequence learning in the classic SRT task, but it is unclear whether response time, reaction time (RT) representing mental process, or movement time (MT) reflecting the movement itself, is a key player in motor sequence learning. The foot-stepping SRT task allows researchers to disentangle response time into RT and MT, which may clarify how motor planning and movement execution are involved in sequence learning. Lastly, postural control and cognition are interactively related, but little is known about how postural control interacts with learning motor sequences. With a motion capture system, the movement of the whole body (e.g., the center of mass (COM)) can be recorded. Such measures allow us to reveal the dynamic processes underlying discrete responses measured by RT and MT, and may aid in elucidating the relationship between postural control and the explicit and implicit processes involved in sequence learning. Details of the experimental set-up, procedure, and data processing are described. The representative data are adopted from one of our previous studies. Results are related to response time, RT, and MT, as well as the relationship between the anticipatory postural response and the explicit processes involved in implicit motor sequence learning.



Dr. Nancy Getchell


University of Delaware

College of Health Sciences

Kinesiology & Applied Physiology

The overall goal of my research is investigate changes in activity within the cerebral cortex that occur as a function of motor development and learning through the use of functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIR) technology.  My educational background includes the broad area of motor behavior with specific training and expertise in the development of motor control and coordination across the lifespan.  Over the course of my research career, I have investigated changes in motor control in typically developing adults and children as well as a variety of populations with motor deficits:  individuals with specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental coordination disorder (DCD).   In order to increase the impact of my research, I needed to expand my research to include correlates of brain activity that accompany behavioral change, so my current focus has been on the internal mechanisms that drive developmental and learning-based changes in both typical and atypical populations.

Over the past seven years, I have trained and developed expertise in the use of fNIRs in motor tasks.  fNIRs is an emerging, cost effective, noninvasive technology that provides a quantitative temporal assessment of cortical function by monitoring hemodynamic activity. The technique uses near infrared light to penetrate into the cortex of the brain where absorptive qualities of oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin in the blood create changes in local cerebral oxygenation that can be used to assess blood flow to the cerebral cortex.  This provides an indirect measure of neural activity.  One of the greatest benefits of fNIRS is it can be used to monitor response while participants actively engage in ecologically valid motor activities such as walking.  In 2013, I acquired an fNIRs device capable of examining prefrontal cortex activity in the Developmental Motor Control laboratory at the University of Delaware.  Since 2014, my laboratory has produced two peer-reviewed publications and nine international presentations related to fNIRs research.  Currently, I am working on a funded grant identifying the neural biomarkers of learning in individuals with strokes when they train using a unique feedback device known as mTrigger.

Check out Dr. Getchell's supplemental article published in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science (Liang et al 2016)