Journal of Neuropsychology

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Impaired sequential and partially compensated probabilistic skill learning in Parkinson's disease

The striatal dopaminergic dysfunction in Parkinson's disease (PD) has been associated with deficits in skill learning in numerous studies, but some of the findings remain controversial. Our aim was to explore the generality of the learning deficit using two widely reported skill learning tasks in the same group of Parkinson's patients. Thirty‐four patients with PD (mean age: 62.83 years, SD: 7.67) were compared to age‐matched healthy adults. Two tasks were employed: the Serial Reaction Time Task (SRT), testing the learning of motor sequences, and the Weather Prediction (WP) task, testing non‐sequential probabilistic category learning. On the SRT task, patients with PD showed no significant evidence for sequence learning. These results support and also extend previous findings, suggesting that motor skill learning is vulnerable in PD. On the WP task, the PD group showed the same amount of learning as controls, but they exploited qualitatively different strategies in predicting the target categories. While controls typically combined probabilities from multiple predicting cues, patients with PD instead focused on individual cues. We also found moderate to high correlations between the different measures of skill learning. These findings support our hypothesis that skill learning is generally impaired in PD, and can in some cases be compensated by relying on alternative learning strategies.

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