Background and objective Clinical observations indicate that implicit procedural learning, a central component of physical and psychosocial rehabilitation, is impeded following spinal cord injury. In accordance, previous research has revealed a specific deficit in implicit sequence learning among individuals with paraplegia using a standard, manual version of the serial reaction time task. To extend these findings and shed light on the underlying sources of potential spinal cord injury-related deficits in sequence learning, we used an ocular activated serial reaction time task to compare sequence learning performance between individuals with tetraplegia and healthy controls. Participants and measures Twelve participants with spinal cord injury in C5-T1 were compared to 12 matched control participants on measures derived from an ocular activated serial reaction time task. Depression and additional cognitive measures were assessed to explore the source and specificity of potential sequence learning deficits. Results Like controls, and in contrast with previous findings in paraplegia, the spinal cord injury group showed intact implicit sequence learning, evidenced by declining reaction times and improved anticipation over the first six blocks of the serial reaction time task, and an advantage for the initial learning sequence over a novel interference sequence. Conclusions The ocular activated serial reaction time task elicited a performance pattern similar to standard motor versions, such that participants with tetraplegia demonstrated unimpaired sequence learning. This suggests that previously reported implicit sequence learning deficits in spinal cord injury directly involved motor functioning rather than cognitive aspects of the task, and that the ocular activated sequence learning task could be a valid alternative for assessing implicit sequence learning in populations that cannot perform spinal-cord dependent motor tasks. Implications for post-spinal cord injury rehabilitation and adjustment are discussed.
Publisher Copyright:© 2020 Bloch et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.