Objectives. Occupational therapy authors frequently emphasize the importance of the use of objects in the development of motor skill. This study investigated the use of object-produced visual input in learning control of flexion and extension of an above-elbow training prosthesis.
Method. Fifty-two male college students were randomly assigned to two training procedures: (a) two 1.5-min periods in which they used a flashlight attached to the hook of the prosthesis to connect dots on paper with light, or (b) the same time periods in which they had the opportunity to practice moving an equally weighted prosthesis, but without the light or dots. To assess motoric adaptation after training under one of the two conditions, each subject traced a continuous line through a maze with a pen attached to the hook. Deviations from the line were measured reliably.
Results. Data analysis with a Mann-Whitney test revealed that subjects in the group that trained with added materials traced with significantly more skill than subjects in the other group (one-tailed U =225.5, p = .02).
Conclusion. As predicted by occupational therapy theory, the object-produced visual input enhanced the learning of a motor skill relevant to rehabilitation. Although there is a need for more study across different occupations and populations, clinicians are urged to consider the possible benefits of the use of objects in the development of motor skills, as opposed to objectless exercise. Prosthetic training provides a useful context for future research addressing theoretical issues in motor learning.