The effects of practice on the functional anatomy of task performance

Steven E. Petersen, Hanneke Van Mier, Julie A. Fiez, Marcus E. Raichle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

423 Scopus citations


The effects of practice on the functional anatomy observed in two different tasks, a verbal and a motor task, are reviewed in this paper. In the first, people practiced a verbal production task, generating an appropriate verb in response to a visually presented noun. Both practiced and unpracticed conditions utilized common regions such as visual and motor cortex. However, there was a set of regions that was affected by practice. Practice produced a shift in activity from left frontal, anterior cingulate, and right cerebellar hemisphere to activity in Sylvian-insular cortex. Similar changes were also observed in the second task, a task in a very different domain, namely the tracing of a maze. Some areas were significantly more activated during initial unskilled performance (right premotor and parietal cortex and left cerebellar hemisphere); a different region (medial frontal cortex, 'supplementary motor area') showed greater activity during skilled performance conditions. Activations were also found in regions that most likely control movement execution irrespective of skill level (e.g., primary motor cortex was related to velocity of movement). One way of interpreting these results is in a 'scaffolding-storage' framework. For unskilled, effortful performance, a scaffolding set of regions is used to cope with novel task demands. Following practice, a different set of regions is used, possibly representing storage of particular associations or capabilities that allow for skilled performance. The specific regions used for scaffolding and storage appear to be task dependent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853-860
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 3 1998


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