J Cogn Neurosci. 2023 Oct 30:1-24. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_02080. Online ahead of print.
Web-based experiments are gaining momentum in motor learning research because of the desire to increase statistical power, decrease overhead for human participant experiments, and utilize a more demographically inclusive sample population. However, there is a vital need to understand the general feasibility and considerations necessary to shift tightly controlled human participant experiments to an online setting. We developed and deployed an online experimental platform modeled after established in-laboratory visuomotor rotation experiments to serve as a case study examining remotely collected data quality for an 80-min experiment. Current online motor learning experiments have thus far not exceeded 60 min, and current online crowdsourced studies have a median duration of approximately 10 min. Thus, the impact of a longer-duration, web-based experiment is unknown. We used our online platform to evaluate perturbation-driven motor adaptation behavior under three rotation sizes (±10°, ±35°, and ±65°) and two sensory uncertainty conditions. We hypothesized that our results would follow predictions by the relevance estimation hypothesis. Remote execution allowed us to double (n = 49) the typical participant population size from similar studies. Subsequently, we performed an in-depth examination of data quality by analyzing single-trial data quality, participant variability, and potential temporal effects across trials. Results replicated in-laboratory findings and provided insight on the effect of induced sensory uncertainty on the relevance estimation hypothesis. Our experiment also highlighted several specific challenges associated with online data collection including potentially smaller effect sizes, higher data variability, and lower recommended experiment duration thresholds. Overall, online paradigms present both opportunities and challenges for future motor learning research.