Learning of new associations invokes a major change in modulations of cortical beta oscillations in human adults
Large-scale cortical beta (β) oscillations were implicated in the learning processes, but their exact role is debated. We used MEG to explore the dynamics of movement-related β-oscillations while 22 adults learned, through trial and error, novel associations between four auditory pseudowords and movements of four limbs. As learning proceeded, spatial–temporal characteristics of β-oscillations accompanying cue-triggered movements underwent a major transition. Early in learning, widespread suppression of β-power occurred long before movement initiation and sustained throughout the whole behavioral trial. When learning advanced and performance reached asymptote, β-suppression after the initiation of correct motor response was replaced by a rise in β-power mainly in the prefrontal and medial temporal regions of the left hemisphere. This post-decision β-power predicted trial-by-trial response times (RT) at both stages of learning (before and after the rules become familiar), but with different signs of interaction. When a subject just started to acquire associative rules and gradually improved task performance, a decrease in RT correlated with the increase in the post-decision β-band power. When the participants implemented the already acquired rules, faster (more confident) responses were associated with the weaker post-decision β-band synchronization. Our findings suggest that maximal beta activity is pertinent to a distinct stage of learning and may serve to strengthen the newly learned association in a distributed memory network.