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The more I played racquetball, t...

Posted Aug 24 2008 9:17pm

The more I played racquetball, the more accurate my shots became — the more control I had. It was a kind of learning: learning to place the ball. I was fascinated by how little we knew about how that learning took place. I studied associative learning in my own research. The motor learning during racquetball resembled associative learning in the sense that my actions (hitting the ball with the racket) were shaped by what happened next (accuracy of placement). Yet I knew nothing non-obvious about motor learning.

This background of ignorance is why I find my latest flaxseed oil results so interesting. As I’ve posted , I’ve started using a new test in which I use the touchpad to “toss” the cursor from one spot to another (that is, move the cursor with a single finger movement), and measure how close it “lands” to the target. The function relating cursor position to finger position on the touchpad isn’t simple.

Of course I wanted to see how flaxseed oil affected performance on this task. I doubted that it would. This task is untimed. No time pressure. It is like shooting free throws. Most of the previous tasks I’ve used that have shown a flaxseed-oil effect have been tasks where you respond as fast as possible. My balance test was go at your own pace, but it involved a huge amount of computation. Balancing my body on one foot for several seconds seemed to involve a lot more computation than moving a finger about an inch.

Usually I take 4 tablespoons of flaxseed oil just before bedtime. One recent day I took it much earlier and did the toss test at 30-minute intervals before and for several hours afterward.

Here are the results plotted as a function of test session number.

toss results vs condition

Here are the same results plotted versus the time of the test:

toss accuracy vs. time of test

Here is a close-up of the crucial data:

toss accuracy vs. time of session (close-up)

About two hours after I drank the flaxseed oil, my accuracy got worse . Then it slowly got much better. The amazing thing about the improvement is that it reached a maximum long after you would think that the effects of the flaxseed oil had worn off. My overall level of omega-3 is high because I take 4 T flaxseed oil per day. The effect of shifting when I drink the 4 T is just to change the timing of a short-lived peak. Usually that peak happens when I’m asleep and my omega-3 levels are reasonably constant while I’m doing the test. In this case the peak happened while I was doing the test.

I’ll discuss what this might mean in a later post.

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