Learning–performance distinction and memory processes for motor skills: A focused review and perspective


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Abstract

Behavioral research in cognitive psychology provides evidence for an important distinction between immediate performance that accompanies practice and long-term performance that reflects the relative permanence in the capability for the practiced skill (i.e. learning). This learning–performance distinction is strikingly evident when challenging practice conditions may impair practice performance, but enhance long-term retention of motor skills. A review of motor learning studies with a specific focus on comparing differences in performance between that at the end of practice and at delayed retention suggests that the delayed retention or transfer performance is a better indicator of motor learning than the performance at (or end of) practice. This provides objective evidence for the learning–performance distinction. This behavioral evidence coupled with an understanding of the motor memory processes of encoding, consolidation and retrieval may provide insight into the putative mechanism that implements the learning–performance distinction. Here, we propose a simplistic empirically-based framework – motor behavior–memory framework – that integrates the temporal evolution of motor memory processes with the time course of practice and delayed retention frequently used in behavioral motor learning paradigms. In the context of the proposed framework, recent research has used noninvasive brain stimulation to decipher the role of each motor memory process, and specific cortical brain regions engaged in motor performance and learning. Such findings provide beginning insights into the relationship between the time course of practice-induced performance changes and motor memory processes. This in turn has promising implications for future research and practical applications.

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