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Contextual interference : single-task versus multi-task learning and influence of concurrent temporal interference Maslovat, Dana

Abstract

Contextual interference (CI) is a learning effect whereby high interference practice conditions produce decreased acquisition performance yet increased retention and transfer performance. Thus, a more difficult practice environment, although initially detrimental to acquisition, actually benefits learning of the skill. Typical CI experimental paradigms involve the comparison of acquisition, retention and transfer performance of multiple tasks under a blocked acquisition schedule (low interference) versus a random acquisition schedule (high interference). Numerous studies have investigated contextual interference and it has been shown to be a stable, robust phenomenon. Two studies involving bimanual coordination were conducted to further examine the contextual interference effect. Experiment 1 involved comparison of acquisition, retention and transfer performance of a single task control group, two task blocked presentation group and a two-task random presentation group. Acquisition data showed both random and control groups outperformed the blocked group in performance of the coordination pattern. This was opposite to the expected CI effect and was attributed to the high number of acquisition trials providing enough time for the learning benefits of the interference to be realized. Retention data did show a typical CI effect for one dependent measure, with the random group significantly outperforming the blocked group. Neither two-task group significantly outperformed the control group, suggesting interference of a second task may be as beneficial to learning as extra practice on the initial task. No group effects were found during transfer performance, however there was a learning effect on the opposite, unpracticed coordination pattern. Experiment 2 examined an alternate form of interference, requiring participants to concurrently verbalize a compatible or incompatible counting pattern while performing a bimanual coordination pattern, to determine if CI effects could be generalized to other forms of interference. No significant group effects were found in acquisition, retention or transfer performance. This was attributed to insufficient interference caused by the counting patterns perhaps due to anchoring strategies of the participants. Analysis of the retention data did provide weak support for a concurrent 2-count pattern providing more interference than a concurrent 4-count pattern. However more research in the area of concurrent temporal interference is required to determine possible interference effects. Scanning data did show a significant improvement in performance of the to-be-learned task as well as the symmetrical bimanual coordination pattern, in support of previous studies. Examination of the sound data provided information regarding anchoring strategies of participants.

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