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The role of instructions and demonstrations in learning a coordination skill Hodges, Nicola Jane

Abstract

Four experiments were conducted to examine how pre-practice information affected the early stage of acquisition when the motor skill was not an existing part of the learner's movement repertoire. More specifically, the experiments examined why instruction concerning the correct way to perform a motor skill has a negative influence on acquisition and subsequently under what conditions it is useful. In all experiments participants practiced a difficult, bimanual coordination pattern, which resulted in circular shapes on a monitor. In Experiment 1 information prior to and during acquisition was manipulated to examine whether instructions benefited learning when feedback informed as to how they were implemented. No support was found for this prediction, somewhat due to the complexity of the feedback. When only circle feedback was provided pre-practice information hindered acquisition, which supported findings from an initial investigation. In the second experiment focus of attention was manipulated via the instructions to examine whether attention mediated the instructional effects. It was predicted that instructions directing attention onto the effects of the action would facilitate learning. This hypothesis was generally supported, however, non-instructed participants performed as well as an external focus group and all attention-directing instructions decreased the negative effects of feedback withdrawal. The final experiments were designed to examine whether instructions that built upon existing behaviours would facilitate acquisition when only a gradual replacement of an existing behaviour was required (Experiment 4) as compared to a qualitative change (Experiment 3). In Experiment 3, only participants biased to in- and anti-phase movements were studied (bi-stable). In Experiment 4 participants biased to patterns other than these (multi-stable) were examined. Instruction did not benefit learning, irrespective of initial bias. Instructions that built upon in-phase movements were detrimental to acquisition. More permanent changes to the underlying dynamics were manifest in post-practice scanning tasks for the non-instructed participants only. As a result of these studies it was concluded that movement demonstrations and instructions conveyed little useful information in the early stage of acquisition, if information regarding goal attainment was available. Instructions can hinder the break from prepractice patterns, but may possibly help refine the movement at a later stage.

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