Evaluative processes as the cognitive basis for the contextual interference effect : implications for a unified theory of skill acquistion




Kruisselbrink, Leroy

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Cognitive effort has been identified as the basis of the contectual interference (Cl) effect (Lee, Swinnen, & Serrien, 1994). It has been argued that higher levels of cognitive activity related to either the evaluation of movement information (encoding) or the retrieval of movement plans are demanded by the conditions of random rather than blocked practice. Current theories of skill acquisition appear to more heavily emphasize evaluative/encoding than retrieval processes. Furthermore, a review of evidence from research on the knowledge of results (KR) and observational learning implicates the critical role of evaluative processes as well. A series of three experiments was designed to (a) test the isomorphism of evaluative processes and cognitive effort within the contextual interference paradigm, and (b) use the Cl phenomenon as a way to explore the more general role of evaluative processes in motor skill acquisition. The typical Cl effect was replicated in Experiment 1 using three spatial variations of a multi-segment arm movement task. However, this experiment featured the co-occurrence of differential demands for both encoding variability and retrieval practice. In Experiment 2, one of the variations from Experiment 1 was practiced within the context of two unrelated video games. The results showed that no acquisition or retention performance differences emerged between blocked and random practice groups. These results suggest that the role of retrieval practice as the basis of the Cl effect should be questioned. Experiment 3 A replicated Experiment 1 with pans of blocked and random groups. In Experiment 3B, using a second set of three spatial variations, an attempt was made to reduce differential encoding variability while keeping differential retrieval practice intact between one pair of blocked and random groups (verbalize groups). The blocked group was required to evaluate and associate the features of each pattern variation during the acquisition phase, and to verbalize their thoughts. A random group was also required to verbalize the cognitive strategies they used to learn the patterns. The co-occurrence of differential encoding variability and retrieval was maintained for the remaining pair of blocked and random groups (control groups). The results of Experiment 1 were replicated in Experiment 3A and by the control groups in Experiment 3B. In Experiment 3B, relative retention and retention performance improved to a greater extent for the blocked verbalize than the blocked control group. However, relative retention and retention performance were not similar between the blocked verbalize and random groups, indicating that the evaluation of pattern variations in isolation does not appear to be an effective intervention with which to reduce the demands for differential encoding variability between blocked and random groups. Analysis of qualitative data obtained in Experiment 3B indicated differences between blocked and random groups in the degree to which the features of the spatial patterns were compared, suggesting that information derived from single task evaluation may not be equivalent to the information derived from multiple task comparison. Results are discussed within Glenberg's (1979) component levels theory. Insight into the nature of the cognitive processes underlying the Cl effect may have implications for a general explanation of motor skill acquisition. The relationship between cognitive effort, the development of knowledge, and skill acquisition is outlined in a preliminary framework for a unified theory of skill acquisition. The ability of the proposed framework to incorporate a range of experimental data and theoretical views is discussed.



Sports, Cognitive psychology, Sports psychology