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Chapter

Skill Memory


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PSY260H1
Professor
Martin Ralph

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Skill Memory/Declarative Memory
Is memory for things we do and how to do them.
Skill: ability you can improve over time through practice.
Skill memories are long lasting and improved by experience. They can’t always be
verbalized and are retrieved and encoded without conscious awareness.
Episodic and Semantic memory depends on procedural memory even though procedural
memory does not rely on either of the other two.
Skill Memory vs. Episodic and Semantic Memory
Difficult to convey to others Communicated flexibly
Can be acquired without awareness Has consciously accessible content
Requires several repetitions Can be acquired in one exposure
There are two basic skill memories: perceptual-motor skills and cognitive skills
Perceptual-Motor Skills
These are learned movement patterns guided by sensory input. There are two types; open
skills or closed skills. Closed skills consist of reiterating patterns of pre-defined and
consistent movement like you see in ballet. While open skills are skills that require
responding based on predictions about the changing demands of the environment
(hockey, soccer, etc).
Cognitive Skills
These skills require the use of your brain in order to solve problems, apply strategies, and
reason. These are things we put into practice when we make decisions, solve puzzles, etc.
It was been believed for many years that only humans are capable of these type of skills.
However, as more scientific research is done, the more we find out about how animals
use cognitive skills to survive in their environments.
Expertise and Talent
The difference between expertise and talent is that talent seems to be a biological gift or
predisposition towards a certain skill. Expertise on the other hand is simply the ability to
do something better than majority of others. This is usually done with practice.
There is some evidence that talent is biological. Research done on twins (identical and
faternal, those that have been raised together and apart) has proven that genes affect the
way we perform certain tasks.
Practice
Practicing a certain skill will help you improve it. However, simple reiteration of the
defined movements will not make you better. Students need knowledge of results in
order to improve. This is when you are given feedback about your progress.
Acquiring Skills
When we begin to learn a new skill, practice may develop our expertise in this skill
rapidly. However, as we become more expert like with the skill, the rate and amount of

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improvement beings to drop off. This is known as the power law of learning or law of
diminishing returns. This room for improvement is predetermined regardless of skill or
person. We can use the power function to describe how rapidly a skill will be acquired.
Skill improvement can also be influenced by feedback and different feedback provides
different types of improvements. Frequent feedback leads to good short-term
performance but mediocre long term performance. Infrequent feedback leads to
mediocre short term performance but good long term performance.
Effort given during practice also affects skill acquisition. Mass practice (concentrated
and continuous practice) is good for short term results but not long term. While spaced
practice (several sessions) is good for long term retention. There is also constant
practice which is repeatedly practicing a skill under fixed conditions, and variable
practicing which is practising under a variable of conditions. Variable practice is better
for long term retention.
Implicit learning
This is learning that we do not consciously perform. In order to study this, the serial
reaction time task is used. This task proves that there are times when although people’s
skill improves, they have no awareness of what they have learned. Implicit learning is
also seen in patients with amnesia who get better in a certain task even thought they
believe they are doing it for the first time ever.
This suggests that the system for encoding and retrieving explicit (episodic, semantic,
etc) memory differs from that of implicit. Due to the fact that procedural skill are hard to
verbalize also suggests that they are more likely to be implicitly learned than cognitive
skills.
Retention and Forgetting
Memories for skills do not deteriorate as fast as cognitive/explicit skills but still do with
non-use. However, it is hard to differentiate between a person who has truly lost the
memory for a motor skill, or has simply had their motor skill impaired. This is why we
observe neural activity in order to determine which it is. Loss of skill through non use is
called skill decay. It is similar to the forgetting of explicit memory. Therefore injuries
and deficits can cause skill decay. Forgetting gets slower as time goes on, this is similar
to the learning curve, where learning is very rapid at first and then dies down.
New memories can also result in interference of old skill memories.
Transfer appropriate recall also helps and infringes on skill memory. When this happens,
one must transfer trained performance to the novel conditions.
Transfer of Training
Skills are often highly constrained in terms of how they can be applied. Skill memory can
be so specific that the introduction of other informative cues can disrupt performance.
Skills seem to be easily transferable to novel situations.

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Transfer specificity is the restricted applicability of some learned skills to specific
situations. This lead Thorndike to propose the identical elements theory which says that
the transfer of learned abilities to novel situations depends on the number of elements in
the new situation that are identical to those in the situation where they where encoded.
Generalization of learning occurs when we apply learning to novel situations and when
we apply it over time.
Practice improves performance and recall, thus increasing the stability and reliability of
skill memories over time. Skill acquisition models suggest that we stabilize skill
memories by converting them from memories for events and facts into memories for
predefined sequences of actions called motor programs.
Models of Skill Memory
Motor Programs and Rules
Becoming better = having a skill become more effortless
These models of skill learning focus not on organization but learning over time
Motor Programs and Rules
Automatic skills = expert
They are not reflexes however, since reflexes are inborn, involuntary responses to
stimuli. Motor programs are sequences of movements that an organism can perform
automatically and with minimal attention. They can either be inborn, like reflexes, or
learned (as an expert would).
To test whether or not a skill has become automatic is to remove the stimulus (juggling
balls) and see how the action is interrupted (or uninterrupted). Cognitive skills can to
become motor programs.
Skill memories may sometimes be memories for events and facts (or vice versa). Take
cooking from a recipe for example. You no longer need to read and follow the rules the
more familiar you become with a recipe.
Stages of Acquisitions
Fitts said that skill learning includes an initial period when an individual must exert some
effort to encode a skill, acquiring information through observation, instruction, trial and
error, or a combination of these things. After this the skill becomes more automatic or
habitual.
The first stage is called the cognitive stage: active thinking is required to encode the
skill. There is high dependence on memories of verbalized facts or rules at this stage.
The second stage is the associative stage: here we use stereotyped actions when
performing the skill and rely less on actively recalled memories of rules.
The autonomous stage is the third stage: here the skill has become a motor program. It
may be impossible to verbalize with any detail the specific movements being performed.
Performance may also cease to rely on verbalized memory or facts. You can perform the
skill without paying too much attention to it.
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