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Chapter 4

Chapter 4 Skill Memory

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Daniela Palombo

Chapter 4 – Skill Memory  A Skill is ability that an individual can improce over time through practice. Skills that depend on performing predefined movements that, ideally, never cay are called closed skills. Open skills are those that require performing movements in response to predictions about ongoing changes in circumstances.  Practice can decrease the effects of previous experience on motor performance and increase the effects of genetic influences. Feedback about performance, or knowledge of results, is critical to the effectiveness of practice.  The power law of earning states that with extended practice, the amount of time required to complete a task decreases at a diminishing rate. This “law of diminishing returns” holds for a wide range of cognitive and perceptual-motor skills.  Massed practice, or concentrated, continuous ractice, generally produces better performance in the short term, but practice that is spaced out over several sessions leads to better skill retention in the long run. Similarly, constant practice, which means repetition of the skill under fixed conditions, does not improve performance as much as variable practice, practicing the skill in carrying contexts.  Implicit learning, which is the learning o skills without an awareness of learning, is often tested with the serial reaction time task. Implicit learning is also studied in patients with amnesia.  Thorndike’s identical elements theory proposes that the degree to which learned abilities are transferred to novel situations depends on the number of elements that are identical between the learning context and the novel situation. When an individual no longer uses a learned skills, it is lost in a process called skill decay.  Changes in skill memories produced by extended practice may occur in stagesL the cognitive stage, when the skill is encoded through active thinking; the associative stage, when the skill is performed using stereotyped actions; and the autonomous stage, when the skill has become a motor program.  Skill learning depends on three brain areas: the basal ganglia, the cerebral corte, and the cerebellum. Output signals from the basal ganglia are sent mainly to the thalamus (affecting interactions between thalamic and cortical neurons) and to the brainstem (influencing signals sent to the spinal cord).  Studies of how rats with basal ganglia damage learn to navigate mazes suggest that the basal ganglia are critical for learning to generate motor responses based on environmental cues  Neural response patterns in the basal ganglia change during the learning of a perceptual-motor skill, suggesting that representations of that skill are dynamically modified as learning proceeds. The basal ganglia are also activated when people learn cognitive skills such as the weather prediction task.  Regions of the somatosensory cortex and motor cortex needed to perform a particular skill expand with practice, but regions that are less relevant show fewer, if any, changes.  An intact cerebellum is necessary for performing many perceptual-motor skills. The cerebellum is especially critical for learning movement sequences that require precise timing, such as dancing, and tasks that involve aiming at or tracking a target.  Whereas the cerebellum is critical for timing, the cerebral cortex is mainly involved in controlling complex actions, and the basal gangia link sensory events to responses.  Apraxia results from damage to cortical regions, most commonly from a head injury or stroke. Patients with apraxia have difficulty producing purposeful movements.  Skill learning by patients with apraxia suggests that the damage interferes with control and execution of skills more than with the learning and recall of skills. Transcranial magnetic stimulation allows researchers to stimulate apraxia in healthy volunteers and study the effects of cortical disruption on skill memory.  Huntington’s disease is an inherited disorder that causes gradual damage to neurons throughout the brain, but especially in the basal ganglia and the cerebral cortex. Patients with Huntington’s typically show large deficits in perceptual- motor skill learning that seem to be related to problems with retrieval and decreased storage capacity, Scientists have made progress identifying Huntington’s through genetic markers, but prevention and treatment of deficits are still in the early stages of research.  Parkinson’s disease involves both disruptions in the normal functioning of the basal ganglia and progressive deterioration of motor control. Patients with Parkinson’s show increasing degrees of muscle tremors and rigidity. Deep brain stimulation, which delivers an electrical current to the basal- ganglia-cortical loop, may offer treatment possibilities. Qualities of Skill Memories Skill memory consists of what a person knows how to do. A skill is an ability that you can improve over time through practice. Skill memories are long-lasting and improved by repeated experiences. Skill memories cant always be verbalized; may be acquired and retrieved without conscious awareness. Psychologists sometimes classify skill memories as nondeclaritive memories, because these memories are not easily put into words. Skill memories classified into two general types: perceptual-motor skills and cognitive skills. Perceptual-Motor Skills Perceptual-Motor skills are learned movement patterns guided by sensory inputs. Psychologists classify skills such as dancing, which consist of performing predefined movements as closed skills.Researchers classify skills that require participants to respond based on predictions about the changing demands of the environment as open skills. Most perceptual-motor skills contain aspects of both closed skills and open skills. Skills lie somewhere on a continuum from open to closed. Cognitive Skills Cognitive Skill: a skill that requires problem solving or the application of strategies. Researchers often conduct experiments on cognitive skills that participants can learn relatively quickly, such as those used to solve simple puzzles like the Tower of Hanoi. Normally, people get better at this puzzle with practice. This is not because they are getting better at moving disks from one peg to another (a perceptual-motor skill), but because they are learning new strategies for moving the disks so that they end up in the desired position. Tool use is an ability that typically involves both perceptual-motor and cognitive skills. Expertise and Talent Talent: a person’s genetically endowed ability to perform a skill better than most. Expert: a person who performs a skill better than most. Rotary Pursuit Task: an experimental task that requires individuals to keep the end of a pointed stick (stylus) above a fixed point on a rotating disk; used to study perceptual-motor skill learning. Researchers found that when they trained twins to perform the rotary pursuit task, identical twins’ abilities to keep the stylus on the target became more similar as training progressed, whereas fraternal twins’ abilities became more dissimilar. One of the interpretations of these data is that, during the experiment, practice decreases the effects of participants’ prior experiences on the accuracy of their tracking movements and increases the effects of genetic influences. Some psychologists argue that innate talent plays no role in expertise and that practice alone determines who will become an expert. Scientists investigating skill memory in experts suggest that practice is critical in determining how well a person can perform a particular skill. Researchers studying expert chess players found that experts and less experienced players scan the game board (a visual-motor skill) differently. If skill is an ability that improves with practice, chess-playing computers can be considered experts without skills, unless they are programmed to improve their performance based on past experiences. Practice Knowledge of results: feedback about performance of a skill; critical to the effectiveness of practice. Acquiring Skills With extended practice, the
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