, Volume 76, Issue 5, pp 611-625
Date: 14 Jun 2011

Practice makes transfer of motor skills imperfect

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We investigated the practice-effects on motor skill transfer and the associated representational memory changes that occur during the within-practice and between-practice phases. In two experiments, participants produced extension–flexion movements with their dominant right arm for a limited or prolonged practice session arranged in either a single- or multi-session format. We tested the ability of participants to transfer the original pattern (extrinsic transformation) or the mirrored one (intrinsic transformation) to the non-dominant left arm, 10 min and 24 h after the practice sessions. Results showed that practice induces rapid motor skill improvements that are non-transferable irrespective of the amount of acquisition trials. Furthermore, the extrinsic component of the skill develops early and remains the dominant coding system during practice. Conversely, we found distinct between-practice memory changes: a limited practice induces an off-line development of the extrinsic component, whereas a prolonged practice session subserves the off-line development of the intrinsic component (Experiment 2). We provided further evidence that the long-term representation of the motor skill also depends on the nature of the practice session itself: the parsing of practice into multiple sessions narrows the effector-transfer capacities in comparison to a single session (Experiment 1). These findings yield theoretical and practical implications that are discussed in the context of recent motor skill learning models.