, 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.

Part of this work was presented at the conference of the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, Tucson (AZ), 2010.