, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 662-666

Superiority of variable to repeated practice in transfer on anagram solution


Previous research in motor learning shows that practicing variations of a task (variable practice) leads to better transfer than does repeatedly practicing the exact same task (repeated practice). In contrast, research on priming using verbal materials shows that performance on a test improves to the extent that the material at learning and test overlap. We tested whether variability in practice conditions can lead to improved performance with the verbal priming task of anagram solution. Participants practiced solving anagrams, either repeatedly solving the same anagram that was later tested, repeatedly solving a different anagram from the one that was later tested, or solving different variations of the anagram that was later tested. We found that this last condition—variable practice on different versions of an anagram—led to improved test performance in relation to repeated practice, even when the test anagram was the one that had been repeatedly practiced. This finding aligns results from the motor learning literature with a higher level cognitive task: anagram solution. Shea and Kohl’s (1991) hypothesis, arguing that varied practice may lead to greater elaborative processing than does repeated practice, provides one account of the results.

This research was supported by a James S. McDonnell Collaborative Activity Grant.