Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 161, Issue 4, pp 423–431 | Cite as

The effects of practice and delay on motor skill learning and retention

  • Tal Savion-LemieuxEmail author
  • Virginia B. Penhune
Research Article


The present study assessed the effects of amount of practice and length of delay on the learning and retention of a timed motor sequence task. Participants learned to reproduce ten-element visual sequences by tapping in synchrony with the stimulus. Participants were randomly assigned to a varied-practice condition or a varied-delay condition. In the varied-practice condition, participants received either one, three, or six blocks of practice followed by a fixed 4-week delayed-recall. In the varied-delay condition, participants received three blocks of practice followed by a varied delay of either 3 days, or 2, 4, or 8 weeks. Learning was assessed by changes in accuracy, response variance, and percent response asynchrony. Our results showed that amount of practice per se did not affect learning and retention of the task. Rather, distribution of practice over several days was the most important factor affecting learning and retention. We hypothesize that passage of time is essential for a maximum benefit of practice to be gained, as the time delay may allow for consolidation of learning, possibly reflecting plastic changes in motor cortical representations of the skill. With regards to delay, our findings suggest that explicit and motoric components of a motor sequence are likely to be learned and maintained in separate but interacting systems. First, only the longest delay group showed decrements in percent correct, indicating that longer lengths of delay might hinder retrieval of explicit aspects of the task. Second, all groups showed a decrement in percent response asynchrony, suggesting that synchronization may be a more difficult parameter to maintain because it relies heavily on sensorimotor integration.


Motor skill Learning Retention Practice Delayed-recall 



We wish to thank those who participated in this study. We also thank John Connolly, Donald Watanabe, and Alison Simioni for assistance in data collection. This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (V.B.P.), the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (V.B.P.), and the Centre for Research in Human Development (T.S.L.).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Laboratory for Motor Learning, Cognitive Learning, and Neural PlasticityConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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