Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 195, Issue 3, pp 419–427 | Cite as

A comparison of motor skill learning and retention in younger and older adults

  • Sarah A. Fraser
  • Karen Z. H. Li
  • Virginia B. Penhune
Research Article


The goal of the current study was to explore learning and short-term retention using a modified serial reaction time task. The multi-finger sequence task was designed to present repeated and random sequences in a completely interleaved fashion, giving participants within block, variable practice, on the two types of sequences. Eighteen younger adults (M age = 24 years) and 15 older adults (M age = 65 years) participated in the experiment. Participants were asked to respond on a piano keyboard to a visual stimulus that appeared in one of four squares on the computer screen. They were not informed that one of the sequences presented would repeat. Sequence-specific learning, within-day and across-days, was inferred from differences in accuracy and reaction time between repeated and random sequences. Age equivalence was observed in sequence-specific learning and retention across days, and suggests that older adults may benefit from variable practice.


Motor skill learning Aging Serial reaction time Retention Variable practice 



This project was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada PhD scholarship awarded to S.F. and a Canadian Institutes of Health Research operating grant awarded to K.L. and V.P. (MOP-67757, 68807). Many thanks to Alejandro Endo for his programing efforts, and to Anne Bailey and Caroline Doramajian for their help with this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah A. Fraser
    • 1
  • Karen Z. H. Li
    • 1
  • Virginia B. Penhune
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Center for Research in Human DevelopmentConcordia UniversityMontrealCanada

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