Information Processing in Motor Control and Learning
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Information Processing in Motor Control and Learning

George E. Stelmach, George E. Stelmach

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eBook - ePub

Information Processing in Motor Control and Learning

George E. Stelmach, George E. Stelmach

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About This Book

Information Processing in Motor Control and Learning provides the theoretical ideas and experimental findings in the field of motor behavior research. The text presents a balanced combination of theory and empirical data. Chapters discuss several theoretical issues surrounding skill acquisition; motor programming; and the nature and significance of preparation, rapid movement sequences, attentional demands, and sensorimotor integration in voluntary movements. The book will be interesting to psychologists, neurophysiologists, and graduate students in related fields.

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Skill Acquisition: An Event Approach with Special Reference to Searching for the Optimum of a Function of Several Variables

Carol A. Fowler and M.T. Turvey

Publisher Summary

This chapter provides an overview on skill acquisition. In reference to the nature of the actor, the relationships among muscles are sufficiently plastic so that within limits actors are able to constrain or organize their musculature into different systems. On this perspective, learning a skill involves discovering an optimal self-organization. In reference to the nature of skills, skills have structure and discovering an optimal self-organization is in reference to those variables of stimulation corresponding to environmental and bio kinematic relations that specify the essential features of the skill the actor is to perform. The useful skill-related information must be discovered, the actor must engage certain search methods that reveal the useful information to him. These search methods must be compatible with the actor; that is, they must be compatible with, for example, real-world mechanical and temporal constraints that natural actors must obey. In seeking an explanation of anything, it is important that the forms of theoretical and investigatory attention be a domain of entities and functions that is optimal to the particular problem under investigation.
This work was supported by NIH grant HD01994 and NSF gram NSI3617 to Haskins Laboratories.

I Introduction

Our chapter divides into three parts. The first is a roughly hewn statement of the general orientation we wish to take toward the problem of skill acquisition. The second part develops a level of analysis that, in our view, is optimal for the examination of the problem; essentially, it is an ecological level of analysis that promotes the event rather than the performer as the minimal system that will permit an adequate explanation of the regulation and acquisition of skilled activity. The principal claims of the first two parts are highlighted in the third and final part through a detailed examination of a specific but prototypical coordination problem, namely, the problem of how one learns optimally to constrain an aggregate of relatively independent muscles so as to regulate a simple change in a single variable.

II Motor Tasks, Acquisition Processes, and Actors: A General Orientation

It is prudent to preface a theoretical analysis of learning by some general comments on what the incipient theorist takes to be the nature of tasks that are learned, the nature of the processes that support the learning, and the nature of the agent doing the learning. In the vocabulary of Shaw and McIntyre (1974), those three topics refer, respectively, to the three primary analytic concepts of psychology, namely, the what, how, and who concepts. One can argue that this set of analytic concepts is closed, that is, that the concepts are logically co-implicative (Shaw & McIntyre, 1974; Turvey & Prindle, 1977). The closure of the set is illustrated by the following example.
The degree of hardness of a sheet of metal tells us something about the nature of the saw we must use to cut it (i.e., something about what is to be done); a blueprint or pattern must be selected in the light of what can be cut from the materials with a given degree of tolerance (i.e., how it is to be done); while both of these factors must enter into our equations to determine the amount of work that must be done to complete the job within a reasonable amount of time. This latter information provides a job description that hopefully gets an equivalence class of existing machines rather than a class that might accomplish the feat in principle but not in practice (i.e., implies the nature of the who or what required to do the task) [Shaw & McIntyre, 1974, p. 311].

A A Parallel between Evolution and Learning

In search of a general orientation to the nature of tasks, processes, and agents as they bear on the issue of skill acquisition, we are drawn to the parallel between a species participating in the slow processes of evolution and an individual animal participating in the comparatively rapid process of learning.
From a perspective that encompasses the whole evolving world of living systems, any given species appears to be a “special-purpose device” whose salient properties are those that distinguish the given species from other species. These salient properties, synchronically described, mark the state of adaptation of the species to the special and relatively invariant properties of its environment. In the course of time the species maintains its special attunement by coupling its evolution to that of its changing environment.
If the perspective is considerably narrower, encompassing only the lifetime and habitat of an individual animal, then the system being observed appears to be a “general-purpose device” to the extent that the individual animal can enter into various temporary relationships with its environment. In the course of ontogeny the individual animal adds to its repertoire of skilled acts.
It is roughly apparent that the “evolution” in ontogeny of a skilled act parallels the evolution of a species. Adaptation to an environment is synonymous with the evolution of special biological and behavioral features that are compatible (symmetrical) with special features of the environment. Similarly, we may claim that facility with a skill is synonymous with the ontogeny of special coordinative features that are compatible with the special features of the skill. Insofar as an environment has structure that provides the criteria for adaptations, so we may expect, not surprisingly, a task to have structure that provides the source of constraint on skilled solutions. And insofar as a species is said to be a particular biological attunement to a particular niche, we may wish to say, perhaps curiously, that the individual animal, as skilled performer, is a particular attunement to the particular task it performs s...

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