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The Role of Task Difficulty in Learning a Visuomotor Skill

Bootsma, JM; Hortobágyi, T; Rothwell, JC; Caljouw, SR; (2018) The Role of Task Difficulty in Learning a Visuomotor Skill. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise , 50 (9) pp. 1842-1849. 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001635. Green open access

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Abstract

NTRODUCTION: Task difficulty affects the amount of interpretable information from a task, which is thought to interfere with motor learning. However, it is unclear whether task difficulty in itself is a stimulus for motor learning because the experimental evidence is mixed in support of the optimal challenge point framework that predicts one specific level of task difficulty to produce the greatest magnitude of motor learning. PURPOSE: We determined the effects of functional task difficulty on motor skill acquisition, retention, and transfer. METHODS: Healthy young participants (N = 36) learned a mirror star-tracing task at a low, medium, or hard difficulty level defined by the bandwidth of the star. We measured skill acquisition, retention, and transfer to untrained difficulty levels, as well as the perceived mental workload during the task. RESULTS: Task difficulty affected motor performance, but did not affect motor learning and transfer. For the groups that practiced the task at the medium and hard but not at the low difficulty level, initial skill level correlated with the magnitude of learning. CONCLUSIONS: The optimal challenge point framework does not capture the complex relationship between task difficulty and motor learning. Previously reported effects of task difficulty on the magnitude of motor learning are probably mediated by perceived mental workload. Task difficulty did not affect the magnitude of visuomotor skill learning but it affected how learning occurred. The data have implications on how athletes learn new motor skills and patients relearn injury-impaired motor skills during rehabilitation.

Type: Article
Title: The Role of Task Difficulty in Learning a Visuomotor Skill
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001635
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000001635
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: motor learning, motor control, challenge point, error-prone learning, errorless learning, mental workload
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Clinical and Movement Neurosciences
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10056012
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