3 Phenomena of Cognitive Skill

Life is largely mundane and routine, and therefore so is most consciousness and cognition. Despite the natural inclination to emphasize our novel and surprising mental achievements, we will understand experienced cognition more readily by recognizing that much of our activity involves the routine use of well-learned cognitive skills. In this chapter, I review empirical findings on cognitive skill and discuss typical approaches to studying such skills in the laboratory. My goal at this point is not to establish detailed links between the experienced cognition framework and research on cognitive skill, but to acquaint the reader with basic methods and phenomena from this literature. My review is highly selective, focusing on those aspects of the acquisition and performance of cognitive skills that I find most relevant to understanding experienced cognition. Proctor and Dutta ( 1995) have recently provided a broader overview of research on skill.


THE STUDY OF COGNITIVE SKILL

Given the wide range of phenomena that might be labeled learning, it may be helpful to begin by characterizing the range of phenomena with which I am concerned. By skill, I mean the ability to routinely, reliably, and fluently perform goal-directed activities as a result of practice with those activities. As implied by this definition, I take skill to be a matter of degree. However, skill need not imply optimality-- individuals can and do learn to skillfully perform inappropriate or suboptimal routines. And,

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