Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Specificity and Transfer Effects in Time Production Skill: Examining the Role of Attention

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Specificity and Transfer Effects in Time Production Skill: Examining the Role of Attention

Article excerpt

Published online: 1 February 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Two experiments examined transfer of a prospective, time production skill under conditions involving changes in concurrent task requirements. Positive transfer of the time production skill might be expected only when the attentional demands of the concurrent task were held constant from training to test. However, some positive transfer was found even when the concurrent task at retraining was made either easier or more difficult than the concurrent task learned during training. The amount and direction of transfer depended more on the pacing of the stimuli in the secondary task than on the difficulty of the secondary task, even though difficulty affects attentional demands more. These findings are consistent with the procedural reinstatement principle of skill learning, by which transfer from one task to another depends on an overlap in procedures required by the two skills.

Keywords Dual-task performance . Temporal processing

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Because they are highly adaptable, human beings can usually find ways to cope with the ever-changing environmental demands that they encounter. Previous research, however, has often demonstrated strong specificity of learning to the information, skills, and context presented during acquisition. That is, even when retention of knowledge and skills is high when there is no change in the requirements between the learning and testing phases, transfer is low when there is a change in the task requirements between the learning and testing phases. A number of theoretical proposals have been put forward to explain specificity of learning, or weak transfer (e.g., Morris, Bransford, & Franks, 1977; Roediger, Weldon, & Challis, 1989; Tulving & Thomson, 1973). Healy and Bourne (1995) explained their findings of specificity by proposing the procedural reinstatement principle, according to which transfer of a learned skill is best when the procedures used are the same during training and testing.

Healy,Wohldmann, Parker, and Bourne (2005) examined the procedural reinstatement principle in a dual-task situation in which participants were trained and later retrained on a prospective time production task, in which they generated time intervals in fixed arbitrary units. This laboratory task resembles many everyday situations in which individuals have to monitor the passage of time without consulting a clock, such as when a speaker needs to adjust the duration of his or her presentation to the given time constraints. During training, while producing time intervals, participants performed a difficult secondary task (alphabet production) or no secondary task (control). Perfect retention of the time production skill was found across a 1-week delay when the secondary-task requirements did not change between training and retraining. Strong specificity of learning was evident, however, when the secondary-task requirements were changed, even when the secondary task, if present during training, was absent during retraining. Thus, despite the additional requirements of a concurrent task, all participants showed significant improvement on the time production task during training, but learning of that skill was highly specific to the training conditions.

Healy et al. (2005) proposed that the specificity (i.e., lack of transfer) found in their study could be attributed to the development of a strategy that involved task integration, which they referred to as the functional task principle. More specifically, with repeated practice, participants learned to integrate procedures required to perform each of the two tasks (time production and alphabet production) simultaneously. Despite the nonrythmic nature of the alphabet production task, participants used that task as a basis for estimating the passage of time-for example, by stopping after a specific number of letters had been counted or after a given letter had been reached. …

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