Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Memory and Metacognition for Piano Melodies: Illusory Advantages of Fixed- over Random-Order Practice

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Memory and Metacognition for Piano Melodies: Illusory Advantages of Fixed- over Random-Order Practice

Article excerpt

Published online: 19 March 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Some learning schedules can foster an illusion of competence, whereby the learner feels that the skill will be retained better than it actually will be. Consider fixed-order practice, in which a person practices a task repeatedly before switching to the next task (e.g., task order A, A, B, B); in contrast, in random-order practice, a person randomly alternates among two or more tasks (e.g., task order C, D, D, C). In the present experiment, participants (n = 25) who had formal training in piano practiced melodies under fixed- or random-order conditions (within-subjects), and then returned for a retention test 2 days later. Initially, the participants performed faster on melodies practiced in a fixed-order. However, on a retention test 2 days later, participants were faster with melodies from the random-order condition. Despite the within-subjects design, which facilitated the comparison of practice conditions, participants' metacognitive judgments indicated an illusion of competence, whereby they erroneously believed that fixed-order practice would result in faster retention performance. Our results suggest that even some trained musicians may use ease of acquisition as a heuristic for predicting future performance.

Keywords Contextual interference · Metacognition · JOL · Music cognition · Motor learning

The order in which someone practices a motor skill, such as playing an instrument or typing, can have a large impact on the memory retention for that skill. Past research has revealed a paradox, which is that the practice schedule that produces superior performance at the time of acquisition may yield inferior performance at retention (Simon & Bjork, 2001, 2002). Over the years, this paradox has been demonstrated in motor learning for various skills, including keyed timing (Simon & Bjork, 2001,2002), golfing (Porter, Landin, Hebert, & Baum, 2007), knot tying (Ollis, Button, & Fairweather, 2005), and musical instrument learning (Stambaugh, 2011). Additionally, practice schedules can influence an individual's judgments of learning by fostering an illusion of competence, whereby the learner feels that the skill will be retained better than it actually will be. How robust is this illusion? In the present report, we sought to demonstrate both (a) that the illusion can occur even in formally trained individuals-in this case, musicians-and (b) that the illusion can occur even when participants can easily compare practice schedules.

When describing the influence of practice order on the acquisition and retention of a motor activity, one can draw upon the contextual-interference principle (Battig, 1979; see Magill & Hall, 1990, for a review). This principle proposes that arranging to-be-learned materials in a way that intro- duces interference between those materials typically im- pedes performance at acquisition, but frequently leads to superior performance at the time of retention (Lee & Simon, 2004). For example, imagine that an individual is asked to practice melodies A and ? in a fixed-order (e.g., melodies ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, B) and is asked to practice melodies C and D in a random-order (e.g., melodies C, D, C, C, D, D). Given that practicing melodies C and D requires the learner to alternate between the melodies in no specific pattern, arrang- ing items in random-order is one way to introduce interference during acquisition of a skill (Shea & Morgan, 1979). Because of the high interference during learning of melodies C and D, the contextual-interference principle predicts poor acquisition and superior retention performance for those particular melo- dies. Additionally, the contextual-interference principle sug- gests that judgments made while under the influence of contextual-interference may reflect misconceptions of future performance.

Research has revealed that judgments of learning (JOLs) are sometimes an unreliable heuristic for future performance (e. …

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