Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Specificity of Practice in a Ball Interception Task

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Specificity of Practice in a Ball Interception Task

Article excerpt

Abstract Learning of an aiming task has been shown to be specific to the sources of afferent information available during practice. However, this has not been the case when a one-hand ball-catching task has been used. The goal of the present study was to determine the cause of these conflicting results. Participants practiced an interception task in either a normal vision condition or a ball-only condition. They were all then transferred to the ball-only condition, using either the same ball trajectories as in acquisition or different ones. Being transferred from a normal vision condition to a ball-only condition resulted in a significant increase in spatial interception errors, thus supporting the specificity of practice hypothesis. Using new ball trajectories in transfer caused a significant increase in error for all participants. The pattern of errors observed when new ball trajectories were used suggests that participants had difficulty correlating information about the location of their arm via proprioception and a combination of retinal and extra-retinal information about the ball trajectory.

The role played by afferent information for the learning and control of one's actions has been the subject of many debates over the last 30 years. At one end of the spectrum, this role has been described as being important for novices, but negligible for experts (Keele, 1968; Schmidt, 1975). At the other end of the spectrum, it has been proposed that afferent information might become more important for motor control as practice increases (see Proteau, 1992 for a review). The problem is compounded by the fact that the advocates of the important role played by afferent information for movement control do not agree on how it is used as a function of practice. On the one hand, some authors have proposed that the source of afferent information used to guide one's action differs early and late in practice. For instance, Fleishman and Rich (1963; see also Bennett & Davids, 1995) proposed that visual afferent information is the main input for movement control early in practice but that it is gradually replaced by kinesthetic information. On the other hand, Tremblay and Proteau (1998) recently proposed that, as a function of the task one practices, there is a source of afferent information that is quickly determined as being best suited to ensure optimal accuracy and it progressively dominates other sources of afferent information for motor control. Such could be the case because with practice one becomes more proficient at processing this source of feedback, which progressively ensures optimal performance (see Abrams & Pratt, 1993; Khan, Franks, & Goodman, 1998 for confirming evidence).

A corollary of the point of view developed by Tremblay and Proteau (1998) is that learning must be specific to the sources of afferent feedback used to guide one's movement during practice. Support for this position has been obtained in numerous studies using an aiming movement (see Proteau, 1992). For example, Proteau, Marteniuk, Girouard, and Dugas (1987) had participants practice an aiming movement for 200 or 2,000 trials under either a normal vision condition or a target-only condition. In the latter condition, participants could see only the target to be reached (1 mm in diameter). All participants received knowledge of results following each one of these trials. Not surprisingly, by the end of practice, the participants who had practiced under the normal vision condition showed less error than the participants who had trained under the target-only condition. More interestingly, at the end of this practice phase, all participants completed a transfer test performed in the target-only condition and with no knowledge of results. The results of this transfer test revealed a large increase in error for the participants who had trained in the normal vision condition and who, regardless of the amount of practice, became significantly less accurate than those participants who had practiced in the target-only condition. …

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