Learning to Detect Error in Movement Timing Using Physical and Observational Practice

By Black, Charles B.; Wright, David L. et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Learning to Detect Error in Movement Timing Using Physical and Observational Practice


Black, Charles B., Wright, David L., Magnuson, Curt E., Brueckner, Sebastian, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Three experiments assessed the possibility that a physical practice participant 's ability to render appropriate movement timing estimates may be hindered compared to those who merely observed. Results from these experiments revealed that observers and physical practice participants executed and estimated the overall durations of movement sequences similarly and more accurately than those who were not privy to any previous practice. This was true for a case in which (a) the execution demands for the physical practice participant were relatively high when multiple movement sequences were practiced with a consistent relative time structure but different overall durations (Experiment 1) and (b) the execution demands were relatively modest when only a single sequential motor task was learned (Experiment 2). Moreover, this general set of findings remained true for individuals who had previous experience with physical or observational practice, even when timing estimations were made during tests with no execution demands (Experiment 3). Thus, executing a movement sequence does not appear to interfere with the development of a learner's subjective evaluation of overall timing performance. Specifically, these data provided evidence that recognizing error in movement timing can be accomplished via observation, and, more generally, they add to the growing evidence supporting the claim that observational practice is a legitimate method facilitating the acquisition of sequential movement behaviors.

Key words: error detection, motor skills, observation

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With practice, individuals commonly perform motor tasks faster and more accurately. Describing and explaining the changes that occur with practice have both practical and theoretical importance. One process proposed to be central to improvements through practice is the capability to detect and correct errors subjectively. It is not surprising, then, that a mechanism enabling the identification of erroneous performance was included in many theoretical accounts of motor learning. For example, the perceptual trace in Adams' (1971) closed-loop theory, as well as the recognition schema in Schmidt's (1975) motor program theory, specifically focused on error assessment.

It has been reported that subjective error identification improves with increased physical practice (Adams & Goetz, 1973; Adams, Goetz, & Marshall, 1972). The initial source of evidence cited to support a role for an error detection mechanism and its development with practice was from Schmidt and White (1972). In this study, individuals performed a ballistic task that involved moving a linear slide 24.1 cm along a track in 150 ms. Following each task execution, performers were asked to estimate timing error prior to receiving information about the outcome of their responses. The participants' subjective error estimation was subsequently correlated with the actual timing error and used as an index of the efficacy of their error detection capacity. Importantly, with practice, the subjective-actual error correlation increased, leading to the supposition that error detection improved with practice.

Recently, Sherwood (1996) concluded that ample evidence supports the existence and improvement of an error detection mechanism with practice. Contemporary endeavors, then, according to Sherwood, should consider how the practice structure might expedite the development of this mechanism. Sherwood initiated this effort by examining whether training in either a random or blocked training schedule resulted in greater sensitivity to one's movement error. In independent studies, Sherwood revealed superior error detection following random, as opposed to blocked, practice for spatial (Sherwood, 1996) and timing (Green & Sherwood, 2000) dimensions of movement.

Recently, Blandin and Proteau (2000) considered observational practice as a means to develop the ability to assess errors in movement timing accurately. …

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