George E. Stelmach University of Wisconsin
As you observe a tennis player execute a perfect forehand, you wonder how the motor skill was accomplished. If you focus your attention on the motor response itself and limit your inquiry to only movement execution, you will miss many important aspects of skilled performance. Often what happens before the response, on the perceptual side, determines the success or failure of the motor act. A performer continually processes information from the surrounding environment. The performer perceives stimuli, uses memory, makes decisions, and then executes responses. In this chapter I introduce an approach to skill learning that examines the mental operations that intervene between the stimulus and response. The appealing aspect of this approach is that it focuses attention on the cognitive activities that precede action. I try to examine the origins of the information-processing approach to look at how it has developed through the years, illustrating its strengths and weaknesses.
Before going further it is important to delimit the term skill as I use it here. When most people use the term motor skill, they probably think of it in a sport context like a spike in volleyball or a forehand volley in tennis. However, I use the term skill in a much broader context, namely, to refer to the types of activities we perform in daily life such as hand movements, typing skills, or precision acts.
The information-processing approach provides a framework for understanding many problems that might otherwise remain unclear and provides an alternative