Nicole Ong advances to PhD candidacy, Congratulations!

Posted 18 Jul 2014

Title: Perceptions of performance success and motor learning

Thesis supervisor: Dr. Nicola Hodges; Committee members:Dr. Romeo Chua & Dr. Lara Boyd

The study of errors in motor learning has mostly been considered with respect to information-
processing theories. Though acknowledged to play a role in motor performance and learning,
motivation was thought to mainly exert temporary energizing effects on performance. More
recently, motivational-related factors have been shown to impact motor learning (and memory
consolidation) more directly. Perceptions of success, somewhat independent of actual success
and errors in practice, have been shown to affect what learners retain over time. The overall
aim of my thesis is to study how motor learning is affected by the subjective experience of
errors (and success) during and after practice and to test the mechanisms that might underlie
these. In two studies I present data (and propose to collect data) to test if and how motor
learning is affected by perceptions of performance, when actual errors in practice are
somewhat controlled. In Study 1, I manipulated target size when throwing darts to a dart-
board, in order to bring about increased perceptions of success for a large vs. smaller target
group. Although the large target group was more successful in practice, it was not more
successful in retention. In a follow up to this study I propose to change tasks and manipulate
perceptions of success through the provision of feedback (i.e., time-on target in a balance task).
In addition to testing whether enhancement of perceptions of success through feedback leads
to more robust learning, the potential interaction between level of performance (high or low
success) with relative improvement (large or minimal improvement) will be assessed. In two
further studies I aim to test when in practice perceptions of success matter for learning
enhancement. The notion that enhanced perceptions of competency during early practice may
act as a buffer for subsequent poor practice performance is tested in a task progression,
scheduling of practice study (throwing darts from near-to-far or far-to-near distances). In the
final study, I propose to extend current knowledge about when perceptions of success act to
enhance learning, by testing the impact of post-practice social “rewards” on motor-memory
consolidation. This will also be conducted using a balance task, when feedback will only be
given at the end of practice.