Chris Edwards

Position: Alumni

Research: Movement variability & learning

Year: 2008

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I completed my MSc in August 2011. I completed the final two years of my BHK at UBC, after attending Kwantlen College and receiving a Certificate from the Douglas College Sport Science program. I was born in Vancouver and have always lived in the area, it is the most beautiful city in the world – why would anyone want to leave?

Thesis abstract: "Exploring non-task related variability as an aid to motor skill acquisition" In two experiments, we tested whether non-task related variability, in the form of randomly administered mechanical perturbations during practice, would facilitate the acquisition of a novel two-handed coordination movement. There is considerable evidence in the motor learning literature showing that task-related variability, in the form of practice of variations of a skill or practicing skills in a more variable order, can benefit learning and transfer. Moreover, there is recent evidence that non-task related variability added to the learning process, termed differential learning, is beneficial to learning by simply providing a greater exploration of the dynamic environment. In both experiments, we failed to find evidence to support these predictions about the beneficial effects of non-task related variability. In Experiment 1, when variability was administered after a period of stabilization, and in the presence of performance enhancing feedback (i.e., a Lissajous display), no differences between a control group and a variability (perturbation) group were found in retention. This was despite significant improvements for both groups and evidence that the perturbations worked to increase variability later in practice for the perturbation group. In a second Experiment, we increased the amount of practice, changed the feedback display, and provided variability throughout practice. Despite these changes, externally added, mechanical perturbations added to the movement still failed to aid acquisition, retention or transfer. We conclude that this method of practice, when the variability is externally administered and not dependent on performance, fails to aid acquisition or facilitate long term retention or transfer of new motor skills. Therefore, variability, in and of itself, is not a sufficient variable to bring positive changes in performance and learning, considerations need to be made in regards to the difficulty of the task, the competence of the performer and the specific types of variability, in order to be beneficial.