The moderating role of a co-learner when concurrently practicing a balance task


Research has shown that conditions which promote effort or interference in practice aid long-term retention. Our aim was to test how practicing in a social context could potentially improve the learning of a balance task, by increasing the effort in practice. There is evidence that observing an actor interferes with concurrent action production (Kilner et al., 2003), and the actor's orientation moderates this effect (Sebanz & Shiffrar, 2007). We tested 8 pairs and an alone group (n = 8), across 10, 60-s practice trials on two stability platforms. Pairs practiced front-facing or with one partner back-facing (4 pairs/group). Supporting previous work, observing a partner from the front or back was associated with more imitative (same direction) or compensatory (opposite) movements, respectively. While the front-facing group showed more error (and interference) in practice, all groups improved, and did not differ in retention. However, within the pair groups, those who observed a partner during practice outperformed those who did not on a paired front-facing transfer test. While practice with a partner (and increased interference) did not aid retention, we did see modulations of performance in practice as a function of the partner's orientation. It may be that these types of balance tasks do not benefit from a more effortful mode of practice (promoting a more reactive, than automatic mode of control), or that more sensitive transfer tests are needed to see benefits associated with this more effortful type of practice.

Acknowledgments: This research was supported by a Discovery grant from NSERC.