Development of Different Forms of Skill Learning Throughout the Lifespan

Cognitive Science 39 (2):383-404 (2015)
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The acquisition of complex motor, cognitive, and social skills, like playing a musical instrument or mastering sports or a language, is generally associated with implicit skill learning . Although it is a general view that SL is most effective in childhood, and such skills are best acquired if learning starts early, this idea has rarely been tested by systematic empirical studies on the developmental pathways of SL from childhood to old age. In this paper, we challenge the view that childhood and early school years are the prime time for skill learning by tracking age-related changes in performance in three different paradigms of SL. We collected data from participants between 7 and 87 years for a Serial Reaction Time Task testing the learning of motor sequences, an Artificial Grammar Learning task testing the extraction of regularities from auditory sequences, and Probabilistic Category Learning in the Weather Prediction task , a non-sequential categorization task. Results on all three tasks show that adolescence and adulthood are the most efficient periods for skill learning, since instead of becoming less and less effective with age, SL improves from childhood into adulthood and then later declines with aging



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