Reference : Interference of a secondary task on procedural learning in children
Scientific congresses and symposiums : Paper published in a book
Social & behavioral sciences, psychology : Theoretical & cognitive psychology
Interference of a secondary task on procedural learning in children
Lejeune, Caroline mailto [Université de Liège - ULg > Département de Psychologie : cognition et comportement > Neuropsychologie >]
Desmottes, Lise mailto [Université de Liège - ULg > Département de Psychologie : cognition et comportement > Logopédie clinique >]
Catale, Corinne mailto [Université de Liège - ULg > Département de Psychologie : cognition et comportement > Département de Psychologie : cognition et comportement >]
Meulemans, Thierry mailto [Université de Liège - ULg > Services généraux (Fac. de psycho. et des sc. de l'éducat.) > Doyen de la Faculté de Psychologie et des sc. de l'éducation >]
Belgian Brain Congress 2012: Abstract Book
Belgian Brain Congress
27 octobre 2012
[en] procedural learning ; children ; secondary task
[en] Introduction
Procedural learning is generally considered as involving different learning phases, with cognitive resources playing an important role only during the initial learning step. Through repeated practice, the skill becomes progressively more automatic and the involvement of controlled cognitive functions is progressively reduced (Anderson, 2000;Doyon and Benali, 2005;Beaunieux et al., 2006). This view has been supported by studies in which the mirror-tracing paradigm was used to evaluate procedural learning, demonstrating the implication of the executive mechanisms in the first phase of perceptuomotor learning (Rouleau, 2002;Brosseau et al., 2007). However, from a developmental perspective, little is known about the progression of learning in procedural tasks, as well as about the role played by the explicit cognitive processes during learning in children. We recently showed that the cognitive mechanisms involved during the procedural task differed between age groups (Lejeune et al., in press). Indeed, we observed that 7-year-old children performed the procedural task in a less controlled fashion than 10-year-olds, who used a more conscious strategy, which permits them to reach better performance levels. The aim of the present study was to confirm the differential implication of explicit mechanisms in procedural learning in children by using a dual-task paradigm.

The present study used a dual-task paradigm in order to further investigate the role played by explicit mechanisms during the early and final stages of procedural learning in two ages-groups (7- and 10 year-olds). An auditory interference task was introduced at the beginning and at the end of the procedural learning phase. According to Sun, Merrill, and Peterson (2001), the introduction of an interference task should affect more the explicit processes than the implicit processes, the latter being more automatic. Thus, we predict that performance would be altered by in the dual-task condition only during the first phase of learning, and not during the automation phase. Furthermore, considering that the cognitive mechanisms underlying procedural learning would be different between 7- and 10-year-old children, we predicted that the impact of the dual-task would differ between the two aged-groups: the dual-task condition should affect performance in 10-year-old children but not in the 7-year-old group.

Seventy-six children were presented with a Mirror Tracing task under single or dual-task conditions. For the Mirror Tracing task, we conformed to the procedure used in previous studies in children (Vicari et al., 2005;Prehn-Kristensen et al., 2009) and we opted for a 5 points star with the double outline of 1 cm. The instruction was to follow the contour of the figure in order to “catch” different picture without leaving the limits of the contour. There were two learning sessions; the task included 10 trials, with a short break (2 min) between trials, and a second 10 trial session was conducted after a one-week delay.
In dual-task condition, participants had to perform the procedural learning task while performing at the same time the interference auditory task (which consisted to answer to questions presented continuously).

Results showed that completion time and accuracy during the mirror tracing task improved with each successive trial in both groups: all children learned the procedural skill regardless of their age and the experimental condition. As predicted, results showed that the impact of the dual-task differed between aged-groups during the first learning phase. While 10-year-old children were significantly slower and less accurate in the dual-task condition than 10-year-old children in the single-task condition, no difference between learning conditions was revealed in the 7-year-old group. Interestingly, at the end of learning (trials 19 and 20), the interference effect had disappeared: there was no impact of the secondary task on procedural performance, whatever the age-group.

In this study, we explored with a dual-task paradigm the role played by explicit mechanisms during the early and final stages of procedural learning in two age-groups (7- and 10 year-olds). During the first learning step, 10-year-old children in the single-task condition used a conscious strategy to perform the task, which permits them to reach better performance levels than 10-year-old children in the dual-task condition (which prevents them from using their controlled cognitive processes). On the contrary, no impact of the interference task was observed in 7-year-old children, who performed the mirror tracing task similarly in the single- and dual-task conditions. This result supports our hypothesis that, in the beginning of a perceptuo-motor learning task, youngest children perform the procedural task in a more implicit fashion comparatively to older children. Thus, while performance of 10-year-old children is congruent with a top-down conception of procedural learning (i.e., performance in the first learning stages would be sustained by high-level explicit mechanisms), this is not the case for youngest children whose explicit mechanisms are not yet mature. So, our results confirm that the involvement of explicit learning mechanisms is not a “necessary condition” for motor skill learning to occur, a point of view supported by the bottom-up skill learning approach which postulates that explicit declarative knowledge is not necessarily associated with procedural skill learning and that the knowledge acquired could be stored in an implicit mode from the beginning of learning (Karmiloff-Smith, 1992;Sun et al., 2001).

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