Research Roundup: April 2020


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Exploring to Learn and Learning to Explore

Hacques, Guillaume et al. “Exploring to learn and learning to explore.” Psychological research, 10.1007/s00426-020-01352-x. 10 May. 2020, doi:10.1007/s00426-020-01352-x

This review focuses on the contributions made by exploratory behaviors to skilled perception and action. 


Key Points

  • Exploratory activities are those that generate information about the association between environmental factors and action capabilities.
  • Exploration describes the active process by which individuals disclose information during control of action.
  • In ecological psychology, information resides as patterns in ambient arrays (mechanical, acoustic, and optical).
    • These ambient arrays specify the relationship between the individual and his/her environment.
  • When information is relevant to the relationship between an individual and their environment, they perceive opportunities for action.
  • Through exploratory-perpetual motor activity, individuals can discover information that can help them adapt to the environment.
  • Exploratory actions are aimed at scanning the environment for information while performing actions alters the environment.
  • The distinction between exploratory and performatory activities helps us understand how infants develop their action systems and perceive new affordances.
  • Research observing climbing (sport) distinguish between exploratory and performatory actions.
    • Actions that lead to the displacement of the climber are deemed performatory, otherwise they are deemed exploratory.
    • Both exploratory and performatory visual and haptic movements increase in high anxiety conditions. 
    • When climbers are placed in high-anxiety conditions, they perform at a level equivalent to a novice.

  • The ability to anticipate the future state of the environment in relation to the individual is a characteristic of all animals, and is an especially necessary skill to perform sports at a high level.
  • The prospective control of action occurs through information-movement coupling.
    • This enables continuous adjustment between an individual and their environment, allowing them to achieve the task/goal.

  • Exploratory activity is not only an information-gathering activity that occurs before the start of performatory actions; it is also embedded throughout the activity.
  • Exploratory activity tends to decrease with practice.
  • Performance activity also decreases as individuals become more skilled.
  • If information is not reliable, exploration may lead to misperception and failure, regardless of the exploratory time.

  • Learning interventions can promote exploratory actions that enhance the transfer of perceptual-motor skills.
  • It is important that learners are given the opportunity to safely explore and to be guided toward more reliable information for action.
  • Exploration is a continuous process, and the generation of information is dependent on the actions of the individual.


Clinically: Pilates in Practice

  • Give clients the opportunity to safely develop exploratory behaviour beyond their perceived ability.
  • Decrease direct instructions and give clients the opportunity to explore movement, and the demands required of the task. 
  • Guide them if they are apprehensive or anxious: "have you tried?", "what would happen if?".
  • Communicate directly: "what do you need to do/know in order to perform...?"



Analogies Can Speed Up the Motor Learning Process

Zacks, Oryan, and Jason Friedman. "Analogies can speed up the motor learning process." Scientific Reports 10, no. 1 (2020). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-63999-1.


Key Points

  • The use of analogies in motor skill acquisition improves motor learning in various settings and tasks.
  • Analogies combine several task-relevant rules into a single biomechanical metaphor for motor learning.
    • The learner receives this metaphor as a verbal instruction.
  • Most research in this field has been carried out under the explicit/implicit knowledge paradigm.

  • Explicit motor learning refers to the conscious control of a motor task. It relies on working memory and is characterized by studying the rules that govern the movement and with the ability to state these rules explicitly.
  • Explicit knowledge may stall performance during the learning process.
    • This mainly occurs under stressful conditions.

  • Implicit knowledge of a motor task has no need for conscious awareness of certain tasks and does not place demand on working tasks.
  • Implicit learning increases the efficiency of participants in a motor task without receiving explicit instructions on how to improve.
  • Implicit learning techniques may involve the application of secondary cognitive tasks designed to occupy working memory.
    • This may reduce the learner’s chance of consciously forming test hypotheses or explicit rules about their performance.

  • A verbal analogy can be helpful for changing movement strategy and motor kinetics in some circumstances.


Background to Clinical Practice

  • Motor learning is a bio-behavioral science that places emphasis on complex processes occurring in the central nervous system and the brain.
    • This charts a path for the creation of a new motor skill due to systematic learning and practice.
  • Theories of motor learning are used by experts to better teach their students new skills while also refining pre-existing skills with ease.
  • Experts often learn to cue certain movements but not necessarily how to associate those movements to an in depth understanding of the actions that the brain needs to take to initiate those patterns as well as retain the information.
  • Struggling or plateauing during practice may be due to a dysfunction of motor control or motor learning that requires adaptation of our teaching cues to ease an exercise such that the brain can have a firm grasp of the correct pattern.


  1. Bobrownicki, R., MacPherson, A. C., Coleman, S. G. S., Collins, D. & Sproule, J. Re-examining the effects of verbal instructional type on early stage motor learning. Hum. Mov. Sci. 44, 168–181 (2015).
  2. Kleynen, M. et al. Using a Delphi technique to seek consensus regarding definitions, descriptions and classification of terms related to implicit and explicit forms of motor learning. PLoS One 9, 1–11 (2014).
  3. Lam, W. K., Maxwell, J. P. & Masters, R. Analogy learning and the performance of motor skills under pressure. J. Sport Exerc. Psychol. 31, 337–357 (2009).
  4. Tse, A. C. Y., Wong, T. W. L. & Masters, R. S. W. Examining motor learning in older adults using analogy instruction. Psychol. Sport Exerc. 28, 78–84 (2017).

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