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Contextual Dependencies during Perceptual-motor Skill Performance: Influence of Task Difficulty

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The present experiment was designed to address the role of task difficulty for the development of contextual-dependent behaviour during perceptual-motor task acquisition. Task difficulty in the present study was manipulated by restricting the time that the subject; (a) viewed task-relevant information, and (b) was afforded to execute a sequence of key presses. Assuming these manipulations made the acquisition of the key press tasks more difficult, it was hypothesised that reducing the time for either of these processes would result in a greater dependence on reinstating the training context at the time of test. This was based on previous findings reported by Wright and Shea (1991) which indicated that task difficulty can contribute to the development of context-dependent behaviour. The results of the study revealed that viewing time was a potent difficulty manipulation. This is supported by the slower acquisition rates for subjects exposed to short as opposed to long viewing conditions during training. More importantly, the impact of changing the intentional-incidental stimuli relationship that was apparent during training, during the test was greatest for the individuals who experienced shorter viewing times during the training phase. Thus, the proposed influence of task difficulty on contextual-dependent performance was supported. This dependency was manifested as a slowing in both the initiation and execution of the correct key presses. It is proposed that individuals trained in the more difficult viewing condition during training, when faced with an incongruence in the acquisition and test stimuli, must engage additional data-driven verification processes to supplement their extant knowledge in order to execute an appropriate response.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 1998

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