Working Memory Capacity Limits Motor Learning When Implementing Multiple Instructions

Tim Buszard, Damian Farrow, Simone J J M Verswijveren, Machar Reid, Jacqueline Williams, Remco Polman, Fiona Chun Man Ling, Rich S W Masters

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42 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Although it is generally accepted that certain practice conditions can place large demands on working memory (WM) when performing and learning a motor skill, the influence that WM capacity has on the acquisition of motor skills remains unsubstantiated. This study examined the role of WM capacity in a motor skill practice context that promoted WM involvement through the provision of explicit instructions. A cohort of 90 children aged 8 to 10 years were assessed on measures of WM capacity and attention. Children who scored in the lowest and highest thirds on the WM tasks were allocated to lower WM capacity (n = 24) and higher WM capacity (n = 24) groups, respectively. The remaining 42 participants did not participate in the motor task. The motor task required children to practice basketball shooting for 240 trials in blocks of 20 shots, with pre- and post-tests occurring before and after the intervention. A retention test was administered 1 week after the post-test. Prior to every practice block, children were provided with five explicit instructions that were specific to the technique of shooting a basketball. Results revealed that the higher WM capacity group displayed consistent improvements from pre- to post-test and through to the retention test, while the opposite effect occurred in the lower WM capacity group. This implies that the explicit instructions had a negative influence on learning by the lower WM capacity children. Results are discussed in relation to strategy selection for dealing with instructions and the role of attention control.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1350
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


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