Principles derived from the study of simple skills do not generalize to complex skill learning

Psychon Bull Rev. 2002 Jun;9(2):185-211. doi: 10.3758/bf03196276.


We review research related to the learning of complex motor skills with respect to principles developed on the basis of simple skill learning. Although some factors seem to have opposite effects on the learning of simple and of complex skills, other factors appear to be relevant mainly for the learning of more complex skills. We interpret these apparently contradictory findings as suggesting that situations with low processing demands benefit from practice conditions that increase the load and challenge the performer, whereas practice conditions that result in extremely high load should benefit from conditions that reduce the load to more manageable levels. The findings reviewed here call into question the generalizability of results from studies using simple laboratory tasks to the learning of complex motor skills. They also demonstrate the need to use more complex skills in motor-learning research in order to gain further insights into the learning process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Feedback
  • Generalization, Response*
  • Humans
  • Motor Skills*
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Transfer, Psychology*