Specificity and variability of practice

Res Q Exerc Sport. 1990 Jun;61(2):169-77. doi: 10.1080/02701367.1990.10608671.


The specificity of learning principle proposes that motor skills are specific and only superficially resemble other similar skills or variations of the same skill. On the other hand, the variability of practice hypothesis derived from schema theory proposes that experiences with task variations are vital to the development of the memories (schemata) responsible for response production and learning. This paper contrasts these two positions in two experiments aimed at determining the influence of providing variable and/or specific acquisition experiences on the retention of a force production task. The results clearly indicated that acquisition practice with variations of the criterion task leads to better retention than practice on the criterion task alone. This finding is contrary to a strict interpretation of the specificity of learning principle and suggests that paradigms investigating schema notions should be expanded to include potential impacts of variability of practice on tasks experienced during acquisition.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Biofeedback, Psychology
  • Computer Terminals
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Random Allocation
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Transfer, Psychology