Contextual Interference Effect for Improved Motor Memory

I finally picked up a copy of the book, Mind Hacks by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb. I was flipping through it at the bookstore and saw and interesting “hack” called “Change Context to Build Robust Memories” (#86). It caught my eye, because it might have some application to learning motor skills like martial arts.

Here’s a quote:

…practicing a collection of skills in a random order is better than practicing them in runs.

So, for example, if you are learning Japanese, writing each character of the hiragana (one of the three alphabets used in Japanese) is a separate motor skill. So it might be better to practice your hiragana by writing all of them out together, rather than copying out a hundred copies of one character, then a hundred copies of the next, and so on. You learn slower this way, but you remember better.

Ste-Marie et al. [link] used this technique when teaching grade two students handwriting, practicing writing the letters h, a, and y. After writing each letter only 24 times, the students who practiced the letters in a mixed-up fashion had better handwriting (i.e., better motor memories) than the students who practiced in blocks, as soon as the very next day.

The studies that are listed at the bottom of the hack seem to be about motor skills, but it seems to be worth experimenting with. See also, Wikipedia and the Mind Hacks blog.



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