A Model for Contextual Interference Effects in Motor Learning

  • John B. Shea
  • Robert C. Graf
Part of the Perspectives on Individual Differences book series (PIDF)


There exists substantial evidence that practice under conditions of high contextual interference can facilitate retention and transfer performance (Magill & Hall, 1990). Contextual interference refers to the situation in which there is interference among different tasks being learned across practice trials. Practice under a condition of high contextual interference (e.g., when multiple tasks are practiced in a random order) typically results in less proficient performance than practice under a condition of low contextual interference (e.g., when multiple tasks are practiced in a blocked order). These findings are reversed for retention and transfer tests, however, with performance being more proficient for the high contextual interference practice condition than for the low contextual interference practice condition. This phenomenon has attracted wide interest among motor skill researchers because it is counter to the common assumption that practice in situations with little or no interference is most advantageous for learning. We describe a contextual interference experiment and prevailing explanations for its findings. We then describe a hybrid connectionist model for contextual interference that has been successful in predicting empirical findings.


Joint Angle Retention Test Connection Weight Proactive Interference Random Group 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Dickinson, J., & Higgins, N. (1977). Release from practive and retroactive interference in short-term memory. Journal of Motor Behavior, 9, 61–66.Google Scholar
  2. Lee, T. D., & Magill, R. A. (1985). Can forgetting facilitate skill acquisition? In D. Goodman, R. B. Wilberg, and I. M. Franks (Eds.), Differing perspectives in motor learning, memory, and control (pp. 3–22 ). Amsterdam: North-Holland.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Lewis, D., McAllister, D. E., & Adams, J. A. (1951). Facilitation and interference in performance on the modified Mashburn apparatus: I. The effects of varying the amount of original learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 41, 247–260.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Logan, G. D. (1988). Toward an instance theory of automatization. Psychological Review, 95, 492–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Mandler, G., & Kuhlman, C. K. (1961). Proactive and retroactive effects of overlearning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 76–81.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Magill, R. A., & Hall, K. (1990). A review of the contextual interference effect in motor skill acquisition. Human Movement Science, 9, 241–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Masson, M. E. J. (1990). Cognitive theories of skill acquisition. Human Movement Science, 9, 231–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Shea, J. B., & Wright, D. L. (1991). When forgetting benefits motor retention. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 62, 293–301.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Shea, J. B., & Zimny, S. T. (1983). Context effects in memory and learning movement information. In R. A. Magill (Ed.), Memory and control of action (pp. 345–366 ). Amsterdam: North-Holland.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Shea, J. B., & Zimny, S. T. (1988). Knowledge of incorporation in motor representation. In O. G. Meijer & K. Roth (Eds.), Complex movement behavior: The motor-action controversy (pp. 289–314 ). Amsterdam: North-Holland.Google Scholar
  11. Titzer, R. C. (1991). The influence of a reminder on the contextual interference effect. Unpublished master’s thesis, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • John B. Shea
    • 1
  • Robert C. Graf
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Human SciencesFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Pennsylvania State University Motor Behavior LaboratoryUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations