My training as a scientist definitely didn’t make me a proficient dancer. Can your logical reasoning help you learn a new motor skill?
Logical reasoning predicts performance on a movement task
Imagine that you want to learn a new motor skill: a skateboard trick, latte art or a salsa move. This involves trying different ways of making the movement until you finally mastered the trick. It is a common experience to remember the moment when you cleverly figured out how to make the movement. But your consciousness may have constructed a story that has little to do with how you really learned the trick.
The best way to study how logical reasoning contributes to learning a new movement is to test whether people who are good at logical reasoning are also good at learning a movement. This is exactly what researchers of the University of Birmingham did.
Xiuli Chen gave participants two tasks: a reasoning task and a movement task. Both worked like a treasure hunt. In the reasoning task, participants had to find the target square on a grid that maximized reward. In the movement task, participants drew lines on a tablet and had to find the target curve that maximized reward.
Reasoning task and movement task. Image based on Journal of Computational Biology
People who were good at the logical reasoning task tended to be good at the movement task. The results are published in PLOS Computational Biology.
Wait, is my dance performance lagging behind my academic performance?
Besides logical reasoning ability, the researchers needed to know one more thing to predict performance on the movement task: sloppiness.
Sloppiness hinders performance
Logical reasoning increased performance at the movement task whereas sloppiness reduced performance.
Okay, now I understand why I don’t master my dance moves.
Those who read my previous blogs may be surprised. Didn’t I write that sloppiness can help you discover accidental successes!?
Conscious versus automatic processes
Whether sloppiness helps you or not depends on how you learn a movement. When learning a movement you use a combination of conscious and automatic processes. Conscious processes are the processes you can talk about. Automatic processes happen without your thoughts controlling them.
Conscious processes, like logical reasoning, don’t learn from sloppiness. They usually don’t know about the sloppiness. Think of a manager having no idea that something was successful because his workers didn’t listen to him.
Automatic processes can learn from sloppiness, you can read about this in the blog ‘sloppy brain sloppy hands.’