From computation to automization: How practice alters initial neural response to familiar arithmetic problems


Building and validating models of skill acquisition that explain speedup effects has been limited by difficulty distinguishing quickly executed cognitive processes (e.g. Anderson, 1982; Logan, 1988; Rickard, 1997). In this experiment, magnetoencephalography (MEG) data are collected from participants solving a repeated math problem set. We use MEG signal to test the three-phase model of skill acquisition that describes the transition from problem-solving strategies of computation, to retrieval, to an automatic stimulus-response process (Fitts & Posner, 1967). We hypothesize that the processes of familiarity and recollection are early features that distinguish the three phases of skill acquisition. Analyzing event-related fields, we test two predictions. First, early frontal activation (akin to the FN400 old-new effect of ERP studies) should diminish in strength with each successive phase transition. Second, parietal activation (corresponding to the ERP P600 old-new effect) should be present in the second phase, but not in the first or last phase.

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