Learning and Memory of Knowledge and Skills: Durability and Specificity


Alice F. Healy & Lyle E. Bourne Jr.

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    We dedicate this book to the memory of our fathers, Stanley J. Fenvessy and Lyle E. Bourne

    Preface: Durability and Specificity of Knowledge and Skills


    In the mid-1980s we (the editors) discovered that we shared a common research interest with another colleague (Anders Ericsson) in the acquisition and long-term retention of knowledge and skills. With the support of a small contract from the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory (1985-1986), we undertook a review of the empirical and theoretical literature (Fendrich et al., 1988; Ericsson & Crutcher, 1988) and we developed some new methodologies for the study of skill memory (Healy et al., 1988). We were particularly inspired by the work of Harry Bahrick (e.g., 1984) and his concept of permastore. But Bahrick's research, focused on knowledge acquisition and retention, seemed to us to leave open some important analogous questions concerning the long-term retention of skills. Further, it was not clear from his work whether manipulations of training could promote entry of knowledge and skill into permastore. These questions prompted us to write a research proposal, which was funded by the Army Research Institute (ARI) for the period 1986-1993 (Contracts MDA903-86-K-0155 and MDA903-90-K-0066). The experiments outlined in our initial proposal focused on some intuitive hypotheses about entry into permastore that had some empirical support. For example, we argued that automaticity (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977) might be one prerequisite for permastore. Further, we hypothesized that the popular generation effect that had been demonstrated for episodic memory over relatively short time intervals (Slamecka & Graf, 1978) could be extended to longer retention periods and to the learning and memory of skills.

    Over the next 7 years we conducted an extensive series of experiments on long-term memory for knowledge and skills. These experiments used a wide variety of training tasks, including some that were predominantly perceptual, cognitive, or motoric. In early studies we were impressed with the remarkable durability we found in some tasks in contrast to the rapid forgetting evident in others. For example, we obtained highly durable retention in tasks involving target detection, mental arithmetic, and data entry. In contrast, we observed rapid forgetting in tasks involving episodic memory for numbers, vocabulary learning, and autobiographical memory. An examination of the tasks that produced durable memory suggested that their common feature (which was not shared by the tasks that produced rapid forgetting) was what we have since called procedural reinstatement. According to the principle of procedural reinstatement, which is consistent with the ideas of Kolers and Roediger (1984) and Morris, Bransford, and Franks (1977), durable retention results when the procedures, or operations, employed during acquisition are reinstated, or duplicated, at the time of the retention test. This principle has important implications for education and training in that durable memory can be promoted if learners can be induced to use during training those procedures that will be required at the time of retention testing.

    Since our initial work, we have begun to discover that there is at least one significant limitation on this durability phenomenon. Our more recent work has revealed that durable retention is often, and possibly always, associated with limited generalizability. That is, whenever durability is observed it is highly specific to the particular facts and skills encountered during training. For example, we observed that the benefit from training on data entry persisted undiminished over long retention intervals only for the specific number sequences that were encountered during training. This finding can be understood by extending the notion of procedural reinstatement to the reinstatement of fact-procedure combinations.

    Over the years our research program has benefited from the contributions of a long list of collaborators, some of them students or postdoctoral associates at the University of Colorado and some of them visitors from other universities. The visitors included Tom Cunningham, from St. Lawrence University; Robert Proctor, now at Purdue University; Paula Schwanenflugel, from University of Georgia; Murray Singer, from University of Manitoba; and Chuck Thompson, from Kansas State University. The postdoctoral fellows included Ike Chen, now at Chinese University of Hong Kong; Bob Frick, now at State University of New York at Stony Brook; Janet Proctor, now at Purdue University; and Sheldon Tetewsky, now at McGill University. The students included Debbie Clawson, now at Catholic University; Robert Crutcher, now at University of Illinois at Chicago; David Fendrich, now at Widener University; Antoinette Gesi, now at University of California at Santa Cruz; Rajan Mahadevan (who is the subject of research reported in Chapter 12), now at Florida State University; Lori Meiskey, now at U.S. West Advanced Technologies; Tim Rickard, now at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda; Michael Scheall, now with the U.S. Air Force; and Bill Wittman, now at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The current members of our laboratory include Immanuel Barshi (graduate student), Cheri King (postdoctoral associate), Bill Marmie (graduate student), Danielle McNamara (postdoctoral associate), Julia Moravcsik (graduate student), Steve Romero (graduate student), Vicki Schneider (postdoctoral associate), Grant Sinclair (postdoctoral associate), and Liang Tao (postdoctoral associate). We have also benefited from several very stimulating short-term visits to our laboratory, usually lasting less than a week, by prominent researchers from other universities, including Harry Bahrick, Bob Bjork, Bill Estes, Walter Schneider, and Richard Shiffrin. Finally, we are deeply indebted to the ARI officers who have supported our research, especially Michael Kaplan, George Lawton, Judith Orasanu, Michael Drillings, and Bob Wisher. Each of these named individuals advanced our work and provided inspiration for some of our studies.

    In the chapters that follow we report some of the most significant research completed under this project. The book begins with a chapter summarizing our most recent studies of skill retention and transfer. (It should be noted that we have also published two other chapters reviewing earlier accomplishments in this project; see Healy et al., 1992, 1993. Also, see Healy & Sinclair, in press, for a comprehensive review of research on long-term memory for training and instruction.) The subsequent chapters are largely ones from our own laboratory documenting the durability and specificity effects found in particular paradigms. Chapters 2 through 7 describe studies exploring conditions that produce highly durable knowledge and skills and provide tests of the procedural reinstatement principle of memory durability. Chapters 8 through 12 demonstrate that, under some circumstances, durable memory is limited by high specificity. We conclude this preface with a brief outline of the contents of each of these chapters.

    Chapter 1 summarizes our research on the following topics: (a) memory for temporal, spatial, and item information; (b) the Stroop effect; (c) mental calculation; and (d) vocabulary retention. It provides an overview and theoretical framework for many of the subsequent chapters in this volume.

    Chapter 2 reports three experiments that investigate the conditions of acquisition and long-term retention of the complex skill of tank gunnery. No forgetting of this highly proceduralized skill was observed across 2-week to 22-month delays between training and testing. At a 1-month retention test, subjects in a part-training condition responded to threats more quickly than did subjects trained on the whole task. It is concluded that observing a part-training advantage is possible when the whole task is composed of a sequence of partial tasks.

    Chapter 3 reports two experiments investigating the effects of procedural reinstatement on implicit and explicit memory for a data entry skill. The results show that both motoric repetition and perceptual repetition improve implicit memory and that motoric repetition has a stronger influence than does perceptual repetition on explicit memory.

    Chapter 4 explores contextual interference effects by comparing random and blocked practice schedules in the acquisition and retention of skill in the use of logical rules. The results underline the importance of retrieval from working memory as a factor contributing to both the advantage of blocked practice in skill acquisition and the advantage of random practice in skill retention.

    Chapter 5 reports experiments extending the generation effect to skills and knowledge over multiple learning trials. Specifically, a generation advantage is demonstrated for performance on difficult multiplication problems and in learning to associate nonword vocabulary terms with common English nouns. The results are explained in terms of the procedural reinstatement principle.

    Chapter 6 reports two experiments evaluating memory for various aspects of course schedules learned by college students. Memory for the instructor's name (who), the course title (what), the building location of the class (where), and the time the class was held (when) were compared in one experiment involving subjects' own previous schedules and in another experiment involving the learning of other students' course schedules. A superiority for retention of where the class was held was explained in terms of the procedural reinstatement principle.

    Chapter 7 reports a diary study of autobiographical memory. Data are reported from subjects who attempt to remember the date of events occurring over the previous 2½ years of their life. The results document patterns of accuracy and error in dating performance and suggest various memory processes that might account for these patterns.

    Chapter 8 reports an experiment on the effects of practice on the classic Stroop color-word interference effect. Practice effects on the Stroop task were found to be specific to the particular colors and words used as stimuli, but not to the orthographic form of the words.

    Chapter 9 summarizes the results of five experiments that support a new theory of mental arithmetic. The theory assumes that arithmetic knowledge is represented in separate and distinct chunks corresponding to arithmetic facts. The results support the model by showing that the effects of practice transfer if and only if the elements of a test problem correspond to those of a practiced problem.

    Chapter 10 reviews the literature on the acquisition and retention of skilled letter detection. First, studies are summarized showing that extensive training in letter detection leads to automaticity. These studies provide mixed support for two different conceptions of automaticity, namely strength-based theories and instance-based theories. Second, studies are summarized showing that the word frequency disadvantage for letter detection in prose is reduced with practice. These studies provide clear support for instance-based theories.

    Chapter 11 summarizes a series of investigations on the acquisition and transfer of response selection skill. Practice rapidly leads to improvements in the speed with which particular responses are associated with particular stimuli. Practice effects are durable over a period of at least 1 week.

    Chapter 12 reports an investigation of Rajan Mahadevan, who demonstrates exceptional memory performance on numerical tasks that does not transfer to their verbal counterparts. Rajan's performance is both specific to the items learned and extremely durable over time. Characteristics of Rajan's performance are compared to those of memorists studied by others.

    Bahrick, H. P. (1984). Semantic memory content in permastore: Fifty years of memory for Spanish learned in school. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 113, 1–29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0096-3445.113.1.1
    Ericsson, K. A., & Crutcher, R. J. (1988). Long-term retention of sequentially organized information, knowledge, and skills: An empirical review (Tech. Rep. No. 88-14). Boulder: University of Colorado, Institute of Cognitive Science.
    Fendrich, D. W., Healy, A. F., Meiskey, L., Crutcher, R. J., Little, W., & Bourne, L. E., Jr. (1988). Skill maintenance: Literature review and theoretical analysis (AFHRL-TP-87-73). Brooks AFB, TX: Training Systems Division, Air Force Human Resources Laboratory.
    Healy, A. F., Clawson, D. M., McNamara, D. S., Marmie, W. R., Schneider, V. I., Rickard, T. C., Crutcher, R. J., King, C. L., Ericsson, K. A., & Bourne, L. E., Jr. (1993). The long-term retention of knowledge and skills. In D.Medin (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 30, pp. 135–164). New York: Academic Press.
    Healy, A. F., Fendrich, D. W., Crutcher, R. J., Wittman, W. T., Gesi, A. T., Ericsson, K. A., & Bourne, L. E., Jr. (1992). The long-term retention of skills. In A. F.Healy, S. M.Kosslyn, & R. M.Shiffrin (Eds.), From learning processes to cognitive processes: Essays in honor of William K. Estes (Vol. 2, pp. 87–118). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    Healy, A. F., Meiskey, L., Fendrich, D. W., Crutcher, R. J., Little, W., & Bourne, L. E., Jr. (1988). Skill maintenance: Specific sample methodologies (AFHRL-TP-87-72). Brooks AFB, TX: Training Systems Division, Air Force Human Resources Laboratory.
    Healy, A. F., & Sinclair, G. P. (in press). The long-term retention of training and instruction. In E. L.Bjork & R. A.Bjork (Eds.), Handbook of perception and cognition: Vol. 10. Memory. New York: Academic Press.
    Kolers, P. A., & Roediger, H. L. (1984). Procedures of mind. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 23, 425–449. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0022-5371%2884%2990282-2
    Morris, C. D., Bransford, J. D., & Franks, J. J. (1977). Levels of processing versus transfer appropriate processing. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 16, 519–533. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0022-5371%2877%2980016-9
    Schneider, W., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1977). Controlled and automatic human information processing: I. Detection, search, and attention. Psychological Review, 84, 127–190. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.84.1.1
    Slamecka, N. J., & Graf, P. (1978). The generation effect: Delineation of a phenomenon. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 4, 592–604. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0278-7393.4.6.592
  • Author Index

    About the Authors and Editors

    Andrew L. Betz received his B.A. magna cum laude from Bowling Green State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Ohio State University. His research interests include the study of autobiographical memory, the effects of mental representations on social inference, and the study of social influences on memory.

    Lyle E. Bourne, Jr., received his bachelor's degree at Brown University in 1953 and his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in 1956. Currently, he is Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He was elected to membership in the Society of Experimental Psychologists in 1972 and received a Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Health for the period 1971-1976. His scholarly interests reside largely in the area of human learning, memory, and cognitive processes. He is the author of over 100 journal articles, a dozen book chapters, and six books. He has been a member of the American Psychological Association since 1957, serving on its Council of Representatives, Board of Scientific Affairs, Publication Committee, and Council of Editors. He is past President of the Division of Experimental Psychology and currently acting President of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences.

    Deborah M. Clawson is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She received her B.A. in psychology and in computer science at Cornell University in 1985 and her M.A. (1992) and Ph.D. (1994) in psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Prior to graduate school she was a computer systems analyst and education program manager for the U.S. Air Force. Her research is in the area of human learning and memory, focusing on the durability and specificity of skilled performance. She has explored these issues in the domains of Stroop task performance, Morse code reception, and computer command production.

    Robert J. Crutcher received his bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1974 and his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1992. He joined the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1992 and is currently Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department. His research interests include human memory and learning, the development of cognitive skill and expertise, long-term retention of knowledge and skill, second language acquisition, and the use of verbal report methodologies in studying cognitive processes. He is also very interested in the use of cognitive research in improving human memory and cognition, especially in instructional settings.

    Addie Dutta received her Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1993 and is now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Rice University. Her research interests include most aspects of human information processing, with a focus on skill acquisition and response selection. She is co-author of the text Skill Acquisition and Human Performance (with R. W. Proctor).

    K. Anders Ericsson is FSCW/Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. In 1976 he received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Stockholm, Sweden, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Carnegie-Mellon University. In 1980 he moved to the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he remained until 1992. His research with Herbert Simon on verbal reports of thinking is summarized in a book Protocol Analysis: Verbal Reports as Data, revised in 1993. With Bill Chase he developed the theory of skilled memory based on detailed analyses of acquired exceptional memory performance. Currently he studies the cognitive structure of expert performance in domains such as music, chess, and sports, and how expert performers acquire their superior performance by extended deliberate practice. In 1991 he published an edited book with Jacqui Smith, Toward a General Theory of Expertise.

    David W. Fendrich received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in 1989. He is currently Assistant Professor at Widener University. His research interests include implicit memory, procedural memory, and the retention of skills.

    Antoinette T. Gesi received her bachelor's degree magna cum laude from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1988. She is currently at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in the doctoral program in experimental psychology, where she received her master of science degree in 1991. She is co-author of four articles and two chapters in professional journals and books. Her research interests include memory and cognitive processes. Her current research involves reading comprehension in second language learning.

    Alice F. Healy received her bachelor's degree from Vassar College in 1968 and her Ph.D. from the Rockefeller University in 1973. She was Assistant and then Associate Professor at Yale University from 1973 to 1981. She joined the faculty of the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1981 as Associate Professor and was promoted to Professor in 1984. She is currently Chair Elect of the Psychology Division of the AAAS and President of the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association. She also served as Editor of Memory & Cognition. She is currently Principal Investigator of a contract from the Army Research Institute. She has published over 80 articles and chapters in professional journals and books, is co-author of Cognitive Processes, and is co-editor of Essays in Honor of William K. Estes. Her research interests include memory and cognitive processes, especially long-term retention, psycholinguistics, reading, and short-term memory.

    Cheri L. King received her master of science degree in 1989 and her Ph.D. in general experimental psychology from Colorado State University in 1992. She is currently conducting postdoctoral research at the Institute of Cognitive Science and the Department of Psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research activities in cognitive psychology have focused on categorization; the specificity and maintenance of skills; and spatial, temporal, and item memory. She is also involved in the development of interactive multimedia courseware for use in teaching and research in psychology.

    Steen F. Larsen received his B.A. from the University of Copenhagen. He received his M.A. from the University of Aarhus, as well as his Gold Medal (equivalent to the Ph.D.) in psychology and psycholinguistics in 1972. He has been a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, residing at Emory University in 1984. He is currently Docent (Senior Associate Professor) and Deputy Chair at the Institute of Psychology, University of Aarhus. His research interests focus on memory in naturalistic and applied settings, including autobiographical memory, memory for mass media events, and “flashbulb” memory. These interests also extend more broadly to the study of literary fiction, schizophrenia, depression, and aging.

    William R. Marmie is a graduate student who received his master's degree from the University of Colorado in 1993. He is currently working on his Ph.D. His interests include comparative psychology and cognitive psychology. He began his career working on the behavior of captive-raised rattlesnakes, and his general interest in herpetology resulted in a weeklong lizard chase in Texas in 1991 that uncovered a new lizard hybrid. In cognitive psychology, his work on everyday memory for common objects resulted in the insight that intentional study plays a larger role in memory for the details of everyday objects than was previously thought. He is the sole author of an article in press describing a classroom demonstration for an introductory cognitive psychology course. He is a student member of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Mathematical Psychology.

    Danielle S. McNamara received her bachelor's degree in linguistics at the University of Kansas in 1982, a master's degree in clinical psychology at the Wichita State University in 1989, and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Colorado in 1992. Prior to graduate school in psychology, she taught English as a second language for 5 years. She is currently funded by the McDonnell Foundation Fellowship Program to work with Dr. Walter Kintsch as a postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Colorado. Her research centers primarily on the topics of memory, learning, and text comprehension. She investigates these issues within various domains, including multiplication skill acquisition, foreign vocabulary learning, learning from instructional texts, and expertise in computer languages.

    Janet D. Proctor earned her Ph.D. in experimental psychology at the University of Texas, Arlington. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. Her research interests include pattern recognition and attention, with a particular focus on the effects of experience on the nature and quality of processing.

    Robert W. Proctor received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas, Arlington, in 1975 and is now Professor of Psychology at Purdue University. He is currently editor of Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, and Computers, and he served as associate editor of Memory & Cognition 1986-1993. He is co-author of the text Human Factors in Simple and Complex Systems (with T. Van Zandt) and co-editor of the book Stimulus-Response Compatibility: An Integrated Perspective (with T. G. Reeve).

    Timothy C. Rickard is currently Research Fellow at the Cognitive Neuroscience Section of the National Institutes of Health. He received a B.S. in mechanical engineering and an M.S. in applied statistics at the University of Alabama and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Colorado. His research interests are in the general areas of mathematical cognition, skill acquisition, and memory. He has published in several leading psychological journals and book series, including the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Cognitive Brain Research, and The Psychology of Learning and Motivation.

    Vivian I. Schneider received her bachelor's degree from Metropolitan State College of Denver in 1972. She received her M.A. (1988) and her Ph.D. (1991) in psychology from the University of Colorado. She is currently a postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Colorado, working with Dr. Alice Healy and Dr. Lyle Bourne Jr. on second language acquisition. Previous work has included the study of some of the processes involved in reading and memory and skill acquisition.

    Grant P. Sinclair received his bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1983, and his master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1986 and 1991, respectively. He has conducted research in a variety of areas including text comprehension and memory, the size of the unit of perception in reading, and the acquisition and long-term retention of trained skills. He is currently a postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Colorado and is investigating the effects of gender and peace agreements on responses by subjects to varying levels and conditions of international conflict.

    John J. Skowronski is currently Associate Professor of Psychology at the Ohio State University, and he resides at the Newark Campus. His M.A. and Ph.D. are from the University of Iowa. His research specialty is social cognition. In addition to his research into autobiographical memory and event dating, his recent work includes the study of spontaneous social inferences using an implicit memory paradigm, differences in social information processing and impression formation between mild depressives and nondepressives, and the possible memory and impression differences produced by implicit versus explicit social information processing.

    Charles P. Thompson received his B.S. from Wisconsin State College, Eau Claire, in 1958 and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1962. He began his professional career at the University of Wyoming, where he learned to appreciate mountains and trout fishing. In 1965, he moved to his current position as Professor of Psychology at Kansas State University. His research specialty is memory, with recent emphasis on autobiographical memory, voice identification, and extraordinary memory.

    Rodney J. Vogl is a graduate student in cognitive psychology at Kansas State University. He received his B.S. from the University of Iowa in 1988 and his M.S. from Kansas State University in 1994. His research interests currently include autobiographical memory, the generation effect, source confusion, and extraordinary memory.

    William T. Wittman is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force where he has worked as a Behavioral Scientist since 1980. His initial assignments included providing psychological counseling to Air Force basic trainees and working organizational psychology issues, specifically performance evaluation of officers and enlisted personnel. In 1989 he completed a doctoral program in cognitive psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His dissertation research explored long-term retention of spatial information. This was followed by a teaching assignment at the United States Air Force Academy, where he continued his study of long-term memory. In 1993 he was assigned to his current position in the Air Force's Armstrong Laboratory, where he is involved in research addressing human factors in the design and performance of aircraft systems.

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