A recent study by Dr Nathan Evans (former RHD student at the School of Psychology, University of Newcastle) and colleagues has been published in one of the flagship journals of psychological research, Psychological Review. This study examined how people become faster at tasks with increasing practice.
Although it is well established that people become faster at tasks with increasing practice, the precise rate that they improve at has been subject to vast debate. Most notably, researchers have debated over whether this rate is best accounted for by an exponential function or a power function – dubbed the “laws of practice” – with power functions predicting a much quicker and larger initial improvement than exponential functions, as well as much smaller amounts of improvement later in practice. Researchers Nathan Evans (formerly at UoN) , Scott Brown (School of Psychology UoN) , Douglas Mewhort (Queen's University, Canada), and Andrew Heathcote (U Tas, former head of the Newcastle Cognition Lab @ UoN) provided a key extension to these previous laws, extending them to account for trends found in the full response time distribution over practice (rather than just the mean response time), and to allow for an initial period of plateau, as improvements in complex tasks can often be slow at the beginning of practice before rapidly occurring.
To briefly summarise, findings across 18 experiments generally found that people’s improvements in time taken on the task over practice followed an exponential function, suggesting that improvements occur at a more balanced rate across practice than is predicted by the power function. In addition, improvements generally included an initial plateau, which was surprising given the extremely basic nature of the tasks in most of the 18 experiments assessed, and further showcased the importance of these new, extended laws of practice. A full version of the accepted manuscript can be found on the Newcastle Cognition Lab website (link: http://newcl.org/publications/LoP.pdf ).
Dr Nathan Evans