To study the acquisition of perceptual-motor skills as an instance of dynamic pattern formation, we examined the evolution of postural sway and eye and head movements in relation to changes in performance, while 13 novices practiced 3-ball cascade juggling for 9 weeks. Ball trajectories, postural sway, and eye and head movements were recorded repeatedly. Performance improved exponentially, both in terms of the number of consecutive throws and the degree of frequency and phase locking between the ball trajectories. These aspects of performance evolved at different time scales, indicating the presence of a temporal hierarchy in learning. Postural sway, and eye and head movements were often 3:2 and sometimes 3:1 frequency locked to the ball trajectories. As a rule, the amplitudes of these oscillatory processes decreased exponentially at rates similar to that of the increase in the degree of phase locking between the balls. In contrast, the coordination between these oscillatory processes evolved exponentially at different time scales, apart from some erratic evolutions. Collectively, these findings indicate that skill acquisition in the perceptual-motor domain involves multiple time scales and multiform dynamics, both in terms of the development of the goal behavior itself and the evolution of the processes subserving this goal behavior.
The authors are with the Institute for Fundamental and Clinical Human Movement Sciences in the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.