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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Thinking about doing: Representations of skill learning


Skill learning usually unfolds exponentially — we improve rapidly early on, and then performance levels off. However, we do not know whether people’s representations of skill learning accurately reflect this fact. Here, we asked people to predict the learning trajectory for a novel visuomotor task, “Lollitoss.” First, we established that skill learning unfolds exponentially on Lollitoss (Exp. 1). Across two experiments probing people’s trial-by-trial predictions of learning in Lollitoss using direct performance (Exp. 2a) and likelihood estimates (Exp. 2b), we found that people accurately represent the learning curve as exponential. However, we also found systematic errors - people think individuals start out better, make less errors, and learn slower in the task than in reality. Taken together, we find that people are surprisingly accurate at representing the overall shape of learning, but misestimate certain features, like the rate of learning, which may potentially have downstream effects on self-directed learning.

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