Louis Augustus Pechstein.

Whole vs. part methods in motor learning online

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His original learning required but one trial, with two errors, and 487 sec-
onds. His relearning required seven trials, eleven errors, and forty seconds.
This suggests not only the question of relationship between speed of


(cj Loss due to retro-active inhibition.

It has been shown above that learning one motor unit is
favorable for mastering subsequent ones and that a unit will
not disintegrate during a limited time interval, provided only
one such unit has been learned. But are the conditions re-
versed when the rat is taught several such units? Specifically,
do the learning efforts expended in mastering Sections II, III,
& IV^ impair the ability of running I, II, III, and even the last
mastered, IV? The influence of the interval of time under such
conditions may logically be disregarded (see section above)
but it is mandatory that the control over each sectional path-
way be carefully tested. If this control has been broken up by
subsequent learning activity, it is obvious that herein rests
the explanation for much of the inability to connect the units
in the final motor series.

An entirely new control group of rats was trained upon the

learning and accuracy in retention but also whether the maze has ever
been learned until the rat has taken time to work it out thoroughly, —
either in the original learning or relearning process. There is fundamental
difference between knowing how to steer by the unexplored areas (cul de
sacs never entered) and knowing the character, depth, and position of
these. The writer has never had a rat that did not work out the maze
completely, either in the original or relearning situation. Considerable
data relative to the learning time and retention accuracy will be published
at a later period.

3 This paper has waived detailed discussion of the question of retention,
though the writer heartily agrees that one measure of the efficiency of a
learning method is the strength of retention (as Meumann had shown
in the case of rote learning). Group records have been accumulated
for 'whole' method learners, with and without the prevention of
returns, and for eight, €even, and five weeks. No big differences seem
to appear for the same time intervals. The accuracy is very high, the
loss being in the time of the first several runs in retesting. This is not
due to exploration of cul de sacs or retracing hut to slow and cautious
rate of forward progress. Records for 'whole' and 'part' learners, where
there was progressive retesting for i, 2, 3, and 4 week intervals between the
retesting (not the original learning) seem again to reveal strong reten-
tion, but with a probable time value in favor of the 'whole' learners.
This is to be expected, since the final four perfect runs of 'part' learners
in the original learning act are invariably slower than for the 'whole'
learners. However, the writer regards the retention question in its rela-
tion to original learning methods as being practically unattacked in this
motor realm.


four motor units, following the exact procedure laid down for
the 'part' group. As soon as the individual rat had mastered
the final unit, Section IV, he was retrained upon Section I.
Such retraining was kept up until the mastery criterion of four
successful runs was satisfied. By this relearning method, there-
fore, the experimenter was enabled to measure the retro-active
inhibition exerted upon Section I. Note that entirely differ-
ent and completely trained control groups would be required
for measuring this inhibition on Section II and Section III,
provided the single group failed to demonstrate its ability to
run not only Section I, but Sections II and III in turn. Table
XII. page 75, embodies the data. Inspection reveals practically
.absolute control of the successive units. ^ Hence, only one group
was employed for the testing of all the sections. When the
entire group required for the complete relearning of the four
sections but an average of .6 trials, 3.9 seconds, and .65 errors
per section (with all the relearning effort being directed to one
section and herein expended mainly by a single blind rat), it
is obvious that retro-active inhibition must be disregarded as an
element of the great waste in learning the maze by the 'part'

(d) Loss due to contiguity of unit functioning.

It has been show^n that learning a section does not interfere
with the acquisition of a section on subsequent days (Transfer).
Also, it is clear that the mastery of a new section does not
interfere with the running of previously learned sections, pro-
vided that at least a day interval is allowed between tests.
{Retro-actk'c inhibition). Finally, all the motor units learned
may function perfectly, provided a day or more elapses be-
tween the trial acts. (Retro-active inhibition). But it is pos-

* Attention is called to the fact that Section III alone presented difficulty.
This difficulty is almost negligible, since 2.2 errors for a group is of
course practically to be disregarded. It will furnish cold comfort to some
of the present day animal psychologists to be told that the errors of
Section III were made by two rats, the first, completely blind, whose re-
learning effort required seven trials, nine errors and fifty-three seconds,
the other, three trials, two errors and fourteen seconds. These two rats
alone determine the scores for Section III. If the blind rat were ex-
cluded, the averages for the group would approach zero.


sible that two acts might function successfully without any
interference between them when there is interposed this con-
siderable time interval, and yet that marked interference might
occur if these different motor habits were forced to function im-
mediately in succession, a condition that maintains in the con-
necting act of 'part' procedure. The difficulty so clearly demon-
strated in the connecting act in 'part' learning may consist
primarily in an interference resulting from this contiguity of
function. The validity of this hypothesis had to be tested, not
only in the case of motor acts learned in immediate succession,
but for all possible combinations of the total collection of acts
at the disposal of the subject.

A new group of rats (six in number), was taught the four
maze sections. Retesting w^as made upon various sections as
soon as Section IV was mastered. Here, differing from the
group reported in the retro-active inhibition test, each rat was
given but one run per section and then changed immediately
to one not successively learned. This requires two distinct
adjustments. All typical combinations were tested. These, for
successive days, were I & III, II & IV, IV & I, III & I,
IV & II. These tests of five days produce almost perfect re-
sults. In no case did the group average higher than 2/5 errors
for the day. Most individuals of the group were able to adjust
immediately to any such combinations and to accommodate to
these changing requirements day after day. Finally, the daily
task was increased by compelling double the general amount of
work and this in the inverted order of learning, namely, suc-
cessive runs in IV, III, II and I. This increasing demand in
amount of work and complexity failed absolutely to create a
breakdown in control. Three of the rats ran the entire four
sections perfectly, each of the remaining three attained a single
error for the entire four problems. The scantiness of errors
renders untenable any opinion that the 'part' learner does not
have control over the specific units he has mastered. This
control exists irrespective of the order in which the units are
required to function or of their functional contiguity.
Ce) Loss due to unit incompatibility in a larger series.


It is logically possible that the various units present in-
hibitory tendencies one to the other in the act of connection
and that these units have to be destroyed before the final act
of union can be made. In other words, it needs to be shown
whether any motor unit can function as a specific part in a
bigger motor situation. Section (d) above merely showed that
the units can function in temporal contiguity. It argued noth-
ing regarding whether a definite part of a total act can function
independent of that act. Obviously, if a group having mastery
of the entire motor situation can run all parts of that situation
as parts and various combinations of these parts, the ques-
tions of incompatibility of units and their inability to function
as parts of a whole must be answered negatively.

The rat and human groups having been taught Maze A in
the most advantageous fashion ('whole' method with returns
prevented) were tested upon the various parts. (These so-
called parts are the four units mastered in 'part' learning). By
the removal and insertion of panels in the rat mazes and metal
plugs for the humans, new connections were easily made
possible, yet the character of the parts was unchanged. It was
considered essential to try the rearranged parts in the forward
learning order and the more crucial condition of inverted learn-
ing order. Hence, the subjects were tested in successive order
upon I to III, II to IV, and IV to I Maze constructions. Between
the completion of each such test, the subject was retrained
upon the maze as a whole. This not only tested his ability
to add to a modified act all the original parts but prepared him
for an ecjuitable attack upon each novel construction.

The behavior in the several changes was typical throughout
for both rats and humans. A slowing up of speed at the new
junction and an occasional retrace were followed by a headlong
dash into the new section. No retracing occurred in the new
section. An inspection of Tables XIII and XIV, p. 75, shows the
amazing accuracy of both rats and humans in running the
sections in variable order. This points to the fact that a motor
unit may function as such, provided it has been mastered as
part of a whole. It shows that no incompatibility as between


specific parts exists in the motor problem. Again, it enforced
the conclusion reached in (d), that the sections have no in-
herent interference when functioning in immediate contiguity.
Taken in conjunction with (d), it proved that the difficulty
of putting the parts together is because the parts were learned
as unit wholes.

From the above series of tests, certain definite conclusions
may be stated, these having reference to the alleged causes of
waste in 'part' learning. The conclusions apply for animals
and humans.

( 1 ) Learning one motor unit does not render the mastery
of subsequent units more difficult. Transfer is strongly posi-
tive, thus pointing out a clear advantage of the 'part' method.

(2) Practically no disintegration of the motor habit occurs
during the time between initial mastery and the final connecting

(3) No retro-active inhibition is exerted upon motor habits
by the learning of subsequent ones.

(4) Different motor units may function as units in any
order. Contiguity of unit functioning fails to disturb the motor

(5) Parts of a motor act present no incompatibility to each
other when they are learned as parts of a larger motor situa-
tion. They may function perfectly as parts, in any successive
combination of parts, or in the entire motor series. Their
capacity for part functioning is never lost.

The above generalizations emphasize the necessity of exclud-
ing as factors of waste in 'part' learning whatever refers to
the mastery of the several units or the interrelationship between
these units. By these elimination tests, the writer is led to
conclude that waste in the maze problem occurs only in the
act of connection and is here traceable almost entirely to the
influence of place association. This hypothesis is discussed and
tested at length in the following chapter.


Place Association and its Relation to Impovement of
THE 'Part' Method

The universal inferiority of the 'part' method has been demon-
strated. Numerous proposed causes of waste in 'part' learn-
ing have been tested and rejected. Chapter IV brought out
the fact that the writer relies mainly upon place association
for an explanation of the poor results obtained by this method.

Place association refers to the definite location of an ele-
ment of a problem in reference not only to the remaining de-
tails of that problem but to the entire environment. In the
case of rote learning a certain syllable is learned in reference
to its antecedent and consequent (immediate association) and
to the remainder of the terms (mediate association). It is
hereby assigned a definite position in the word series. This
places it in a conceptual scheme. It is located at a definite
number of syllable intervals from both the introductory term
and the terminal one of the list. It is reached after the same
time expenditure in each trial and is followed by a constant
time span for the completion of the presentation. Both spatial
and temporal factors are concerned in establishing the positional

In motor learning of the maze type, the establishment of
place associations represents a large part of the learning. These
associations are no doubt very complex. Certain ones may
be indicated, (a) Time. The learner comes to relate a cer-
tain time span to a certain change of activity. Specifically,
a short time run for the rat means a cessation of the running
activity and the substitution for this of feeding. Also, it is
logical to suppose that each critical turn or element of the
maze pathway is located (though not in a conceptual sense)
in the entire time span just as definitely as a term is located in
a series of nonsense syllables. (b) Distance. The learner



is taught to run a certain distance and secure a desired change
of activity. In the case of 'part' learning, each section re-
quires that the same distance be traversed. Consequently, the
learner attacks his daily problem with the expectation of having
it solved when certain clearly defined time and distance de-
mands have been satisfied, (c) Details of the maze pathways.
Each turn, cul de sac and section of the true pathway become
positionally established. A given corner may be located in
reference to many factors, e.g., the opening into the food-box,
the starting place, the next cul de sac, the electric lights, the
position of the experimenter, etc. Each aspect of the course
is no doubt associated with and located in reference to all the
details of the course and to the entire objective environment
as well.

The above suggestions may not be exhaustive. It seems to
the writer, however, that they state the main types of place
associations that are set up in learning the maze problem.
Also, it seems logical to assign the difficulty of the act of
connection in 'part' learning to the break up of these specific
positional factors. If they are causative of the waste in 'part'
learning, the behavior of the learners should reveal it. Again,
the evidence drawn from the previous experiments must sup-
port the hypothesis. Finally, the factors of place association
must be so experimentally treated as to show the exact way
they are operating to condition waste. Such a treatment of these
factors would produce better learning results than were secured
by the pure 'part' method provided the factors are eliminated
or negated to some degree. This would demand the devising
of improved methods of 'part' learning. The task of the chapter
is given to the three necessary lines of procedure stated above.

(a) Behavior,

The behavior of both rats and humans in the act of con-
necting the successive sections was described in Chapter II.
It may be characterized as passing through ten distinct stages.
( I ) Free and unchecked. When started at the remotely learned
Section I, the subject "got his bearings" and proceeded rapidly
and accurately. (2) Break down in control. This occurred


at the closed exit to Section I. It is characterized by a cessa-
tion of forward directed activity. (3) Testing of old habits.
The subject might retrace or dash into Section II. He had
learned the meaning of the retracing habit when the pathway
was blocked (e.g., in a cul de sac) and also the going ahead
habit. (4) Failure of habitual adjustment. Retracing brings
failure. Arrival at the exit of Section II (generally the ex-
ception for the opening trial at connecting) brings like results.
The run through Section II was irregular, wavering, and gen-
erally given up, the subject returning to Exit I and then into
Section I. This stage is characterized by the development of
a strong emotional factor, roughly to be designated as con-
fusion or lack of confidence. (5) Random activity. Here
complete inability to handle the situation is manifest. Aimless
darting into alleys, incessant complete and partial returns, com-
plete cessation of activity followed by rapid attacks are evident.
(6) Directed activity. The subject settles down to the prob-
lem, relying not on specific control of units but upon his gen-
eral maze knowledge. This stage is one characterized by per-
sistency. (7) Accidental success. No less than in the first
act of learning, this trial and error process brings the desired
result. Judging by the behavior upon the last few sectional
passageways, the subject had little, if any, knowledge that he
was approaching the desired goal. Following the first suc-
cessful trial, the subsequent trials suffice for the (8) fixation
of the useful movements, (9) elimination of the useless, and
the (10) final complete organization of the sensori-motor

The above analysis of the behavior in the act of connection
shows clearly the complete breakdown of control. Short time
and distance relationships absolutely fail to bring the changed
activity previously secured. A specific maze corner ceases to
mean a turn "to be followed by food getting." It is now a
turn that leads to a new situation, calling for far more time
expenditure, more distance to be traversed, etc. The several
closed exits represent the critical points where old habits fail.
Here the subjects halts, explores the situation, and shows in


every possible way that his control over the motor situation
has broken down.

(b) Comparison with previous tests.

It was demonstrated in Chapter III that each unit of the
maze could function perfectly as an element. This ability
was shown to maintain irrespective of the order of functioning
of the several units. This fact argues that positional factors
are never disturbed so long as the motor habits are allowed
to function as units, but that the connection of these unit habits
into a series immediately brings disturbance. It was also dem-
onstrated that elements learned as parts of a whole could be
put together in any fashion without difficulty. Such opera-
tions did not call for an extension and enlargement of short
temporal and spatial relationships. Rather, they represent cases
where the subject reaches his goal with less time consumption
and less distance traversed than is customar}'. This difference
emphasizes the writer's general contention. It seems certain
from these facts that the place associations set up when the
parts are mastered have such great strength that they render
the act of serial connection extremely difficult.

(c) Experimentation directed toward the elimination of the
positional factors.

It is obviously impossible to devise modified methods of
'part' learning where some positional factors (short time acts,
short distance traversed, etc.) are not established. No test
can be devised to eliminate all these factors at once. It is
necessary to eliminate these progressively and in the most ad-
vantageous fashion. The tests to h& described have value to
the extent in which they eliminate or negate to a degree some
one or some group of the positional factors. The nature of
each new test and the learning will be treated comparatively.
A presentation of the learning scores and an appropriate evalua-
tion of each method are reserved until this preliminary survey
of the methods and the learning behavior has been made. (See
pages 39 sq.)

(i) 'Direct Repetitive'.

Rat groups and humans were trained upon Section I until


mastery was accomplished. At this stage, the individual sub-
ject was required to run through the mastered Section I into
Section II. This change in the maze pathway was rendered
possible by the removal of the dividing panel and the closing
of Exit I. When mastery of the I-II course was completed,
III was added to the accumulating series, finally IV. In each
modification, then, the subject was required to repeat the familiar
area and to enter the strange. A review of the mastered sec-
tions was hereby given in each trial. Furthermore, the place
associations set up during the mastery of Section I were re-
constructed as soon as mastery was attained. The problem
was made to expand. 'Part' learning called for an isolated
attack upon Section II, this and subsequent sections serving
very largely to make more deeply seated the short time and
short distance factors of each maze unit. The identity in length
of the four units argues for this. But by this 'direct repetitive'
method, however, the positional factors are no sooner set up
than they are made to relate to a larger, more complex situation.

The behavior of these groups was characteristic. Upon finding
Exit I blocked, the rat usually proceeded very cautiously into
Section II, generally making numerous partial returns to Exit I.
Seldom was retracing continued through Section I. The human
behaved the same way, but the retracing was probably less marked.
Both for rats and humans, there was little or no hesitation
after the second trial upon the arrival at Exit I. The same
is true for retracing. The entire efforts of the learners seemed
directed to the mastery of the final, unfamiliar unit. The speed
of approach to this attack was generated by the running of
Section I. It shows the operation of a factor roughly to be
considered the influence of the known. It bespeaks for the
method a favorable "warming-up" period. (See Tables XVII &

(2) 'Reversed Repetitive'.

Rat and human groups were trained upon Section IV until
mastery was attained. As soon as the individual mastered this
final unit, he was required to attack the third, working through
this into the previously learned IV. In turn, he added on as the
first part of the accumulating motor series Sections II and I.


In each modification, then, the subject attacked the novel and
ended each trial by traversing the familiar. The problem may
be stated as testing the influence of the unkiwzcn. This
method of learning is, therefore, the reverse of the 'direct repe-
titive' described above. It consists essentially in learning the
maze backwards, as opposed to the forward aspect of the pre-
vious method. Each trial calls not only for the partial mastery
of a new section (the first part of each run) but for the final
review of the previously mastered units as well. Both these
'repetitive' methods differ from the 'part' method in the fact
that the various sections are not mastered separately. The value
of these repetitive methods seems obvious. Place factors never
become strongly established. This is doubly clear in this last
mentioned method ('reversed repetitive'). Herein the subject
has never learned habits of stopping, except at one particular
place, i.e., the open door of the food-box. The following para-
graph on the behavior in this learning method shows why this is

The behavior of these groups differs from that of the 'direct
repetitive' type. Usually, after the learning of general maze
ha1)its in Section IV, the new problem was attacked eagerly.
When the entrance from III into IV was reached (a place where
the subject had never learned to stop) recognition with the rats
was extremely obvious. Speed was quickened and Section IV
run with precision.. This general behavior was manifest for all
the successive modifications. There was never any stopping at
a closed door, for the subject had never made any associations
of food getting, changing of running activity, etc., with this.
Rather, the closed door meant the entrance to a familiar maze

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Online LibraryLouis Augustus PechsteinWhole vs. part methods in motor learning → online text (page 3 of 7)