This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 07 table of contents.

Motor Activity

Motor activity is movement. The ability to make skillfully coordinated movements is a form of intelligence, just as much as "math intelligence" or "music intelligence" or "social intelligence." Motor intelligence is a specialized form of information processing. The coordinated movements of an athlete or dancer require sophisticated activity within the nervous system. Like other forms of cognition, motor activity is creative, based on schemata, and influenced by a complex mixture of conscious and unconscious processing.

Early research on motor activity

Some historians trace the beginnings of research on motor activity to the astronomer Bessell around 1820. Bessell was trying to figure out why different astronomers could not agree on the location of a particular star in the sky at a particular moment. In doing so, he stumbled on the concept of reaction time.

What were the "personal equations" studied by Bessell?

Each astronomer was supposed to write down the exact time of a star's alignment with crosshairs in a telescope. Bessell discovered that there were consistent individual differences in how quickly the astronomers recorded the time. Some individuals delayed a fraction of a second more than others. Bessell tried to identify "personal equations" to correct for differences in how quickly the astronomers could make their observations. He had discovered the reaction time of individual observers.

Forty years later, Wilhelm Wundt made reaction time one of the most frequently used measures in his laboratory, the first experimental psychology laboratory. Reaction time measures are still very common in modern psychology. They are precise, easily manipulated with statistics (because they are on a ratio scale with a true zero), and in today's laboratories reaction time measures are simple to collect with computer programs. They show, for example, the effects of priming in semantic networks, as discussed in Chapter 6.

What were time-motion studies?

Motor skills research entered the realm of business and industry in the 1920s with the time-motion studies of Taylor. These studies were intended to improve efficiency of industrial and office workers. After analyzing the precise sequence of movements required for a particular job, researchers could modify a task or redesign the working environment to make skilled movements more efficient. For example, a time-motion expert might relocate the bins that contained parts alongside an assembly line, so it would take fewer seconds for a worker to complete a task.

What sort of work did World War II stimulate?

World War II brought a new era of research into motor coordination, focusing on perceptual and motor activities related to military activities such as loading artillery or flying airplanes. Because soldiers often had to operate complicated machinery under stressful conditions, researchers focused on how the variables of practice, fatigue, and stress influenced motor behavior.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey