Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Skill


Judging others' personalities is an essential skill in successful social living, as personality is a key driver behind people’s interactions, behaviors, and emotions. Although accurate personality judgments stem from social-cognitive skills, developments in machine learning show that computer models can also make valid judgments. This study compares the accuracy of human and computer-based personality judgments, using a sample of 86,220 volunteers who completed a 100-item personality questionnaire. We show that (i) computer predictions based on a generic digital footprint (Facebook Likes) are more accurate (r = 0.56) than those made by the participants' Facebook friends using a personality questionnaire (r = 0.49); (ii) computer models show higher interjudge agreement; and (iii) computer personality judgments have higher external validity when predicting life outcomes such as substance use, political attitudes, and physical health; for some outcomes, they even outperform the self-rated personality scores. Computers outpacing humans in personality judgment presents significant opportunities and challenges in the areas of psychological assessment, marketing, and privacy.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Personality psychology, Skill, Learning, Computer, Emotion, Judgment


Social insects make elaborate use of simple mechanisms to achieve seemingly complex behavior and may thus provide a unique resource to discover the basic cognitive elements required for culture, i.e., group-specific behaviors that spread from “innovators” to others in the group via social learning. We first explored whether bumblebees can learn a nonnatural object manipulation task by using string pulling to access a reward that was presented out of reach. Only a small minority “innovated” and solved the task spontaneously, but most bees were able to learn to pull a string when trained in a stepwise manner. In addition, naïve bees learnt the task by observing a trained demonstrator from a distance. Learning the behavior relied on a combination of simple associative mechanisms and trial-and-error learning and did not require “insight”: naïve bees failed a “coiled-string experiment,” in which they did not receive instant visual feedback of the target moving closer when tugging on the string. In cultural diffusion experiments, the skill spread rapidly from a single knowledgeable individual to the majority of a colony’s foragers. We observed that there were several sequential sets (“generations”) of learners, so that previously naïve observers could first acquire the technique by interacting with skilled individuals and, subsequently, themselves become demonstrators for the next “generation” of learners, so that the longevity of the skill in the population could outlast the lives of informed foragers. This suggests that, so long as animals have a basic toolkit of associative and motor learning processes, the key ingredients for the cultural spread of unusual skills are already in place and do not require sophisticated cognition.

Concepts: Psychology, Insect, Cognition, Observation, Skill, Learning, Knowledge, Behavior


Motor skill memory is first encoded online in a fragile form during practice and then converted into a stable form by offline consolidation, which is the behavioral stage critical for successful learning. Praise, a social reward, is thought to boost motor skill learning by increasing motivation, which leads to increased practice. However, the effect of praise on consolidation is unknown. Here, we tested the hypothesis that praise following motor training directly facilitates skill consolidation. Forty-eight healthy participants were trained on a sequential finger-tapping task. Immediately after training, participants were divided into three groups according to whether they received praise for their own training performance, praise for another participant’s performance, or no praise. Participants who received praise for their own performance showed a significantly higher rate of offline improvement relative to other participants when performing a surprise recall test of the learned sequence. On the other hand, the average performance of the novel sequence and randomly-ordered tapping did not differ between the three experimental groups. These results are the first to indicate that praise-related improvements in motor skill memory are not due to a feedback-incentive mechanism, but instead involve direct effects on the offline consolidation process.

Concepts: Psychology, Series, Skill, Training, Practice, Sequence, Learning, Real analysis


What are you working on? You have certainly been asked that question many times, whether it be at a Saturday night party, during a discussion with your neighbors, or at a family gathering. Communicating with a lay audience about scientific subjects and making them attractive is a difficult task. But difficult or not, you will have to do it for many years, not only with your family and friends, but also with your colleagues and collaborators. So, better learn now! Although not usually taught, the ability to explain your work to others is an essential skill in science, where communication plays a key role. Using some examples of the French Regional Student Group activities, we discuss here (i) why it is important to have such communication skills, (ii) how you can get involved in these activities by using existing resources or working with people who have previous experience, and (iii) what you get out of this amazing experience. We aim to motivate you and provide you with tips and ideas to get involved in promoting scientific activities while getting all the benefits.

Concepts: Skill, Communication, Graphic communication


A common approach for determining musical competence is to rely on information about individuals' extent of musical training, but relying on musicianship status fails to identify musically untrained individuals with musical skill, as well as those who, despite extensive musical training, may not be as skilled. To counteract this limitation, we developed a new test battery (Profile of Music Perception Skills; PROMS) that measures perceptual musical skills across multiple domains: tonal (melody, pitch), qualitative (timbre, tuning), temporal (rhythm, rhythm-to-melody, accent, tempo), and dynamic (loudness). The PROMS has satisfactory psychometric properties for the composite score (internal consistency and test-retest r>.85) and fair to good coefficients for the individual subtests (.56 to.85). Convergent validity was established with the relevant dimensions of Gordon’s Advanced Measures of Music Audiation and Musical Aptitude Profile (melody, rhythm, tempo), the Musical Ear Test (rhythm), and sample instrumental sounds (timbre). Criterion validity was evidenced by consistently sizeable and significant relationships between test performance and external musical proficiency indicators in all three studies (.38 to.62, p<.05 to p<.01). An absence of correlations between test scores and a nonmusical auditory discrimination task supports the battery's discriminant validity (-.05, ns). The interrelationships among the various subtests could be accounted for by two higher order factors, sequential and sensory music processing. A brief version of the full PROMS is introduced as a time-efficient approximation of the full version of the battery.

Concepts: Psychometrics, Skill, Validity, Reliability, Sound, Music, Test


Those in 20th century philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience who have discussed the nature of skilled action have, for the most part, accepted the view that being skilled at an activity is independent of knowing facts about that activity, i.e., that skill is independent of knowledge of facts. In this paper we question this view of motor skill. We begin by situating the notion of skill in historical and philosophical context. We use the discussion to explain and motivate the view that motor skill depends upon knowledge of facts. This conclusion seemingly contradicts well-known results in cognitive science. It is natural, on the face of it, to take the case of H.M., the seminal case in cognitive neuroscience that led to the discovery of different memory systems, as providing powerful evidence for the independence of knowledge and skill acquisition. After all, H.M. seems to show that motor learning is retained even when previous knowledge about the activity has been lost. Improvements in skill generally require increased precision of selected actions, which we call motor acuity. Motor acuity may indeed not require propositional knowledge and has direct parallels with perceptual acuity. We argue, however, that reflection on the specifics of H.M.’s case, as well as other research on the nature of skill, indicates that learning to become skilled at a motor task, for example tennis, depends also on knowledge-based selection of the right actions. Thus skilled activity requires both acuity and knowledge, with both increasing with practice. The moral of our discussion ranges beyond debates about motor skill; we argue that it undermines any attempt to draw a distinction between practical and theoretical activities. While we will reject the independence of skill and knowledge, our discussion leaves open several different possible relations between knowledge and skill. Deciding between them is a task to be resolved by future research.

Concepts: Psychology, Critical thinking, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Skill, Learning, Dreyfus model of skill acquisition


Spelling - a core language skill - is commonly affected in neurological diseases such as stroke and Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA). We present two case studies of the same spelling therapy (learning of phoneme-to-grapheme correspondences with help from key words) in two participants: one who had a stroke and one with PPA (logopenic variant). Our study highlights similarities and differences in the time course of each indivdual’s therapy. The study evaluates the effectiveness and generalization of treatment in each case, i.e. whether the treatment affected the trained items and/or untrained items, and whether or not the treatment gains were maintained after the end of therapy. Both participants were able to learn associations between phonemes and graphemes as well as between phonemes and words. Reliable generalization to untrained words was shown only for the participant with post-stroke aphasia, but we were not able to test generalization to untrained words in the individual with PPA. The same spelling therapy followed a different time course in each case. The participant with post-stroke aphasia showed a lasting effect of improved spelling, but we were unable to assess maintenance of improvement in the participant with PPA. We discuss these differences in light of the underlying nature of each disease.

Concepts: Effect, Skill, Difference, Learning, Orthography, Aphasias


Skilled performers such as athletes or musicians can improve their performance by imagining the actions or sensory outcomes associated with their skill. Performers vary widely in their auditory and motor imagery abilities, and these individual differences influence sensorimotor learning. It is unknown whether imagery abilities influence both memory encoding and retrieval. We examined how auditory and motor imagery abilities influence musicians' encoding (during Learning, as they practiced novel melodies), and retrieval (during Recall of those melodies). Pianists learned melodies by listening without performing (auditory learning) or performing without sound (motor learning); following Learning, pianists performed the melodies from memory with auditory feedback (Recall). During either Learning (Experiment 1) or Recall (Experiment 2), pianists experienced either auditory interference, motor interference, or no interference. Pitch accuracy (percentage of correct pitches produced) and temporal regularity (variability of quarter-note interonset intervals) were measured at Recall. Independent tests measured auditory and motor imagery skills. Pianists' pitch accuracy was higher following auditory learning than following motor learning and lower in motor interference conditions (Experiments 1 and 2). Both auditory and motor imagery skills improved pitch accuracy overall. Auditory imagery skills modulated pitch accuracy encoding (Experiment 1): Higher auditory imagery skill corresponded to higher pitch accuracy following auditory learning with auditory or motor interference, and following motor learning with motor or no interference. These findings suggest that auditory imagery abilities decrease vulnerability to interference and compensate for missing auditory feedback at encoding. Auditory imagery skills also influenced temporal regularity at retrieval (Experiment 2): Higher auditory imagery skill predicted greater temporal regularity during Recall in the presence of auditory interference. Motor imagery aided pitch accuracy overall when interference conditions were manipulated at encoding (Experiment 1) but not at retrieval (Experiment 2). Thus, skilled performers' imagery abilities had distinct influences on encoding and retrieval of musical sequences.

Concepts: Memory, Skill, Performance, Learning, Intelligence, Music, Skills


In conjunction with BBC Lab UK, the present study developed 12 brief psychological skill interventions for online delivery. A protocol was designed that captured data via self-report measures, used video recordings to deliver interventions, involved a competitive concentration task against an individually matched computer opponent, and provided feedback on the effects of the interventions. Three psychological skills were used; imagery, self-talk, and if-then planning, with each skill directed to one of four different foci: outcome goal, process goal, instruction, or arousal-control. This resulted in 12 different intervention participant groups (randomly assigned) with a 13th group acting as a control. Participants (n = 44,742) completed a competitive task four times-practice, baseline, following an intervention, and again after repeating the intervention. Results revealed performance improved following practice with incremental effects for imagery-outcome, imagery-process, and self-talk-outcome and self-talk-process over the control group, with the same interventions increasing the intensity of effort invested, arousal and pleasant emotion. Arousal-control interventions associated with pleasant emotions, low arousal, and low effort invested in performance. Instructional interventions were not effective. Results offer support for the utility of online interventions in teaching psychological skills and suggest brief interventions that focus on increasing motivation, increased arousal, effort invested, and pleasant emotions were the most effective.

Concepts: Psychology, Participation, Skill, Learning, Neuropsychology, Emotion, BBC


Evidence suggests that an athlete’s sports-related perceptual-cognitive expertise is a crucial element of top-level competitive sports1. When directly assessing whether such experience-related abilities correspond to fundamental and non-specific cognitive laboratory measures such as processing speed and attention, studies have shown moderate effects leading to the conclusion that their special abilities are context-specific2. We trained 308 observers on a complex dynamic visual scene task void of context and motor control requirements3 and demonstrate that professionals as a group dramatically differ from high-level amateur athletes, who dramatically differ from non-athlete university students in their capacity to learn such stimuli. This demonstrates that a distinguishing factor explaining the capacities of professional athletes is their ability to learn how to process complex dynamic visual scenes. This gives us an insight as to what is so special about the elite athletes' mental abilities, which allows them to express great prowess in action.

Concepts: Psychology, Skill, Professional, Learning, 2005 albums, Amateur, Amateur sports, Professional sports