Transfer of strategic task components across unique tasks that share some common structures

Cai S. Longman*, Fraser Milton, Andy J. Wills

*Corresponding author for this work

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Flexible, adaptive behaviour depends on the application of prior learning to novel contexts (transfer). Transfer can take many forms, but the focus of the present study was on “task schemas”—learning strategies that guide the earliest stages of engaging in a novel task. The central aim was to examine the architecture of task schemas and determine whether strategic task components can expedite learning novel tasks that share some structural components with the training tasks. Groups of participants across two experiments were exposed to different training regimes centred around multiple unique tasks that shared some/all/none of the structural task components (the kinds of stimuli, classifications, and/or responses) but none of the surface features (the specific stimuli, classifications, and/or responses) with the test task (a dot-pattern classification task). Initial test performance was improved (to a degree) in all groups relative to a control group whose training did not include any of the structural components relevant to the test task. The strongest evidence of transfer was found in the motoric, perceptual + categorization, and full schema training groups. This observation indicates that training with some (or all) strategic task components expedited learning of a novel task that shared those components. That is, task schemas were found to be componential and were able to expedite learning a novel task where similar (learning) strategies could be applied to specific elements of the test task.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number23
Early online date5 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Dec 2023


  • learning
  • transfer
  • abstract representation
  • task schema
  • categorization


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