• University of Pennsylvania Featured PhD Programmes
  • Aberdeen University Featured PhD Programmes
  • University of Cambridge Featured PhD Programmes
  • FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes
  • University of Tasmania Featured PhD Programmes
  • Staffordshire University Featured PhD Programmes
University of Manchester Featured PhD Programmes
University of Leeds Featured PhD Programmes
Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
EPSRC Featured PhD Programmes
FindA University Ltd Featured PhD Programmes

Improving skill learning

  • Full or part time
    Dr Stafford
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Learning theory has identified a number of fundamental trade-offs in motor skill learning: component vs “whole-skill” training; blocked vs interleaved practice; the exploration-exploitation trade-off. All learners and coaches will have an intuitive feel how to vary training so as to balance emphasis on the different ends of these spectra. There is evidence, however, that the self-guided practice of non-elite sportspeople is systematically biased so as to produce sub-optimal improvements in skill learning (Huang, Shadmehr & Diedrichsen, 2008). For example, a bias towards practicing what we already know (the ‘exploitation’ part of the exploitation vs exploration trade-off) is widely-known, and reflects, broadly, ‘confirmation bias’ in the psychological domain (Nickerson, 1998). This bias leads to the under-exploration of the complex parameter space of skilled motor actions, hindering us from learning optimal movements. We have developed a laboratory motor skill learning task and shown that participants show just such a reliance on what they already know, and that this hampers optimal skill learning (Stafford et al, 2012).
The aims of this project would be
1. To show that interventions to decrease reliance on what is already known (i.e. to increase exploration via perturbation and/or handicap training) improve skill learning in our laboratory task.
2. Develop metrics which allow us to diagnose when interventions in training will be most effective.
3. Test if laboratory interventions which can improve rate of skill learning can generalise to athletes learning a new athletic skill

Funding Notes

Requirements: We ask for a good honours degree of 2:1 or above and generally a masters or pending masters (merit or distinction) in Psychology or a related discipline.


Huang, V. S., Shadmehr, R., & Diedrichsen, J. (2008). Active Learning: Learning a Motor Skill Without a Coach. Journal of Neurophysiology, 100(2), 879 –887.
Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175-220.
Stafford, T., Thirkettle, M., Walton, T., Vautrelle, N., Hetherington, L., Port, M., Gurney, K., et al. (2012). A Novel Task for the Investigation of Action Acquisition. PLoS ONE, 7(6), e37749. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037749

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.45

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.
Email Sent

Share this page:

Cookie Policy    X