On the modularity of sequence representation

Steven W. Keele, Peggy Jennings, Steven Jones, David Caulton, Asher Cohen

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178 Scopus citations


A modular theory of motor control posits that the representation of an action sequence is independent of the effector (motor) system that implements the sequence. Three experiments tested this theory. Each used a variant of a method developed by Nissen and Bullemer (1987) in which subjects responded to visual signals occupying different spatial positions by pressing a key corresponding to each signal position. Sequence learning is indicated when reaction times to signals that follow a sequence become faster with practice than reaction times to random signals. The first experiment showed transfer of sequential learning of key pressing from the fingers to the arms, or vice versa. Similar transfer was found when a distraction task was added that likely blocked an attentional form of learning (cf. Curran and Keele, 1993). In a third experiment, much but not all of the sequential learning transferred from a situation in which the response was a key press to one with a vocal response, suggesting that at least part of the sequential learning is embedded in a system that describes successive locations of signals in space. These studies suggest that sequential representation resides in a module prior to the selection of effector systems to execute the movement.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)17-30
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Motor Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1995
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful for an Oflice of Naval Research grant (Contract #N00014-87-K-0279) and a grant to the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience of Attention at the University of Oregon from the Pew Memorial Trust and McDonnell Foundation, which provided financial support for this research. Richard Ivry and Tim Curran provided appreciated advice throughout the project. Reviewers of the manuscript suggested notable improvements.


  • Effector independence
  • Key pressing
  • Modularity
  • Motor program
  • Sequence representation
  • Transfer of learning


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