18 Procedural Memory and Skill Acquisition

Experimental Psychology


  1. Addie Johnson PhD

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop204018

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Johnson, A. 2012. Procedural Memory and Skill Acquisition. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 4:VI:18.

Author Information

  1. University of Groningen, Department of Psychology, Groningen, The Netherlands

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


Skill acquisition can be described as a transition from reliance on instructions or general algorithms for guiding performance, to performance based on direct retrieval of the appropriate responses given the current conditions. In most cases, attention plays a vital role in skill, with the focus of the learner's attention influencing both skill acquisition and performance. Relevant information must be attended and irrelevant information ignored, and the allocation of attention across task elements is a skill in itself. There are, however, cases in which learning occurs without the explicit intention of the learner, and some learning may occur without the involvement of attention. That is, not all learning is dependent on conscious mediation. Procedural memory, a memory system that underlies knowledge of how to perform tasks that is not available for conscious introspection, supports the expression of skill, even when declarative memory structures are damaged. The effectiveness of learning experiences depends on how feedback is attended to, whether task requirements are repeatedly called to mind, and the extent to which practiced procedures and task information are present in the actual task to be performed.


  • Skill acquisition;
  • procedural memory;
  • training;
  • implicit learning;
  • expertise