Classic Motor Chunking Theory Fails To Account for Behavioural Diversity and Speed in a Complex Naturalistic Task

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Graduate student (PhD)
Final version published as: 

Thompson JJ, McColeman CM, Blair MR, Henrey AJ (2019) Classic motor chunking theory fails to account for behavioural diversity and speed in a complex naturalistic task. PLoS ONE 14(6): e0218251. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218251.

Date created: 

In tasks that demand rapid performance, actions must be executed as efficiently as possible. Theories of expert motor performance such as the motor chunking framework suggest that efficiency is supported by automatization, where many serial actions are automatized into smaller chunks, or groups of commonly co-occuring actions. We use the fast-paced, professional eSport StarCraft 2 as a test case of the explanatory power of the motor chunking framework and assess the importance of chunks in explaining expert performance. To do so, we test three predictions motivated by a simple motor chunking framework. (1) StarCraft 2 players should exhibit an increasing number of chunks with expertise. (2) The proportion of actions falling within a chunk should increase with skill. (3) Chunks should be faster than non-chunks containing the same atomic behaviours. Although our findings support the existence of chunks, they also highlight two problems for existing accounts of rapid motor execution and expert performance. First, while better players do use more chunks, the proportion of actions within a chunks is stable across expertise and expert sequences are generally more varied (the diversity problem). Secondly, chunks, which are supposed to enjoy the most extreme automatization, appear to save little or no time overall (the time savings problem). Instead, the most parsimonious description of our latency analysis is that players become faster overall regardless of chunking.

Document type: