Sequential motor skill in preadolescent children: the development of automaticity

Marit F L Ruitenberg, Elger L Abrahamse, Willem B Verwey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


This study investigated to what extent preadolescent children, like young adults, learn to perform sequential movements in an automatic fashion. A sample of 24 children (mean age = 11.3 years) practiced fixed 3-key and 6-key sequences in the discrete sequence production task by responding to key-specific stimuli via spatially compatible key presses. We compared their performance with that of 24 young adults (mean age = 22.0 years). Results showed that performance improved with practice for both age groups, although children were generally slower. Compared with young adults, children had less explicit knowledge but relied more on the available explicit knowledge when executing familiar 6-key sequences. Furthermore, they completed fewer of these sequences on the basis of just the first stimulus and showed a slower transition between successive segments within the sequences. Together, these findings provide insight into the degree to which preadolescent children develop automaticity in sequential motor skill, suggesting that preadolescent children automatize the processes underlying longer movement sequences slower and/or to a lesser extent than is the case with young adults. The current study is in line with the idea that there are several mechanisms that underlie sequencing skill and suggests that the use of these mechanisms may be dependent on age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-23
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Development/physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Skills/physiology
  • Movement/physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance/physiology
  • Young Adult


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