Doctoral student Marcos Daou won the 2017 the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity (NASPSPA) Outstanding Student Paper Award. And it truly is outstanding when you realize the prestige of NASPSPA and this particular award, as well as the voluminous amount of data collection Daou conducted in his research.
NASPSPA is the premiere motor behavior conference in the world. Don’t be fooled by the “North American” part of NASPSPA; the organization has members from five continents. Furthermore, the Outstanding Student Paper Award is not given every year. Rather, it is only given when a deserving recipient applies.
The 2017 conference was held June 4-7 in San Diego, California, and was the 50th Anniversary. The award was presented to Daou on June 6 at the Business Meeting portion of the conference.
Daou has led approximately 953 data collections, including 560 for the three experiments described in his student paper award submission. And he processed the data from each of the 560 collections himself. Others may conduct less than 100 collections during their entire graduate career, according to Daou’s mentor and director of the Performance and Exercise Psychophysiology Lab, Matt Miller, Ph.D.
“Anyone who knows Marcos should not be surprised by his efforts and success,” said Miller, “Marcos is one of the hardest working doctoral students I have ever met. Crucially, Marcos almost never makes mistakes in data processing, even though he has processed data from nearly 1,000 data collections. He is meticulous in addition to being hard-working.”
Daou’s paper, “Expecting to teach enhances motor learning and information processing,” was selected by a committee and was chosen based upon the innovation and significance of the work, as well as the clarity of the research description. Daou scored particularly high in scientific/methodological rigor, innovation, and clarity of presentation.
“The paper is a combination of my two first experiments, plus my dissertation results,” said Daou. “We tried to create a paradigm in which we could facilitate and enhance people’s motor learning. We created this paradigm in which participants learned how to play golf with the expectation of teaching somebody else to play golf.”
They then compared the “expecting to teach” group with a group that learned how to play golf with the expectation to be tested on their golf skills.
Results revealed that when people learned a motor skill with the expectation of teaching, they enhanced both procedural knowledge (motor memory of the skill) and declarative knowledge (the verbalized rules and techniques related to golf), compared to when people learn the skill to be tested.
“The beautiful thing is that we replicated the effect three times, giving us the confidence that it is a real effect,” said Daou. “So for example, if we want to teach a new motor skill to our students, teammates, friends, if we tell them that they have to teach somebody else what they are learning, they will retain the information better and will play it better.”
In the second study, Daou and the lab found promising findings on the mechanism related to the expecting-to-teach effect. They found that people who took more time preparing to execute the golf putting, enhanced their learning, which led them to better retain the information. Summarizing, if you take a longer time preparing to putt while you are practicing the new skill, it will enhance your skill retention causing a long lasting effect.
Because expecting to teach enhanced motor learning and one possible mechanism is the motor preparatory time while practicing, the researchers created a third study in which they used EEG to understand what was happening in peoples’ brain during the motor preparatory time during practice. This was Daou’s dissertation. Since they had obtained the quantitative aspect, now they were interested in investigating the qualitative aspect about what brain processes and cortical dynamics were facilitating this effect.
They investigated what was happening in the brain three seconds prior to the execution of the movement until one second after. They found that people were using their working memory during practice compared to pretest, reflected by a higher activation on frontal midline theta (meaning they were monitoring their action much more, and also they were trying to adhere to the rules and techniques while they were putting in this phase). Another interesting finding was that participants were using more cortical dynamics while they were performing the pretest than the practice, reflected by the analysis of motor upper alpha (meaning that they became much more efficient, because they could have a better result using much less cognitive resources over the motor cortex.)
Marcos’ paper described a series of three experiments that, taken together, indicate studying and practicing a motor skill with the expectation of teaching it to another person directly enhances learning (even after controlling for the quantity of studying and practicing). This finding is important and significant because having individuals study or practice with the expectation of teaching is a practical way to enhance people’s learning, and determining practical ways to enhance people’s learning is crucial to improving their behavior and mental processes.
“To the best of my knowledge, Marcos is the first person to investigate this topic in the motor learning domain and one of only a few individuals to investigate this topic in any domain of psychology,” said Miller. “Thus, his work is original and innovative. Moreover, given his experimental design (e.g., high statistical power, use of pretests and multiple delayed post-tests, measures of accuracy and consistency, examination of mechanisms underlying the learning effect), I contend Marcos’ study presents the most compelling evidence to date that expecting to teach enhances the learning of any skill (motor or otherwise). Marcos worked tirelessly to conduct a programmatic series of outstanding experiments that make a tremendous contribution to motor learning as well as general psychology.”
The selection committee encouraged Dao to continue to present his work at NASPSPA as this kind of quality research is an exemplar for other students. The 2018 NASPSPA conference will be Jun 21-23 in Denver, Colorado.