Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Advisor 1

Kevin M. Trewartha

Committee Member 1

Susan L. Amato-Henderson

Committee Member 2

Shane T. Mueller

Committee Member 3

Steven J. Elmer


Motor skills are a vital part of our life, and there might be situations where we will be required to either learn a new skill or relearn a known one. We examined the effectiveness of two different interventions - eccentric exercise and motivation-based instructions on enhancing the ability of older adults to learn a novel motor skill. Exercise intervention studies have shown that as little as 12 weeks of exercise can lead to improvements in both physical fitness and cognitive function in older adults, particularly executive control. But it is still unclear whether those improvements translate to improvements in other domains that rely on executive control, like motor skill learning and emotional intelligence. Study 1 explored the effect of eccentric exercise on these domains, specifically the ability to handle proactive interference in motor learning. 22 healthy adults (65-85 years of age) were recruited and randomly assigned either to a non-exercise control group, or to an exercise intervention group that performed 12 weeks of low to moderate intensity eccentric leg exercise (Eccentron). Corresponding neurophysiological measures were also recorded using EEG. We found that the control group experienced more proactive interference from baseline learning to post-test compared to the exercise group. The latter also displayed a higher level of emotional processing abilities than controls. They provide preliminary evidence that the cognitive benefits of exercise for older adults can be extended to domains outside of but related to executive control and memory. In study 2, we examined the effectiveness of an intervention based on the OPTIMAL theory of motor learning and performance on skill acquisition in both younger and older adults. We recruited 39 younger adults and 30 older adults and randomly assigned them to either the experimental group or to the control group. The intervention affected the two groups differentially. It was somewhat successful at improving learning in the older adults, but not in the younger adults. In fact, the intervention may have interfered with learning in the latter.