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Representations of Procedural Knowledge in Memory. Skills, mental as well
as motor skills, are stored as procedural knowledge. The ability of a musicians to play
their instruments, or an athlete to perform in an event is possible because of information
stored as procedural knowledge. Likewise the expert mathematician’s skillful
performance of mathematical operations is possible because of the his or her procedural
knowledge. Many of the abilities that we rely on daily, such as the ability to drive a car,
write a letter, or comprehend text are only possible because large portions of those
abilities are represented in long-term memory as procedural knowledge.
The basic unit of procedural knowledge is a production (Anderson, 1983), each
composed of two parts: (a) a conditions and (b) an action. The condition portion of the
production stores information about the environment and mental conditions that to trigger
the action. The action portion of the production stores information that guides a mental or
physical action when triggered when a person recognizes the existence of the conditions.
Consider the following example of a production. Manuscript 9/28/03 12 Conditions
1. If my goal is to go to town, and
2. I am driving on Camp Townsend-Winona Road, and
3. I am approaching the intersection with State Route 89, and
4. The traffic light is green, and
5. There is no traffic in the intersection.
1. Then remove my foot from the accelerator to slow the car, and
2. The turn left and enter the left hand lane of Route 89 South, and
3. Apply pressure to the accelerator and resume speed.
Notice the condition specified the physical surroundings appropriate for the action, being
the driver in a car, being at a particular intersection, the state of the light, and the actions
of other drivers, as well as my mental state, having the goal of going to town. If all of the
physical and mental conditions are met the action automatically follows, otherwise some
other action will be taken. The automaticity of the action means that I need not
consciously control each step of the production.
Interconnections of Knowledge
The third and maybe most important capability of human memory is the ability to
interconnect and organize knowledge into larger integrated wholes. Informationprocessing theory proposes different mechanisms for integrating and organizing
declarative and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge may be organized into
schemata, or in ACT theory into declarative knowledge networks. In addition ACT
theory proposes that procedural knowledge may be organized into production systems. Manuscript 9/28/03 13 Schema and declarative knowledge. Schema and related ideas like frames and
scripts are concepts used by cognitive theorists as an explanation for how declarative
knowledge is organized in memory (Minsky, 1975; Rumelhart & Ortony, 1977; Schank,
1975). In our discussions, we will use schema as a generic term to represent these related
ideas. A schema (pl. schemata) is a memory structure that contains the organized and
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- Spring '08