In Neil Taatgen's paper on primitive information processing elements (PRIMs) he notes that as a result of saving the used PRIMs in declarative memory (which is fast) as opposed to procedural memory (which is slow), the declarative memory can serve as a scaffold for to build skills by combining the aforementioned PRIMs.

This seems to be making two assumptions:

  1. Procedural memory is slower than declarative memory
  2. Declarative memory is important to building skills

Are either of these assumptions true based on empirical evidence?


My understanding of the difference between the two is that you cannot declare what is procedural. For example, you can't tell a person how to balance on a bicycle or how to ice skate backward. You can show them different movements, and that is declarative in nature, but ultimately is not the same thing.

Whether or not declarative memory is "faster" has probably not been tested (and if it has, I would question the results). I'm not even sure it would make sense to evaluate given there are fundamentally different learning processes taking place.

Declarative knowledge can definitely be important in building skills. In almost every manual procedure exists a set of instructions which can be written and transmitted. These procedures can function as a scaffold and help the learner figure out how to do the tasks whose performance can only be demonstrated. An example of this could be a work instruction for how to ride a surfboard. They can tell you how far out from the shore to go, where to place your feet, how to get on the board, etc. but cannot actually tell you how to ride the wave. That is something you'll have to figure out on your own after doing everything you can to follow the instructions


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