10.8 Declarative & Procedural Knowledge: Differences & Uses

Jan 15, 2020 | Cognitive Psychology, Courses, ch10 Mental Organisation of Knowledge

What day is it? How do you tie a bow? These questions inquire into two different types of knowledge. This lesson reviews the uses of and differences between declarative and procedural knowledge.

What Is Knowledge?

You’ve decided to have a game night with your friends, and someone has suggested charades. The point of the game is to get your team to guess a phrase through your actions. Your first card is ”How to ride a bike”; you nail it! So easy!! You act out riding a bike, and everyone guesses immediately. Your second card is ”D-Day was on June 6, 1944.” Whoa! Not so easy. How do you act out a date? You fumble around with some random movements. Eventually, your team gives up.

This game illustrates the two types of knowledge we have: declarative and procedural. So what are declarative and procedural knowledge? Let’s go on a journey to find out.

Declarative Knowledge

In the previous game, do you think your team would have been able to get the second answer if you had been able to say ”When was D-Day?” Most likely they would have. That’s because this is an example of declarative knowledge.

Declarative knowledge can be thought of as ‘knowledge about’ or answers to ‘WH- questions.’ Categories of declarative knowledge are facts, world or personal history, and rules for mathematics operations. A key feature of declarative knowledge is that it is easy to express declarative knowledge in the form of words or symbols. Declarative knowledge is explicit, which means you know that you know it. You are consciously aware of your understanding of declarative information.

Procedural Knowledge

Procedural knowledge is knowing how to do something. Think of the word ‘procedural;’ its root is ‘procedure,’ which is an action. Some examples of procedural knowledge are how to drive a car and how to throw a boomerang correctly. A key feature of procedural knowledge is that it is hard to explain verbally.

So why was it so easy to do the bicycle card in charades? That’s because riding a bike is a procedure; something you can do. Charades is a ‘doing’ game in that you must act out the actions of what you are trying to get your partner to guess. Acting out is a visual demonstration and a great way to show procedural knowledge.

What is very interesting is that once procedural knowledge is gained, it tends to become implicit, which means that you are no longer consciously aware of the knowledge. For actions, some people refer to this as muscle memory because it’s like your muscles remember how to do something even when you aren’t aware of how you know. ”You never forget how to ride a bike” is such a common phrase because the procedural knowledge needed to ride a bike becomes purely implicit after mastery is accomplished.

Procedural & Declarative Combined

It’s obvious that some information is purely declarative, like dates of historical events. Other skills are purely procedural, such as riding a bike. But is there any knowledge that is both declarative and procedural? Yes. Declarative information that comes in the form of steps can be thought of as procedural. Cooking is one activity that combines declarative and procedural knowledge. The knowledge of each measurement and ingredient represents declarative information, while knowing the correct way to proceed through the steps is the procedural aspect.

Demonstrating Each Type

It should come as no surprise that methods used to demonstrate these two types of knowledge are different. As seen in the opening game, declarative knowledge is very difficult to demonstrate with actions. Likewise, procedural knowledge is difficult to demonstrate with words. Assessing each type of knowledge can be achieved using different methods.

Since declarative knowledge is knowledge about something and is easy to express in words or symbols, the best way to demonstrate declarative knowledge is through spoken or written words. Measurements like written tests, research papers, or poster presentations work well to demonstrate a person’s declarative knowledge.

The best method to assess procedural knowledge is through active demonstration. This is because procedural knowledge is the knowledge of how to do something, and it is difficult to explain this type of knowledge in words. Thus, showing procedural knowledge through action is best, such as having a conversation to demonstrate ability in a foreign language.

Lesson Summary

When playing games, we can sometimes be asked to draw on different types of knowledge. There are two types of knowledge: declarative and procedural. Declarative knowledge is knowledge about facts. It’s easy to verbalize declarative knowledge. Procedural knowledge is knowledge about how to do something. It’s not easy to verbalize procedural knowledge. This type of knowledge is best presented through action. Some knowledge, like the kind needed to solve math equations, combines both declarative and procedural knowledge.

10.9 The Priming Effect: Accessibility, Priming & Perceptual Salience
10.7 Knowledge Organization: Schemata and Scripts