Psychomotor abilities are skills such as hand-eye coordination, balance, and reaction time that arise from a unity of cognitive and physical functions. All healthy people develop some psychomotor abilities during the course of early development, and many people choose to develop those abilities further for work, athletics, or other activities. A baseball player, for instance, needs to develop his hand-eye coordination and reaction time more so than a normal person in order to consistently hit the ball. Psychomotor learning is the process by which individuals build the cognitive and physical connections necessary to gain such abilities. Over time, as one practices such abilities, the cognitive aspect becomes less and less important, as the action itself becomes automatic.
Developing a psychomotor ability requires the development of both the cognitive and physical aspects of that ability. An individual who wants to learn to dance, for instance, cannot simply read a book on dance techniques to become an expert dancer. He must also spend a substantial amount of time practicing the conceptual skills he has learned. Only through this unity of conceptual knowledge and physical practice can one actually develop new psychomotor abilities. With practice, these abilities tend to become automatic and will cease to require much thought — the dancer, for instance, will be able to perform dances that he has practiced without running through the steps in his mind.
Many different skills and activities require the development of psychomotor abilities. Basic skills learned during early development, such as walking and jumping, required the development of such abilities. Many skills developed later in life for personal or professional reasons, such as typing on a keyboard or driving, also involve developing psychomotor abilities. Such abilities are based on applying a combination of more foundational psychomotor abilities, such as hand-eye coordination, multi-limb coordination, orientation, and control of movement speed.
The cognitive, associative, and autonomic stages are the three main parts of the development of new psychomotor abilities. In the cognitive stage, the learner very deliberately attempts to direct his physical movements based on his conceptualized cognitive ideas, usually resulting in slow and awkward movements. The associative stage involves less thought and is marked by an increase in automatic movements. By the autonomic phase, the necessary movements have been committed to "muscle memory," and the learner no longer needs to think about them in order to perform them. The learner can still improve and refine the learned movements through practice, though, so it is not necessary to achieve perfection the first time.