Equal workload demands may hinder the ability of focus of attention to impact motor learning

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Lauren V. Bennett (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Jennifer Etnier

Abstract: Two bodies of literature have addressed the question of how attentional focus relates to learning and performance of a motor task. The literature on direction of attention has found that focusing on the effects of one’s movement, an external focus, rather than on one’s bodily movements, an internal focus, leads to more effective and efficient movements and subsequently better performance on a variety of sport-related motor skills. The literature on the relevance of attention has determined that novices perform well when focused on aspects of the skill execution itself, but experience performance decrements when asked to focus on something extraneous. Experts show the opposite tendency in that they perform more poorly when focused on the skill execution than on a distractor. Both of these areas of research are well-established in their own right, but they are not purely independent because these different styles of focus overlap. A novice golfer who focuses on the swing of his arms while putting is predicted to do more poorly due to an internal focus, but the other body of literature predicts success due to a skill-relevant focus. Few have attempted to research the effects of both dimensions of focus simultaneously. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to identify whether the interaction of external and skill-focused attention could be more beneficial to skill acquisition and retention than either one separately. Participants learned to throw darts while receiving one type of attentional focus instruction: (1) internal, skill-relevant; (2) external, skill-relevant; (3) internal, extraneous; (4) external, extraneous. They returned 48 hours later to perform retention trials without any attentional instructions. Workload was assessed via a self-report survey for participants in each condition to assess whether any differences in subjective difficulty exist between the groups. Although all participants improved their throwing accuracy throughout the acquisition period, there were no performance differences seen between the conditions at acquisition or retention. There were also no differences in perceived workload between the conditions. These results are expected if workload does, in fact, mediate the effect of focus of attention on motor skill performance. With workload demands similar, there exist no differences in performance between groups following different focus instructions. Further, the only reliable predictor of performance on the task was the participant’s self-rating of expertise reported prior to participation. Future between-subjects research designs in motor learning should aim to balance participants across groups using self-ratings of skill level. Finally, the NASA-TLX should be used to measure workload in the typical methodology used in direction of attention literature and skill-relevance of focus literature, where performance differences have been observed, in order to determine whether differences in workload demands could be partially responsible for those performance differences.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Attention, Focus, Motor learning, Performance, Self-rating, Workload
Motor learning
Motor ability

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