Attention and motor learning in an aiming task

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Masahiro Yamada (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Louisa Raisbeck

Abstract: Using external focus (EXF) to direct attention externally toward the effect of movements on the environment leads to superior learning and performance compared to directing attention internally to body movements (internal focus, INF). However, the relationship between attentional focus strategies and non-attentional focus strategies, and task difficulty is unclear. The present study examined multiple theoretical frameworks to further understand these strategies. In Experiment 1, it was hypothesized based on the information theory that an EXF would be effective when individuals require conscious attention during more difficult tasks where a CON group would outperform when individuals’ cognitive process is automatic during an easy task. In Experiment 2, the theories of variability were adopted, and it was hypothesized that an EXF would exhibit higher variability with greater performance, which indicates a more complex and adaptable motor control. In Experiment 3, subjective profiles were examined, and it was hypothesized that the EXF group would exhibit a higher competence, lower mental workload, and a fewer explicitly accessible knowledge, which reduces working memory load. Participants (N = 60) were randomly assigned to one of the EXF, INF, or CON groups and practiced a Fitts’ reciprocal tapping task that varied in three task difficulties across two days. Two retention tests (5-minute and 48-hour) and transfer test (dual task) were conducted to measure the learning effects and the degree of automaticity. Our results showed that performance in both movement time and the number of errors improved, but there was no group effect on motor learning. The transfer test showed a marginal effect with a medium effect size, showing that the INF group led to a greater number of error taps and a significantly increased performance variability than the CON group. The results of movement variability (SD and CV of the joint angular velocity) and time series variability (Sample entropy of joint angular velocity) showed SD increased with performance improvements, whereas CV and SampEn decreased. Group differences were not observed; however, an INF showed a marginal effect of having lower CV variability than the CON group in the transfer test. Changes in the subjective profiles (mental workload, perceived competence) paralleled the changes in performance with no group differences. However, the examination of explicit knowledge provided unique information. The EXF groups had a greater amount of explicit knowledge in the retention test. Additionally, investigating the types of explicit knowledge revealed that the INF group had a less proportion of knowledge about techniques, while the EXF had a more proportion of knowledge about techniques. To conclude, it is proposed that intervening motor execution with a cognitive process specific to body movements may drive individuals’ attention away from the task-goal, in turn reducing adaptable movement execution variability.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2020
Attentional focus, Explicit knowledge, Fitts' Law, Motor learning, Task difficulty, Variability
Motor learning

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