attentional focus and motor learning: a review of 15 years

That is, a high skill level is associated with accuracy, consistency, and reliability in achieving the movement goal (i.e., effectiveness), as well as fluent and economical movement executions and automaticity, as evidenced by the investment of relatively little physical and mental effort (i.e., efficiency). The argument that an internal focus is necessary and beneficial in early learning is frequently backed up with findings showing that novices perform more effectively when their attention is directed to the skill (‘skill focus’) rather than an irrelevant secondary task (i.e., dual-task conditions) (e.g., Beilock, Bertenthal, McCoy, & Carr, 2004; Beilock, Carr, MacMahon, & Starkes, 2002; Gray, 2004). Awareness of the research literature appears to be somewhat more advanced in physical therapy. The results showed that the learning of those tasks was enhanc… These findings demonstrate that both movement outcome and form can be enhanced in complex skill learning by providing learners with relatively simple external focus instructions. An external focus of attention enhances balance learning in older adults. By so doing, much of the confusion in the literature will likely be reduced. It should also be noted that differences between focus conditions in the Perkins-Ceccato et al. View Article Google Scholar 9. Wulf G. Attentional focus and motor learning: a review of 15 years. Attentional focus has been viewed from different perspectives and has been characterized, for example, as either associative (i.e., focusing on bodily sensation) or dissociative (i.e., blocking out sensations resulting from physical effort) (Morgan, 1978; Weinberg, Smith, Jackson, & Gould, 1984), or in terms of its width (broad versus narrow) and direction (internal versus external) (Moran, 1996; Nideffer & Sagal, 1998). Again, the learning of a throwing task was more effective after random relative to blocked practice. EMG activity has also been measured in studies using target-oriented tasks such as free-throw shooting in basketball (Zachry et al., 2005) and dart throwing (Lohse et al., 2010). Furthermore, performance differences between groups were observed only in certain subgroups (i.e., those that performed under the respective attentional focus conditions first). Wulf, G. (2007). They found that participants produced significantly greater peak joint torque when they focused externally. Med Educ 2010;44(1):75-84. It also does not explain any underlying mechanisms of this effect. This finding is similar to the results of a study by Jackson, Ashford, and Norsworthy (2006, Experiment 2), in which soccer players performed a dribbling task. (2001). Registered in England & Wales No. Focusing on the calf muscles (internal) led to less accurate force production than concentrating on the force platform (external) and to increased co-contractions between the soleus (agonist) and tibialis anterior (antagonist) muscles, indicating a less efficient coordination between muscle groups. Method: A literature search was conducted based on five electronic database searches, cross-referencing and expert review. In other studies, more indirect measures such as maximum force production, movement speed, or endurance were used. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology. [ Links ] 10. Several converging lines of research support this notion. We therefore suggested that an internal focus may act as a ‘self-invoking trigger’. In our first attempts to provide an explanation for the differential effects of different foci, we referred to Prinz's (1990, 1997) common-coding theory of perception and action (see Wulf et al., 1998; Wulf & Prinz, 2001). Lohse KR, Sherwood DE, Healy AF. Author Crystal Chariton. , 6, 77-104, 2013. has been cited by the following article: Psychol., 6, 77-104, 2013. has been cited by the following article: Article. Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI Research over the past 15 years or so has shown that an external focus on the effects of one’s movements improves performance relative to an internal focus of attention on bodily actions. Studies included randomized trials of external (EF) versus internal focus (IF). In our studies, we have always attempted to make external and internal focus instructions so similar that they differed in only one or two words to avoid confounds with other variables (e.g., ‘focus on the swing of the club’ versus ‘focus on the swing of your arms’, Wulf & Su, 2007; ‘focus on the wheels’ [under the feet] versus ‘focus on your feet’, Wulf et al., 1998; ‘focus on the rungs’ versus ‘focus on your fingers’ [touching the rungs], Wulf & Dufek, 2009). To explain this phenomenon, McNevin et al. On a pursuit-rotor task, Porter and Anton (2011) asked older adults who suffered from symptoms consistent with “chemo-brain” to focus either on the handle of the stylus (external) or their hand (internal) while tracking the rotating light. While attentional focus was assessed through questionnaires in the first two experiments, learners in Experiment 3 were asked to report their current attentional focus at any time during practice. In longer-duration tasks for which fatigue is a limiting factor, such as tasks requiring sub-maximal or maximal force production over an extended period of time, an external focus enables performers to maintain a certain sub-maximal force level longer, or to increase the force level for a given period of time (e.g., 10 s). They performed more effectively on whatever aspect of the task was emphasized in the instructions. A related question is how a performer's focus should be directed in longer-duration serial skills, such as a pole vault or even a gymnastics routine, that involve different sub-routines. The authors measured the number of repetitions to failure during various exercises (i.e., bench press tests on a Smith Machine, free bench press, free squat lift) with weights corresponding to 75% of each participant's repetition maximum. In other studies, the sheer number of instructional statements may explain the lack of effect (Emanuel et al., 2008; Poolton et al., 2006, Experiment 2). That is, the instructions given in skill-focused conditions have varied in terms of whether they induced an internal focus (e.g., foot in soccer dribbling, Beilock et al., 2002) or external focus (e.g., straight club motion in golf putting, Beilock et al., 2004; motion of baseball bat, Gray, 2004). Are attempts at controlling body movements the precondition for less-than-optimal performance? Since the initial studies, numerous researchers have replicated the benefits of an external focus for other balance tasks. attentional focus during balancing tasks in motor learning. With the spontaneous decision to simply focus on the tilt of the board while turning came instantaneous success. With an emphasis placed on the force of the swing (and participants being asked to judge the appropriateness of the force they had used after a trial), performers may, in fact, have focused on the impact the club had on the ball, which would constitute an external focus. In a first fMRI study, using a sequential key-press task, Zentgraf, Lorey, Bischoff, Stark, and Munzert (2009) found higher activation in the primary somatosensory and motor cortex for an external focus (on keys) relative to an internal focus (on fingers). It is also important to point out that an external focus of attention enhances learning, as opposed to an internal focus degrading learning. Intl Rev of Sport & Exerc Psyc. showed that a greater distance of the external focus increased automaticity in movement control. Moreover, this robust performance effect has been demonstrated with novices, experts, and patient populations ( 6,10,18,20 ). The sport of weightlifting requires lifts of the snatch and the clean and jerk with athletes aiming to lift the heavest weight for their division during competition. These findings underscore the potency of the external focus benefit. As was first demonstrated by McNevin et al., increasing the distance of the external focus from the body – in this case, the distance of markers on the stabilometer platform from the feet – increased the advantage of the external focus. Ernst-Joachim Hossner & Nicole Wenderoth: Attentional Focus and Motor Learning: Gabriele Wulf on Target ..... 2 Main Article Gabriele Wulf: Attentional Focus and Motor Learning: A Review of 10 Years of Research ..... 4 Commentaries The current findings have implications for all practical settings that involve motor performance and learning (e.g., sports, athletic training, physical and occupational therapy, music). External focus instructions to ‘make your movements smooth’ or ‘make your movements flow’, compared to internal focus instructions to ‘focus on your stomach muscles’ or ‘feel your stomach muscles working’, resulted in reduced heart rate and EMG activity, despite a larger range of motion. In line with these findings, Wulf and colleagues found that greater jump height was achieved with an external focus, accompanied by lower EMG activity in various leg muscles, when an external focus was adopted. Recovery and Adaptation after Weight Training Sessions with Different Number of Sets to Failure. Internal versus external: oral-motor performance as a function of attentional focus. These findings seem to provide support for the idea that an external focus on the intended movement effect allows for ‘functional variability’ (e.g., Müller & Loosch, 1999), such that the motor systems automatically adjust the various degrees of freedom to achieve that effect (Wulf & Prinz, 2001). Gabriele Wulf et al. As Vallacher and colleagues (Vallacher, 1993; Vallacher & Wegner, 1987) pointed out, with an increase in skill level, actions tend to be monitored at higher hierarchical levels. observational learning, external focus of attention, positive feedback, self‐controlled practice). In recent years, researchers in motor learn-and performance have generated several lines of evidence that indicate important roles for motivation and attentional focus in motor performance and learning. However, two major epochs characterized research in the area of motor learning, one prior to the 1970s, where they aimed to verify which factors affected the acquisition of motor skills, such as practice in whole or in part, to mass or distributed practice, type of feedback, instruction among others, these researches used complex tasks such as sports skills. Numerous motor learning and control studies demonstrate wide support for an external form of verbal instruction (i.e., focus on bar) as a far superior method of communicating movement changes to athletes rather than an internal form of verbal instruction (i.e., focus on hand, limb, and body) (for a review see ). These are the sources and citations used to research Attentional focus theory. In addition to enhancing throwing accuracy, the automaticity resulting from an external focus also seems to make performance more resistant to skill failure under pressure (Ong, Bowcock, & Hodges, 2010). Article. Post-hoc tests to determine whether the two groups of children actually differed significantly were not conducted, or at least not reported. To address those issues, it is important that the instructions used in experiments differ only with regard to the attentional focus they induce. Studies investigating the influence of the learner’s focus of attention, induced by instructions or feedback, on motor skill learning are reviewed. Parr and Button found that participants who were given external focus instructions demonstrated a shorter time and distance to lock (i.e., from maximum reach to the blade being fully immersed) on retention and transfer tests (involving crews of four learners), indicating the learning of a more efficient movement pattern. Wulf G. Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 10 years of research. In that study, attention was directed to a supra-postural task (i.e., holding an object still), either internally or externally, during practice of the stabilometer task. List: XNB174 Next: Edited … Aside from the fact that it is questionable to what extent the respective instructions actually induced an internal or external focus, they clearly referred to different aspects of the task. Volleyball serves, soccer kicks (Wulf, McConnel, Gärtner, & Schwarz, 2002), and soccer throw-ins (Wulf, Chiviacowsky, Schiller, & Ávila, 2010) have been demonstrated to result in more accurate outcomes when participants were given feedback inducing an external rather than internal focus. In an analysis of feedback statements used by physical therapists in their treatment of people after stroke, 95.5% of feedback statements were related to the patient's body movements (Durham, van Vliet, Badger, & Sackley, 2009). It will also be interesting to find out what effect practice with different attentional foci has on brain activity in the longer term, as evidenced, for example, by the amount of brain activation (Wu, Kansaku, & Hallett, 2004), effective connectivity of the brain motor networks (Wu, Chan, & Hallett, 2008), or changes in gray matter volume (Taubert et al., 2010). Wulf, G. Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 15 years. Also, it is important that the processing of other types of information (e.g., visual) not be encouraged through one set of instructions (e.g., external) but not the other (e.g., internal). Future research will hopefully elucidate how brain activity changes when a certain task is performed under different focus conditions. Although more research is needed to confirm these findings, these results provide initial support for the notion that an external focus results in greater accuracy due to increased functional variability (similar to that typically seen in more skilled performers). In addition, some studies have shown kinematic changes in movement patterns with an external focus that resemble those typically seen in experienced performers (An et al., forthcoming; Lohse et al., 2012; Parr & Button, 2009). Aside from the fact that the instructions again referred to different aspects of the task, there were no references to the performer's body in the ‘internal’ focus instructions. Similar findings were obtained for 10-year old children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Saemi, Porter, Wulf, Ghotbi-Varzaneh, & Bakhtiari, 2012). A few studies have examined changes in movement kinematics as a function of focus instructions, and they demonstrate that sometimes even a single instructional cue can impact whole-body coordination. When instructed to focus on the flight of the dart, participants’ variability in the shoulder angle at the moment of release was significantly greater (2.3 degrees) than when the focus was on their arm (1.9 degrees), and throwing accuracy was greater as well. Res Q … In addition, researchers must ensure there are no potential confounding factors and that instructions are comparable in wording and information content. A movement pattern is considered more efficient or economical if the same movement outcome is achieved with less energy expended. Other competitive events, often referred to as powe… These studies are particularly interesting as they demonstrate a possible association between muscular activity and movement accuracy. They also found an increase in participants’ capability to hold the posture with an external focus on keeping imaginary lines between their hips and knees horizontal, as opposed to an internal focus on the horizontal position of their thighs. Direct measures of efficiency that have been used in examinations of attentional focus effects include muscular (electromyographic or EMG) activity, oxygen consumption, and heart rate. Add to My Bookmarks Export citation. This study is another example of how the over-interpretation of findings can lead to repeated, and perhaps unchecked, claims that an external focus might not ‘work’ for children. We were particularly struck by the fact that often a one- or two-word difference in the instructions (e.g., ‘focus on the markers’ versus ‘focus on your feet’; Wulf et al., 1998, Experiment 2) had such a strong impact on performance. 2007; 1–11. One of the main purposes of this article is to discuss conceptual and methodological issues related to this line of research. How changing the focus of attention affects performance, kinematics, and electromyography in dart throwing. I also highlight some important aspects of the findings that indicate the potency of the external focus advantages. (2003) – frequently cited as evidence for the benefits of an internal focus in novices – participants hitting golf balls at a target were given external focus instructions (‘concentrate on hitting the ball as close to the target pylon as possible’) or internal focus instructions (‘concentrate on the form of the golf swing and to adjust the force of their swing depending on the distance of the shot’) (p. 596). Second, because of the vagueness of the instructions, it is not clear what exactly participants focused on. A challenge for future research will be to disentangle these potential influences, and how the distance, or hierarchy, of the external focus might interact with performers’ level of expertise. Int Rev Sport Exerc Psychol 2013;6(1):77-104. 2010;29: 542–555. An external focus on the movement of the bar being lifted allowed for a significantly greater number of repetitions than an internal focus on the movements of the limbs involved (i.e., arms, legs) in all three exercises. No magic pill, device needed!’ (personal communication, 24 October 2011). Some of the transfer tests involved pressure to perform well (Bell & Hardy, 2009), time pressure, or a distractor task to prevent the use of the instructed focus (Totsika & Wulf, 2003). Purpose: External attentional focused instructions and feedback have shown to enhance motor performance among adults, adolescents, and older children.This study examined type and frequency of instructions and feedback among younger children performing an overhand throw. In no case was an internal focus advantageous. Add to My Bookmarks Export citation. Similar ‘spreading’ effects were seen in other studies as well (e.g., Vance et al., 2004; Wulf, Dufek, Lozano, & Pettigrew, 2010). 9. The exact underlying mechanisms of the attentional focus effect need to be explored further. Specifically, researchers should take care to avoid visual feedback that may overpower any attentional focus, use instructions that are relevant to task performance, and use motor tasks that are challenging enough. McKay and Wulf found that accuracy in dart throwing was improved with a focus on the bullseye (distal) as opposed to the flight of the dart (proximal). External focus instructions directed at the discus resulted in significantly greater throwing distances than internal focus instructions directed at the hand and wrist. All participants played the sequence under four conditions: with a focus on their finger movements, on the movements of the piano keys, on the hammers, or on the sound of the keyboard. How do I set a reading intention. The question remains, however: How exactly is it that instructions that induce different attentional foci produce automaticity versus conscious control? The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 54(4), 1143-1154. Again, directing participants’ attention externally, that is, on keeping markers on the balance platform horizontal, led to more effective balance learning than inducing an internal focus by asking them to try to keep their feet horizontal. More experimental work related to movement form as a function of attentional focus would also be desirable. EF=external focus; IF=internal focus; C=control condition or group;>stands for ‘outperformed’. There are potentially a variety of reasons why these variables are effective. Aside from a more efficient and effective coordination within muscles (i.e., motor unit recruitment) and between muscles (i.e., co-contractions) (see above), there is accumulating evidence that the attentional focus induced by instructions can also affect movement coordination on a larger scale, providing another piece in the puzzle that some scientists have been looking for (e.g., Peh, Chow, & Davids, 2011). As a consequence, the majority of athletes (69.2%) indicated that they focused internally when competing. Wulf, G., Mc Niven, N., Shea, C.H. Published online: 15 Apr 2009. Journal of Motor Behavior. The performance benefit of an external focus of attention strategy has been observed in a wide range of motor tasks within the motor learning and control literature (1,7,11,18,19,21). Both external and internal foci are typically related to the skill and thus constitute, perhaps in a broad sense, a ‘skill focus’. Article. Typically, in these types of studies, with-participant designs are used to assess differences in performance (rather than learning) to control not only for electrode placement but also for individual differences in skill or physical shape. The way an athlete focuses their attention when lifting a weight has the potential to influence strength development during training and performance outcomes during competition. Effects of attentional focus on motor learning in children with autism spectrum disorder Andy CY Tse Abstract Inability to acquire a new motor skill is a common motor difficulty in children with autism spectrum disorder. Attentional focus and motor learning: a review of 15 years. Intl Rev of Sport & Exerc Psyc. Purpose: The present study was to use the aggregate data meta-analytic approach to examine the effects of attentional focus during balancing tasks in motor learning. In some cases, powerful visual feedback (e.g., a moving point representing the center of gravity relative to a target on a balance task; de Bruin et al., 2009) presumably obfuscated effects of focus instructions. This item appears on. In other cases, body-related instructions in external focus conditions may have attenuated potential benefits (e.g., Southard, 2011). When control conditions without focus instructions were included, internal focus and control conditions almost invariably resulted in similar performances, while an external focus led to more effective performance than both (An et al., forthcoming; Freudenheim et al., 2010; Landers et al., 2005; Marchant et al., 2008; Porter, Nolan, Ostrowski, & Wulf, 2010; Wulf, Zachry et al., 2007; Wulf et al., 1998, 2003, 2009; Wulf & Su, 2007). 1 Wulf G. Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 15 years. Findings show that the performance and learning advantages through instructions or feedback inducing an external focus extend across different types of tasks, skill levels, and age groups. Unnecessary co-contractions, imperfect timing, and/or direction of forces would result in less-than-maximal force output. Its increase during the downswing (so-called X-factor stretch) is associated with the carry distance of the ball, and both have been shown to be associated with an early weight shift toward the front leg during the downswing (e.g., Hume, Keogh, & Reid, 2005). 9. A rough count of the number of studies that have used comparable instructions under different focus conditions reveals that in about 80 experiments significant advantages of external relative to internal foci (or, in some cases, distal relative to proximal foci) were found, sometimes in more than one measure of performance. Int Rev Sport Exerc Physiol 2013;6(1):77-104. I elaborate on findings related to maximum force production in the next section. The automaticity of complex motor skill learning as a function of attentional focus. In interviews conducted by Porter, Wu, and Partridge (2010), 84.6% of track and field athletes who competed at national championships reported that their coaches gave instructions related to body and limb movements. Therefore, in addition to traditional motor learning paradigms, using between-participant designs and retention or transfer tests, within-participant designs have been used in studies on attentional focus to examine effects on performance. For example, Lohse trained participants to produce either 25% or 50% of their maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) in a plantar flexion task. (2011) have recently argued that external focus instructions might not be appropriate for tasks in which the main objective is to produce the correct movement form, such as gymnastics routines (see also Peh et al., 2011). According to that theory, there is a common brain representation for perception and action. Some therefore questioned the reliability and generalizability to certain tasks (i.e., those being evaluated on movement form) or populations (children, older adults). Reduced muscular activity with an external focus relative to an internal focus is associated not only with more accurate force production (see above) but also with the production of greater maximal forces (e.g., Marchant, Greig, & Scott, 2009; Wulf & Dufek, 2009; Wulf, Dufek, Lozano, & Pettigrew, 2010). Thus, not only were the focus instructions confounded with the information they provided, but they were also completely irrelevant to most aspects of the routine – consisting of a lunge, arabesque, full turn, etc. 's study, participants jumped farther when they focused on jumping as close as possible to a target (distal) than when they focused on jumping as far past the start lines as possible (proximal). Several researchers have demonstrated that an external focus of attention (about movement’s effects) during movement execution allowed better performances and learning of various motor tasks than an internal focus of attention (about movement itself). Despite the pervasive evidence for the benefits of adopting an external focus, some researchers seem to have remained skeptical (e.g., Peh et al., 2011; Schorer, Jaitner, Wollny, Fath, & Baker, 2012; Zentgraf & Munzert, 2009). Postural biofeedback balance training for the improvement of dynamic stability can be applied by weight shifting to selected targets displayed on a computer screen [ 16 ]. Gabriele Wulf , (2013) Attentional focus and motor learning: a review of 15 years. In a few studies, the effectiveness of different external foci was compared (e.g., Banks, 2012; Bell & Hardy, 2009; McKay & Wulf, 2012; McNevin et al., 2003; Porter, Anton, & Wu, forthcoming). Autism 2017 23: 2, 405-412 Download Citation . While practicing a power jibe, I found that directing attention to the position of my feet, the pressure they were exerting on the board to change its direction, or the location of my hands on the boom, resulted in many failed attempts and frequent falls into the water over several hours of practice. ... Attentional focus and motor learning: a review of 15 years 2013 - International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Action identification and human behavior, EMG activity as a function of the performers’ focus of attention, Free(z)ing degrees of freedom in skill acquisition, Effect of association, dissociation and positive self-talk strategies on endurance performance, The locus of focus: The effect of switching from a preferred to a non-preferred focus of attention, Modifications of the interactions in the motor networks when a movement becomes automatic, How self-initiated memorized movements become automatic: A functional MRI study, Effect of attentional focus strategies on peak force and performance in the standing long jump, Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 10 years of research (Target article), Attentional focus effects in balance acrobats, Altering mindset can enhance motor learning in older adults, Frequent external-focus feedback enhances learning, Increased jump height with an external focus due to enhanced lower extremity joint kinetics, Increased jump height and reduced EMG activity with an external focus of attention, Instructions for motor learning: Differential effects of internal versus external focus of attention, External focus instructions reduce postural instability in individuals with Parkinson disease, Learning advantages of an external focus in golf, Effortless motor learning? While there is some evidence that movement form can be enhanced by appropriately worded (i.e., external focus) feedback or instructions (Wulf, Chiviacowsky et al., 2010) – and that sometimes single attentional cues can impact movement form (e.g., An et al., forthcoming) – further studies are needed to examine to what extent these findings generalize to other skills. As reviewed above, the benefits of an external compared to an internal focus have been shown for a variety of skills, ranging from pressing keys (Duke et al., 2011; Nedelko, Stoppel, Hassa, Dettmers, & Schoenfeld, 2009) to driving golf balls (e.g., An et al., forthcoming).

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