An external focus of attention has been shown to improve balance measures during static postural tasks. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of different attentional focus strategies in response to a perturbation while performing a dynamic balance task. Participants (n = 29) performed a dynamic balance task that consisted of stepping onto an uneven surface while attempting to continuously walk in a straight line. The orientation of the surface was unknown to the participants. During the external focus conditions, participants were instructed to focus on the surface they walked on. During the internal focus conditions, participants were instructed to focus on keeping their body over their feet. Analyses revealed that the external focus condition exhibited significantly less lateral displacement from the intended walking line following the perturbation (4.56 ± 2.56 cm) than the internal (5.61 ± 2.89 cm, p = .019) and baseline (6.07 ± 2.6 cm, p = .004) conditions. These data indicate that participants were more resilient to the perturbing surface when their attention was focused on external information. Thus, participants were able to respond to a perturbation more effectively when utilizing an external focus of attention.
Scott Ducharme is with the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Amherst, MA. Will F.W. Wu is with the Department of Kinesiology at California State University, Long Beach, CA.