Performance benefits exist for an external focus of attention compared with an internal focus of attention for performance and learning (Wulf, 2013). It is unknown, however, if varying the number of verbal cues affects learning and performance. Focus of attention and the number of verbal cues were manipulated during a simulated handgun-shooting task. For the internal focus conditions, participants were told to focus on their hand, arm, and wrist, whereas the external focus instructions were to focus on the gun, gun barrel, and gun stock. To manipulate the number of verbal cues, participants received instruction to focus on a single verbal cue or multiple verbal cues. Shooting performance was assessed at baseline, acquisition, and at two separate retention phases (immediate, delayed) that included transfer tests. Participants completed the NASA—Task Load Index to assess workload following all trials. Participants who received one verbal cue performed significantly better during immediate retention than those who received three verbal cues. Participants who used external focus of attention instructions had higher performance and reported less workload at delayed retention compared to those who used internal focus instructions. This research provides further support for the benefits of an external focus and highlights the importance of minimizing the number of verbal cues.
Louisa D. Raisbeck and Jed A. Diekfuss
Jed A. Diekfuss and Louisa D. Raisbeck
An external focus of attention, as opposed to an internal focus of attention, has been shown to increase performance and enhance learning. However, little research has examined whether these findings have been integrated into collegiate coaching and adopted by student-athlete performers. The purpose of this study was to examine the verbal instructions and instructional feedback provided by NCAA division 1 collegiate coaches during practice and how it influenced student-athletes’ focus of attention during competition. Thirty-one student-athletes completed a questionnaire that inquired about coaches’ verbal instructions and instructional feedback during practice and student-athletes’ focus of attention during competition. Fifty percent of participants reported that their coaches instructed them to focus their attention internally and only four participants reported that their coaches instructed them to focus externally. Our results also showed that coaches provided an equal amount of internal and external instructional feedback. During competition, however, the majority of participants reported statements that fell under the category of “winning and strategy.” These results suggest that the beneficial effects of an external focus of attention have not been integrated into NCAA division 1 collegiate coaching and the focus of attention adopted by student-athletes may be more complex than what is studied in laboratory research.
Jed A. Diekfuss and Louisa D. Raisbeck
The primary purpose of this study was to describe the focus of attention NCAA Division 1 golfers use during practice and competition. A secondary purpose was to determine who was most influential in the focus of attention strategies adopted by NCAA Division 1 golfers. We collected observational data by attending practice sessions, conducting semistructured interviews, and administering guided focus groups. Results revealed two major themes pertaining to the focus of attention adopted by our sample of NCAA Division 1 golfers: situational focus and reactivity focus. Situational focus refers to the focus used within a specific context, and reactivity focus refers to the focus golfers adopt because of a psychological state. Further, our results revealed the importance of esteemed individuals’ instruction on the development of attentional focus strategies. Parents, coaches, and popular media were highly influential in our sample of NCAA Division 1 golfers’ selection of attentional focus strategies.
Louisa D. Raisbeck, Jed A. Diekfuss, Dustin R. Grooms and Randy Schmitz
Context: Although the beneficial effects of using an external focus of attention are well documented in attainment and performance of movement execution, neural mechanisms underlying external focus’ benefits are mostly unknown. Objective: To assess brain function during a lower-extremity gross motor movement while manipulating an internal and external focus of attention. Design: Cross-over study. Setting: Neuroimaging center Participants: A total of 10 healthy subjects (5 males and 5 females) Intervention: Participants completed external and internal focus of attention unilateral left 45° knee extension/flexion movements at a rate of 1.2 Hz laying supine in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner for 4 blocks of 30 seconds interspersed with 30-second rest blocks. During the internal condition, participants were instructed to “squeeze their quadriceps.” During the external condition, participants were instructed to “focus on a target” positioned above their tibia. Main Outcome Measures: T1 brain structural imaging was performed for registration of the functional data. For each condition, 3T functional magnetic resonance imaging blood oxygenation level dependent data representing 90 whole-brain volumes were acquired. Results: During the external relative to internal condition, increased activation was detected in the right occipital pole, cuneal cortex, anterior portion of the lingual gyrus, and intracalcarine cortex (Z max = 4.5–6.2, P < .001). During the internal relative to external condition, increased activation was detected in the left primary motor cortex, left supplementary motor cortex, and cerebellum (Z max = 3.4–3.5, P < .001). Conclusions: Current results suggest that an external focus directed toward a visual target produces more brain activity in regions associated with vision and ventral streaming pathways, whereas an internal focus manipulated through instruction increases activation in brain regions that are responsible for motor control. Results from this study serve as baseline information for future prevention and rehabilitation investigations of how manipulating focus of attention can constructively affect neuroplasticity during training and rehabilitation.
Christopher K. Rhea, Jed A. Diekfuss, Jeffrey T. Fairbrother and Louisa D. Raisbeck
Falls in older adults are a public health challenge due to their influence on well-being and health-care costs. One way to address this challenge is to discover new methods to enhance postural control in older adults so they are better prepared to maintain an upright stance. Older and younger adults (N = 32) performed a static balance task on a force plate with no instructions, internal focus instructions, or external focus instructions. Center of pressure displacement time series were analyzed using sample entropy and standard deviation. Only the external focus condition significantly increased postural control entropy, which was observed across both age groups. This study showed that an external focus of attention can be used to increase postural control entropy within a single session of testing.
Moslem Bahmani, Jed A. Diekfuss, Robabeh Rostami, Nasim Ataee and Farhad Ghadiri
Enhanced expectancies are an important component of OPTIMAL theory and are thought to contribute to motor performance and learning. There is limited information, however, on the generalizability of OPTIMAL theory to highly skilled individuals. The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of visual illusions, specifically an Ebbinghaus illusion, on the performance and learning of an aiming task using highly skilled 10-m rifle and pistol shooters. Two groups of shooters with international experience were recruited and practiced with perceived larger and smaller targets. Our results indicated that participants who perceived the target larger reported higher self-efficacy immediately after practice. In addition, these participants had higher shooting performance during practice. Our retention test (24 hours later), however, did not produce differences in self-efficacy or shooting performance. Our data suggests that visual illusions are beneficial for motor performance in highly skilled shooters, but may not affect learning in those who are in the latter stages of learning. Further studies should continue examining the role of visual illusions for enhancing expectancies in highly skilled and experienced performers.
Scott Bonnette, Christopher A. DiCesare, Adam W. Kiefer, Michael A. Riley, Kim D. Barber Foss, Staci Thomas, Katie Kitchen, Jed A. Diekfuss and Gregory D. Myer
Context: Existing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury prevention programs have failed to reverse the high rate of ACL injuries in adolescent female athletes. Objective: This investigation attempts to overcome factors that limit efficacy with existing injury prevention programs through the use of a novel, objective, and real-time interactive visual feedback system designed to reduce the biomechanical risk factors associated with ACL injuries. Design: Cross-over study. Setting: Medical center laboratory. Participants: A total of 20 females (age = 19.7 [1.34] y; height = 1.74 [0.09] m; weight = 72.16 [12.45] kg) participated in this study. Methods: Participants performed sets of 10 bodyweight squats in each of 8 training blocks (ie, 4 real-time and 4 control blocks) and 3 testing blocks for a total of 110 squats. Feedback conditions were blocked and counterbalanced with half of participants randomly assigned to receive the real-time feedback block first and half receiving the control (sham) feedback first. Results: Heat map analysis revealed that during interaction with the real-time feedback, squat performance measured in terms of key biomechanical parameters was improved compared with performance when participants squatted with the sham stimulus. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that the interactive feedback system guided participants to significantly improve movement biomechanics during performance of a body weight squat, which is a fundamental exercise for a longer term ACL injury risk reduction intervention. A longer training and testing period is necessary to investigate the efficacy of this feedback approach to effect long-term adaptations in the biomechanical risk profile of athletes.
Dustin R. Grooms, Adam W. Kiefer, Michael A. Riley, Jonathan D. Ellis, Staci Thomas, Katie Kitchen, Christopher A. DiCesare, Scott Bonnette, Brooke Gadd, Kim D. Barber Foss, Weihong Yuan, Paula Silva, Ryan Galloway, Jed A. Diekfuss, James Leach, Kate Berz and Gregory D. Myer
Context: A limiting factor for reducing anterior cruciate ligament injury risk is ensuring that the movement adaptions made during the prevention program transfer to sport-specific activity. Virtual reality provides a mechanism to assess transferability, and neuroimaging provides a means to assay the neural processes allowing for such skill transfer. Objective: To determine the neural mechanisms for injury risk–reducing biomechanics transfer to sport after anterior cruciate ligament injury prevention training. Design: Cohort study. Setting: Research laboratory. Participants: Four healthy high school soccer athletes. Interventions: Participants completed augmented neuromuscular training utilizing real-time visual feedback. An unloaded knee extension task and a loaded leg press task were completed with neuroimaging before and after training. A virtual reality soccer-specific landing task was also competed following training to assess transfer of movement mechanics. Main Outcome Measures: Landing mechanics during the virtual reality soccer task and blood oxygen level–dependent signal change during neuroimaging. Results: Increased motor planning, sensory and visual region activity during unloaded knee extension and decreased motor cortex activity during loaded leg press were highly correlated with improvements in landing mechanics (decreased hip adduction and knee rotation). Conclusion: Changes in brain activity may underlie adaptation and transfer of injury risk–reducing movement mechanics to sport activity. Clinicians may be able to target these specific brain processes with adjunctive therapy to facilitate intervention improvements transferring to sport.