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Nicola J. Hodges

When we watch other people perform actions, this involves many interacting processes comprising cognitive, motor, and visual system interactions. These processes change based on the context of our observations, particularly if the actions are novel and our intention is to learn those actions so we can later reproduce them, or respond to them in an effective way. Over the past 20 years or so I have been involved in research directed at understanding how we learn from watching others, what information guides this learning, and how our learning experiences, whether observational or physical, impact our subsequent observations of others, particularly when we are engaged in action prediction. In this review I take a historical look at action observation research, particularly in reference to motor skill learning, and situate my research, and those of collaborators and students, among the common theoretical and methodological frameworks of the time.

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April Karlinsky and Nicola J. Hodges

We studied two forms of dyad practice, compared to individual practice, to determine whether and how practice with a partner impacts performance and learning of a balance task, as well as learners’ subjective perceptions of the practice experience. Participants were assigned to practice alone or in pairs. Partners either alternated turns practicing and observing one another, or they practiced and observed one another concurrently. Concurrent action observation impacted online action execution such that partners tended to show coupled movements, and it was perceived as more interfering than practicing in alternation. These differences did not impact error during practice. While dyad practice was associated with higher ratings of effort than individual practice, all groups improved and showed similar immediate and delayed retention irrespective of whether practice was alone or in pairs. These data provide evidence that a partner’s concurrent practice influences one’s own performance, but not to the detriment (or benefit) of learning. Thus, both alternating and concurrent forms of dyad practice are viable means of enhancing the efficiency, albeit not necessarily the effectiveness, of motor learning.

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April Karlinsky and Nicola J. Hodges

Giving learners a choice over how to schedule practice benefits motor learning. Here we studied peer scheduling to determine whether this benefit is related to the adaptive nature of practice or decisions about how to switch between skills. Forty-eight participants were paired and assigned to self- or peer-scheduled groups. Within each pair, one person (Actor) physically practiced 3 keystroke sequences, each with different timing goals. Self-scheduled Actors chose the sequence before each practice trial while their Partner watched. Peer-scheduled Actors had their practice directed by their Partner. Both peer schedulers and self-schedulers showed performance-dependent practice, making decisions to switch based on timing error. However, peer schedulers generally chose to switch more than self-schedulers although this was not related to retention for either group. Importantly, self-scheduled Actors did not differ in retention from peer-scheduled Actors, but the Actors generally performed with lower error in retention than that of their partners. Peer-scheduled practice was rated as more motivating and enjoyable than self-scheduled practice. In view of the lack of difference in retention and the positive ratings of peer-scheduled practice, we conclude that it is the adaptive nature of practice that is important for learning and that peer-directed practice is an effective alternative practice method to self-directed practice.

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Paul Ford, Nicola J. Hodges, Raoul Huys and A. Mark Williams

The importance of action-effects for the performance of a soccer kick was examined. Novice, intermediate, and skilled players performed a soccer chip task with the intention of getting the ball over a height barrier to a near or far ground-level target under three conditions: full vision, no vision following ball contact with and without knowledge of results (KR). The removal of vision of the ball trajectory resulted in increased radial error, irrespective of the presence or absence of KR but in a skill-level and target dependent manner. At the near target, novice participants relied on ball trajectory information. Intermediate performers were affected by its removal across both target conditions, whereas skilled participants were not affected by the removal of ball vision. Variability in knee-ankle coordination significantly decreased when vision of the ball trajectory was removed, irrespective of KR and skill level. Although across skill level there was evidence that action-effects information is used to execute the action when it is available, only at the lower levels of skill did this information aid outcome attainment. There was no evidence to suggest that with increasing skill the dependence on this information increases.

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Paul Ford, Nicola J. Hodges, Raoul Huys and A. Mark Williams

There is evidence that actions are planned by anticipation of their external effects, with the strength of this effect being dependent on the amount of prior practice. In Experiment 1, skilled soccer players performed a kicking task under four conditions: planning in terms of an external action effect (i.e., ball trajectory) or in terms of body movements, either with or without visual error feedback. When feedback was withheld, a ball focus resulted in more accurate outcomes than a body focus. When visual feedback was allowed, there was no difference between these two conditions. In Experiment 2, both skilled and novice soccer players were tested with the addition of a control condition and in the absence of visual feedback. For both groups there was evidence that a ball focus was more beneficial for performance than a body focus, particularly in terms of movement kinematics where correlations across the joints were generally higher for body rather than ball planning. Most skilled participants reported that ball planning felt more normal than body planning. These experiments provide some evidence that actions are planned in terms of their external action effects, supporting the common-coding hypothesis of action planning.

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Werner F. Helsen, Janet L. Starkes and Nicola J. Hodges

Two studies tested the theory of deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993) and contrasted results with the sport commitment model (Scanlan, Carpenter, Schmidt, Simons, & Keeler, 1993a, 1993b). In Part I, international, national, and provincial soccer and field hockey players recalled the amount of time they spent in individual and team practice, sport-related activities, and everyday activities at the start of their career and every 3 years since. In Part II, these activities were rated in terms of their relevance for improving performance, effort and concentration required, and enjoyment. A monotonic relationship between accumulated individual plus team practice and skill level was found. In contrast with Ericsson et al.’s (1993) findings for musicians, relevant activities were also enjoyable, while concentration became a separate dimension from effort. The viability of a generalized theory of expertise is discussed.

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Nicola J. Hodges, Sheri J. Cunningham, James Lyons, Tracey L. Kerr and Digby Elliott

Frith and Frith (1974) suggested that adults with Down syndrome have difficulty planning goal-directed movements and therefore are more reliant on feedback than other mentally disabled people. The purpose of the study was to examine this hypothesis directly through the manipulation of visual feedback. Twelve adults with Down syndrome, 12 mentally disabled adults without Down syndrome, and 12 nondisabled adults performed simple aiming movements to targets of three different diameters. While the target was always visible, on half the trial blocks vision of the movement was occluded upon response initiation. Subjects with Down syndrome exhibited longer movement times than other subjects, regardless of vision condition. In terms of target-aiming consistency, subjects with Down syndrome were actually less affected by the elimination of visual feedback than subjects in the other mentally disabled group. While adults with mental disabilities appear to be more reliant on visual feedback for the control of goal-directed movement, this dependence is not a specific characteristic of Down syndrome.

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Patricia L. Weir, Tracey Kerr, Nicola J. Hodges, Sandra M. McKay and Janet L. Starkes

Recent work in the area of sport expertise suggests that practice patterns can also play a critical role in maintaining athletic performance. This article examines the contribution of both physiological changes and practice patterns to swimming performances of master-, international-, junior-national-, and varsity-level swimmers. A comparison of the practice patterns of these groups suggests that master athletes spend significantly less time per week training for competition, and their training focus is on endurance, not strength. Younger swimmers train for endurance, strength, speed, and power. The authors suggest that these differences might be partly responsible for age-related performance changes. Performance changes for semilongitudinal and cross-sectional samples are characterized by significant quadratic beta weight, indicating increasing declines in performance starting at around 60 years of age. These data are discussed with respect to the role that practice plays in explaining performance changes with age.