The effects of internally and externally directed attention during motor skill execution and learning
Focusing attention onto the intended outcome or goal of a movement (an External focus of attention) has been shown to be more beneficial to the learning and performance of movements than focusing onto the components of the movement being carried out (an Internal focus of attention). In this thesis, four studies assessed the effects of attentional focusing strategies on the learning and execution of motor skills during different situations. Study 1 demonstrated that an internal focus of attention during a suprapostural pointing task resulted in degraded postural control as well as larger movements of the hand and arm. In Study 2 novices using an external focus were more accurate in a dart throwing task than those using an internal focus, but no different from a control condition. In Study 3 two experiments investigated the effects of attentional focuses on postural control at rest and whilst fatigued. Postural control was no better using external focus when compared to an internal focus at rest, but was better than baseline. When fatigued (localised and generalised), balance was significantly deteriorated using an external focus, but not when an internal focus was used. In two experiments during Study 4 novices carrying out a dart throwing task used different attentional focusing instructions during practice and later performance. During practice sessions in Experiment 4.1 and 4.2 accuracy was not affected by attentional focusing instructions. Using an external focus during performance resulted in significantly better accuracy than using an internal focus. In Experiment 4.2, novices who preferred an internal focus but used an external focus during performance performed less accurately than participants who preferred the external focus. Findings demonstrate that the benefits of an external focus of attention is evident in performance situations, whereas an internal focus may be beneficial whilst fatigued and is not detrimental during practice.