Improved assessment of focus of attention effects on a balance task
de Cellio Martins, Guilherme
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Focus of attention (FoA) verbal cues can impact the learning and performance of motor skills. It is common for practitioners in applied settings (coaches, teachers, physical therapists, etc.) to provide their learners with instructions that direct their attention towards their own bodies (limbs, joints, muscles), promoting an internal FoA. However, research has consistently shown that providing learners with external focus of attention instructions, that is directing learners’ attentions towards the environment and the effect of their movement, is more beneficial to motor skill performance and learning. The goals of the present work were threefold. First, we tested the constrained action hypothesis in a balance task. Second, we improved on the quantification of posture data during balance tasks by using measurements of participants’ center of pressure collected with a force platform. Third, we explored the potential confound of physical fixation (gaze) vs. mental focus (FoA instructions) by testing participants in vision and no-vision groups. In order to account for both vision and focus effects in our experiment, participants were randomly assigned to four different groups: no vision with external FoA, no vision with internal FoA, vision with external FoA, and vision with internal FoA. The task was to balance on top of a foam surface for 90 seconds. Balance performance was measured during two days of acquisition which was followed by one day with retention and transfer tests. With vision, participants who were told to focus externally performed slightly better, though not significantly, than participants who were told to focus internally, which is an external advantage that has been seen in many studies. However, without vision, the results were reversed. Participants with an internal focus performed slightly better, though still not significantly, than participants with an external focus. Both these visible trends were also present in the retention phase of the experiment, which suggests that visual feedback affected motor performance and learning. Vision, therefore, may have a critical interaction between continuous motor tasks, like static balance, and FoA strategies.