Using Task Dynamics to Quantify the Affordances of Throwing for Long Distance and Accuracy

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In 2 experiments, the current study explored how affordances structure throwing for long distance and accuracy. In Experiment 1, 10 expert throwers (from baseball, softball, and cricket) threw regulation tennis balls to hit a vertically oriented 4 ft × 4 ft target placed at each of 9 locations (3 distances × 3 heights). We measured their release parameters (angle, speed, and height) and showed that they scaled their throws in response to changes in the target’s location. We then simulated the projectile motion of the ball and identified a continuous subspace of release parameters that produce hits to each target location. Each subspace describes the affordance of our target to be hit by a tennis ball moving in a projectile motion to the relevant location. The simulated affordance spaces showed how the release parameter combinations required for hits changed with changes in the target location. The experts tracked these changes in their performance and were successful in hitting the targets. We next tested unusual (horizontal) targets that generated correspondingly different affordance subspaces to determine whether the experts would track the affordance to generate successful hits. Do the experts perceive the affordance? They do. In Experiment 2, 5 cricketers threw to hit either vertically or horizontally oriented targets and successfully hit both, exhibiting release parameters located within the requisite affordance subspaces. We advocate a task dynamical approach to the study of affordances as properties of objects and events in the context of tasks as the future of research in this area.

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