An external focus of attention enhances motor learning in children with intellectual disabilities

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Abstract

Background

The present study examined whether the learning benefits of an external focus of attention (i.e. on the movement effect) relative to an internal focus (i.e. on the movement), found previously in non-disabled children and adults would also be found in children with intellectual disabilities (IDs).

Methods

Participants (n = 24; average age: 12.2 years) with mild intellectual deficiency (IQ = 51–69) practiced throwing beanbags at a target. In the external focus group, participants were instructed to direct their attention to the movement of the beanbag, while in the internal focus group, participants were asked to direct their attention to the movement of their hand. The practice phase consisted of 40 trials, and attentional focus reminders were given after every third trial. Learning was assessed 1 day later by retention and transfer (greater target distance) tests, each consisting of 10 trials. No focus reminders were given on that day.

Results

The external focus group demonstrated more effective learning than the internal focus group, as evidenced by more accurate tosses on the transfer test.

Conclusions

The present findings show that instructions that induce an external focus of attention can enhance motor learning in children with IDs.

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