The influence of attentional focus on the development of skill representation in a complex action

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Objectives:Recent research has indicated that performers' mental representation of a motor skill changes over the course of learning. In the present study, we sought to ascertain whether the type of instructions (instructions that emphasize either an internal or external focus of attention) influences the development of skill representation during motor learning.Design:Participants without golf experience were recruited to practice a golf putting task over the course of three training days. Participants were randomly assigned to either an internal focus (focus on the swing of the arms; n = 10) or external focus (focus on the speed of the ball roll; n = 10) learning group. Changes in putting performance and mental representation structure were assessed over the course of learning, as well as during a follow-up retention test two days after practice.Methods:Mental representation structure was measured employing the structural dimensional analysis of mental representations (SDA-M), which provided psychometric data on the structure of the mental representation in long-term memory. Additionally, the change in putting accuracy and consistency was recorded over the course of learning.Results:Findings indicated that the external focus group performed with greater accuracy and consistency during training, and revealed a larger degree of development in their mental representation of the putting task.Conclusions:Overall, our findings suggest that facilitating the link between an action and its effect by means of an external focus is crucial for motor performance as well as the development of skill representation.

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