Practice Makes Efficient: Cortical Alpha Oscillations Are Associated With Improved Golf Putting Performance

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Abstract

Practice of a motor skill results in improved performance and decreased movement awareness. The psychomotor efficiency hypothesis proposes that the development of motor expertise through practice is accompanied by physiological refinements whereby irrelevant processes are suppressed and relevant processes are enhanced. The present study employed a test–retest design to evaluate the presence of greater neurophysiological efficiency with practice and mediation analyses to identify the factors accounting for performance improvements, in a golf putting task. Putting performance, movement-specific conscious processing, electroencephalographic alpha power and alpha connectivity were measured from 12 right-handed recreational golfers (age: M = 21 years; handicap: M = 23) before and after 3 practice sessions. As expected, performance improved and conscious processing decreased with training. Mediation analyses revealed that improvements in performance were partly attributable to increased regional gating of alpha power and reduced cross-regional alpha connectivity. However, changes in conscious processing were not associated with performance improvements. Increased efficiency was manifested at the neurophysiological level as selective inhibition and functional isolation of task-irrelevant cortical regions (temporal regions) and concomitant functional activation of task-relevant regions (central regions). These findings provide preliminary evidence for the development of greater psychomotor efficiency with practice in a precision aiming task.

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