The automaticity of complex motor skill learning as a function of attentional focus

Q J Exp Psychol A. 2001 Nov;54(4):1143-54. doi: 10.1080/713756012.


The present experiment was designed to test the predictions of the constrained-action hypothesis. This hypothesis proposes that when performers utilize an internal focus of attention (focus on their movements) they may actually constrain or interfere with automatic control processes that would normally regulate the movement, whereas an external focus of attention (focus on the movement effect) allows the motor system to more naturally self-organize. To test this hypothesis, a dynamic balance task (stabilometer) was used with participants instructed to adopt either an internal or external focus of attention. Consistent with earlier experiments, the external focus group produced generally smaller balance errors than did the internal focus group and responded at a higher frequency indicating higher confluence between voluntary and reflexive mechanisms. In addition, probe reaction times (RTs) were taken as a measure of the attention demands required under the two attentional focus conditions. Consistent with the hypothesis, the external focus participants demonstrated lower probe RTs than did the internal focus participants, indicating a higher degree of automaticity and less conscious interference in the control processes associated with the balance task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Automatism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Motor Skills*
  • Random Allocation
  • Reaction Time