Benefits of an external focus of attention: common coding or conscious processing?

J Sports Sci. 2006 Jan;24(1):89-99. doi: 10.1080/02640410500130854.


We conducted two experiments to assess the effect attentional focus has on learning a complex motor skill and subsequent performance under secondary task loading. Participants in Experiment 1 learnt a golf putting task (300 practice trials) with a single instruction to either focus on their hands (internal focus) or the movement of the putter (external focus). No group differences were evident during learning or retention. Differences between the groups were only apparent under secondary task load; the external group's performance remained robust, while the internal group suffered a drop in performance. Verbal protocols demonstrated that the internal group accumulated significantly more internal knowledge and more task-relevant knowledge in general than the external group. Experiment 2 was designed to establish whether greater internal focus knowledge or greater explicit rule build up in general was responsible for performance breakdown. Two groups were presented with a set of six internal or external rules. Again, no performance differences were found during learning or retention. During the secondary task, both groups experienced performance deterioration. It was concluded that accumulation of explicit rules to guide performance was responsible for the internal group's breakdown in performance under secondary task loading and may be responsible for some of the performance differences reported previously.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Golf*
  • Hong Kong
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis