Instructions for motor learning: differential effects of internal versus external focus of attention

J Mot Behav. 1998 Jun;30(2):169-79. doi: 10.1080/00222899809601334.


The effects of different types of instructions on complex motor skill learning were examined. The instructions were related either to the participant's own body movements (internal focus) or to the effects of those movements on the apparatus (external focus). The hypothesis tested was that external-focus instructions would be more beneficial for learning than internal-focus instructions. In Experiment 1, the participants (N = 33) performed slalom-type movements on a ski-simulator. The instructions referred to the way in which force should be exerted on the platform that the participant was standing on. The instructions given 1 group of participants referred to the performers' feet (internal focus), whereas the instructions given another group referred to the wheels of the platform, which were located directly under the feet (external focus). The control group was given no focus instructions. All participants practiced the task on 2 consecutive days and performed a retention test on Day 3. Compared with the effects of internal-focus instructions and no instructions, the external-focus instructions enhanced learning. Internal-focus instruction was not more effective than no instructions. In Experiment 2, an attempt was made to replicate the differential effects of external-versus internal-focus instructions with a different task (balancing on a stabilometer). Consistent with Experiment 1, instructing learners (N = 16) to focus on 2 markers on the platform of the stabilometer (external focus) led to more effective learning than instructing them to focus on their feet (internal focus), as measured by a retention test after 2 days of practice. Practical and theoretical implications of those results are discussed.