External attentional focus enhances movement automatization: a comprehensive test of the constrained action hypothesis

Hum Mov Sci. 2013 Aug;32(4):527-39. doi: 10.1016/j.humov.2013.04.001. Epub 2013 Jun 30.


An external focus of attention has been shown to result in superior motor performance compared to an internal focus of attention. This study investigated whether this is due to enhanced levels of movement automatization, as predicted by the constrained action hypothesis (McNevin, Shea, & Wulf, 2003). Thirty healthy participants performed a cyclic one-leg extension-flexion task with both the dominant and non-dominant leg. Focus of attention was manipulated via instructions. The degree of automatization of movement was assessed by measuring dual task costs as well as movement execution parameters (i.e., EMG activity, movement fluency, and movement regularity). Results revealed that an external focus of attention led to significantly better motor performance (i.e., shorter movement duration) than an internal focus. Although dual task costs of the motor task did not differ as a function of attentional focus, cognitive dual task costs were significantly higher when attention was directed internally. An external focus of attention resulted in more fluent and more regular movement execution than an internal focus, whereas no differences were found concerning muscular activity. These results indicate that an external focus of attention results in more automatized movements than an internal focus and, therefore, provide support for the constrained action hypothesis.

Keywords: 2330; 234; 2343; Focus of attention; Human performance; Kinematic analysis; Motor control.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Automatism / physiopathology*
  • Electromyography*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Young Adult