Focus of Attention in Children's Motor Learning: Examining the Role of Age and Working Memory

J Mot Behav. Nov-Dec 2016;48(6):527-534. doi: 10.1080/00222895.2016.1152224. Epub 2016 Jun 24.


The authors investigated the relative effectiveness of different attentional focus instructions on motor learning in primary school children. In addition, we explored whether the effect of attentional focus on motor learning was influenced by children's age and verbal working memory capacity. Novice 8-9-year old children (n = 30) and 11-12-year-old children (n = 30) practiced a golf putting task. For each age group, half the participants received instructions to focus (internally) on the swing of their arm, while the other half was instructed to focus (externally) on the swing of the club. Children's verbal working memory capacity was assessed with the Automated Working Memory Assessment. Consistent with many reports on adult's motor learning, children in the external groups demonstrated greater improvements in putting accuracy than children who practiced with an internal focus. This effect was similar across age groups. Verbal working memory capacity was not found to be predictive of motor learning, neither for children in the internal focus groups nor for children in the external focus groups. In conclusion, primary school children's motor learning is enhanced by external focus instructions compared to internal focus instructions. The purported modulatory roles of children's working memory, attentional capacity, or focus preferences require further investigation.

Keywords: children; constrained action hypothesis; external focus of attention; motor learning; working memory.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Golf
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Physical Education and Training / methods