EXTERNAL VERSUS INTERNAL FOCUS INSTRUCTIONS: IS THE LEARNER PAYING ATTENTION?
Maxwell, J., Aston University, UK and Masters, R., University of Hong Kong, SAR
Instructions to focus on the outcome of an action during its performance have consistently been shown to induce greater accuracy than instructions to focus internally on the mechanics of the movement (e.g., Shea and Wulf, 1999). This phenomenon may be the result of inducing an explicit mode of control in those performers who are instructed to focus internally. Explicit processing of task relevant information has previously been associated with poor performance relative to not focusing on these aspects (externally). That is, an external focus may be associated with little explicit processing, and thus, a minimal load on working memory, whereas, an internal focus places a large load on working memory due to the explicit processing of mechanical rules about how best to perform the task. Two experiments examined this possibility using a balance task. Both experiments demonstrated that an external focus of attention is indeed characterised by minimal explicit processing as demonstrated by the ability of learners given external focus instructions to perform a secondary task that loads working memory without demonstrating a reduction in primary task performance. Identical results were found for performers given internal focus instructions; however, it was apparent from post experimental questionnaires that these participants had switched to an external focus of attention despite instructions to the contrary. It is argued that an implicit, in this case external focus, mode of learning and performance is the default option, particularly when the ineffectiveness of explicit or internal focusing is salient.