Zachry, T., Wulf, G., Mercer, J., & Bezodis, N. (2005). Increased movement accuracy and reduced EMG activity as the result of adopting an external focus of attention. Brain Research Bulletin, 67, 304-309.

This investigation was supposed to contrast internal and external mental focus in the performance of a modified two-phase motor skill, shooting a basketball free throw. Ss performed 10 trials of an internal focus (snapping of the wrist in the follow-through), and an external focus (concentrating on the center of the rear of the hoop). The modification of the basketball throw was the experimenter controlling the cadence by directing "get set" and "go" in the timing of the preparation and initiation of the skill.

Free throw accuracy was greater under the external focus (25.6%) than under the internal focus (20.9%). EMG activity of the biceps and triceps muscles was lower in the external condition than in the internal condition.

However, the authors in their conclusions make a grand intellectual jump in generalizing these results to other activities (e.g., endurance performances). Some factors need to be considered before treating this study as the defining, all-encompassing description of mental focus in physical performance.

Implication. While this study might be considered as supporting the contention that an external focus of attention is the best imagery to employ when preparing for a two-phase motor activity, the actual implementation of those factors is questionable. It is possible to interpret this study alternatively as evaluating what are the accumulated effects of a number of factors that are likely to cause a modified free-throw shooting skill to deteriorate. Nothing concerning performance enhancement is shown in this study, despite the leap of faith of the authors in their sweeping generalizations at the end of the article.

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