Hardy, L., & Callow, N. (1999). Efficacy of external and internal visual imagery perspectives for the enhancement of performance on tasks in which form is important. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 21, 95-112.

Three experiments examined the relative efficacy of different imagery perspectives on the performance of tasks in which form was important.

In Study 1, experienced karate players (N = 25) learned a new kata (52 separate movements) using external visual imagery (formation of an external visual image "seeing" themselves performing), internal visual imagery (formation of an internal visual image of the spatial, environmental, and timing factors of the skill), or under a control condition. Six, one-hour training sessions were experienced by all Ss. Then an initial test on the kata was performed. Training continued using one of the three conditions for the next three weeks, at the end of which testing was conducted again. After the next two weeks, when the criterion kata was not practiced, a retention test was performed.

The external visual imagery group improved significantly more than the other groups, while the internal imagery group improved significantly more than the control. Similar results were displayed in the retention tests. It is possible that external imagery (imaging the act or general shape of movement) is more effective with non-skilled players, as were the karate exponents here, but with better skilled athletes image of achievement (template of movements and forces involved in the skill) could be more effective.

Implication. With unskilled performers learning a new skill characterized by form, having a general "picture" of what one should look like as the visual image, is more effective for learning than an internal image.

In Study 2, both external and internal visual imagery were combined with kinesthetic imagery. Sport, health, and physical education students (N = 76), relatively unskilled in gymnastics, learned a basic gymnastics sequence. The four treatment conditions were external visual imagery with kinesthetic imagery, external visual imagery alone, internal visual imagery with kinesthetic imagery, and internal visual imagery alone. Internal imagery was developed by placing a video camera at eye-level and recording the view, while external imagery was recorded by filming the S from a distance of seven meters.

For task acquisition, external visual imagery was superior to internal imagery. However, after much practice and an analysis of retention data was performed, the difference diminished to being nonsignificant. Kinesthetic imagery was not a significant factor despite Ss reporting that such imagery was more appropriate than when not used.

Implication. For learning new tasks, external imagery is better for promoting skill improvement than is internal imagery.

In Study 3, the design of Study 2 was replicated, but the task was changed to rock-climbing and expert climbers served as Ss (as contrasted with the non-experts in Study 1 and 2).

It was found that external visual imagery was superior to internal visual imagery, and kinesthetic imagery was superior to no imagery.

Overall Implication. External visual imagery is superior to internal visual imagery for the acquisition and performance of tasks that are heavily dependent on form for successful execution. This effect exists for all Ss whether or not they are inexperienced or experienced in the activity.

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