Wulf, G., Shea, C., & Park, J-H. (2001). Attention and motor performance: Preferences for and advantages of an external focus. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 72, 335-344.

This study examined the preferences for and effectiveness of the type of attentional focus for learning a motor skill. Ss (N = 17) were novices at performing the task, stabilometer balancing. External focus was developed by focusing on two markers in front of the feet and internal focus was developed by concentrating on the feet. [This distinction is arguably not a true distinction between internal and external attentional focus.]

The external focus was more effective in promoting performance improvement. The authors suggested, "External foci, which cause the participants to direct their attention to the effects of their movement and away from processes controlling their movements, seem to allow more automatic control processes to take over and result in enhanced performance and learning" (p. 343).

Implication. When first learning a task, an external focus of attention promotes faster performance improvement.

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