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Human Movement Science 29 (2010) 542555

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Human Movement Science


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/humov

How changing the focus of attention affects performance,


kinematics, and electromyography in dart throwing q
Keith R. Lohse a,*, David E. Sherwood b, Alice F. Healy a
a
b

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado, Muenzinger Building, 345 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Muenzinger Building, 345 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309, USA

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Available online 11 June 2010
PsycINFO classication:
2330
2343
2346
Keywords:
Focus of attention
Motor control
Human performance

a b s t r a c t
Research has found an advantage for an external focus of attention
in motor control and learning; instructing subjects to focus on the
effects of their actions, rather than on body movements, can
improve performance during training and retention testing. Previous research has mostly concentrated on movement outcomes, not
on the quality of the movement itself. Thus, this study combined
surface electromyography (EMG) with motion analysis and outcome measures in a dart throwing task, making this the rst study
that includes a comprehensive analysis of changes in motor performance as a function of attentional focus. An external focus of attention led to better performance (less absolute error), decreased
preparation time between throws, and reduced EMG activity in
the triceps brachii. There was also some evidence of increased variability for kinematic measures of the shoulder joint under an
external focus relative to an internal focus. These results suggest
improved movement economy with an external focus of attention.
2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
If attention is not properly directed or attentional limits are exceeded, salient information in the
environment will be missed, which can degrade performance or result in outright failure (Wickens
& McCarley, 2008). In a demanding performance environment, performers (e.g., surgeons, pilots) need
to have empirically sound training and be able to implement strategies that optimize performance and

This work was supported in part by Army Research Ofce Grant W911NF-05-1-0153 to the University of Colorado.
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 2082417861.
E-mail address: keith.lohse@colorado.edu (K.R. Lohse).

0167-9457/$ - see front matter 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.humov.2010.05.001

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maintain these optimal levels of performance. Thus, correctly focusing attention during learning and
during performance is critical, especially when the pressure to perform increases.
A common example of misdirected attention hurting performance is choking. Choking is a decrement in performance that occurs when attention shifts as a function of increased pressure to perform (Baumeister, 1984; Lewis & Linder, 1997; Pijpers, Oudejans, & Bakker, 2005). Beilock and Carr
(2001) investigated this phenomenon in a series of descriptive studies and experiments. Initially, Beilock and Carr interviewed expert and novice golfers about their experiences with putting. Experts had
less detailed and fewer recollections of shots made, suggesting that experts do not think as explicitly
about their actions as novices do. Instead, this nding suggests that experts operate with more implicit procedural knowledge, which may allow them to perform at a high level but is not conducive to
explicit recollection. Based on this observation, Beilock and Carr experimentally manipulated training
conditions by having subjects train a golf putting skill with either a concurrent secondary alphabetic
arithmetic task (where attention was essentially distracted from putting) or with increased self-consciousness. Subjects were oriented toward high self-consciousness by being videotaped while putting
and told that their movements would be later evaluated by an expert. In a post test that maintained
training conditions for all subjects, subjects were told that if they could increase their performance by
20% they would receive $5 (increasing the pressure to perform). Subjects who had received high selfconsciousness training suffered no negative changes in performance in the post test (i.e., no choking),
but performance began to worsen for subjects who had received dual-task training. The fact that self
focused training ameliorated the performance decrement of choking suggests that choking is at least
partially a shift to internally focused attention whereby the performer attempts to consciously (explicitly) control the component movements of the skill. It is also important to note that the inoculating
effect of self-conscious training only appeared once the skill had been highly practiced and thus
was more proceduralized; interrupting training early to administer the high pressure test led to no
difference between the self-conscious and dual-task groups. This effect was replicated by Wan and
Huon (2005), where novice musicians were rst taught a basic rhythm and then practiced under single
task conditions (simply practicing to reproduce the rhythm), under dual-task conditions (reproducing
the rhythm while listening to a second piece of music), or under high self-consciousness conditions
(where subjects were videotaped and told to focus on how they were performing).
In accordance with the conclusion that choking occurs as a result of explicit monitoring, some research implies that performers should be taught motor skills implicitly, because attending to procedural skills erodes performance (Masters, 2000; Masters, Polman, & Hammond, 1993; Maxwell,
Masters, & Eves, 2000). This position is similar to the ve-step model of athletic performance proposed
by Singer (1985). Singer proposed ve general phases (from preparation to execution) for successful
motor performance. First (1) is a readying stage, in which the performer thinks about positive performance outcomes and expectations. Then (2) is an imaging phase, in which the performer mentally
envisions successful performance of the task. The next phase of mental preparation is more narrow,
and Singer suggests that the performer should (3) focus on a single, highly relevant dimension of
the task before (4) executing the movement. During execution, cognitive demands are different from
the mental preparation phases, and Singer suggests it is advantageous to the performer not to think
about possible outcomes or about the action itself. In the nal phase (5), available feedback, both
intrinsic and extrinsic, needs to be analyzed to correct errors and improve performance.
Willinghams (1998, 1999) Control Based Learning Theory of motor control (COBALT) offers a neurological explanation of why shifting attention in order to explicitly control proceduralized skills hurts
performance and leads to choking. COBALT proposes several stages of neurological representation and
motor control. First, a performer selects which objects in the environment need to change (goal selection). Then perceptual motor areas in parietal cortex and premotor cortex select the most appropriate
movement targets to achieve these goals. After the spatial targets are selected, they must be properly
sequenced, a function associated with the supplementary motor area (SMA). When subjects are instructed to complete a complex series of nger movements, both the SMA and primary motor cortex
(PMC) are active, but when instructed to imagine performing the sequence only the SMA is active
(Roland, Larsen, Lassen, & Skinhoj, 1980). Finally, the abstract sequence of movements is represented
in an egocentric spatial code and must be translated into a pattern of muscular activation. These stages
of processing can operate in either an explicit or implicit control mode, except for the translation of

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egocentric representation to muscle activation, which is always an implicit process. Implicit control
modes allow for the automatic selection of spatial targets and automatic sequencing of movements
based on practice and experience. Explicit control allows the performer to consciously select spatial
targets and consciously sequence their movements. Thus, a shift to explicit control processes in later
stages of motor learning could degrade performance because actions would change from rapid, automatic to slower, conscious selection of spatial targets and movement sequences. Interestingly, this issue of timing has not been examined in research on the focus of attention. It is plausible that an
external focus of attention might minimize conscious control thus requiring a shorter preparation
time (but not shorter execution time) compared to an internal focus that is associated with greater
conscious control. The current study addresses this question with separate analyses of preparation
time and execution time as a function of focus of attention.
Thus, both Singers (1985) model of performance and Willinghams (1998) model of motor control
predict better performance when attention is not internally directed to the mechanics of a performers
actions (i.e., when motor control processes are allowed to run implicitly with minimal conscious control). This prediction is well supported experimentally. The advantage of externally focused attention
during learning and performance has been shown for a variety of athletic skills. For example, it has
been found in a ski simulator (Wulf, H, & Prinz, 1998; Wulf & Weigelt, 1997), in tennis strokes
(Maddox, Wulf, & Wright, 1999; Wulf, McNevin, Fuchs, Ritter, & Toole, 2000), in the accuracy of golf
shots (Wulf, Lauterbach, & Toole, 1999; Wulf & Su, 2007), in soccer kicking accuracy (Wulf, Wchter, &
Wortmann, 2003), and even in the more fundamental skill of a stationary vertical jump (Wulf, Zachry,
Granados, & Dufek, 2007).
It is important to note that many of these tasks used novice performers as subjects. Previous research has shown that novices should focus on a single relevant task dimension to improve performance, whereas experts can focus on more dimensions simultaneously (Masters, 2000; Singer,
1988), but a more accurate interpretation is perhaps that attention of novices should be directed to
a single external dimension of the task and not an internal dimension such as limb position.
One task that has reliably shown a performance advantage for externally focused attention is dynamic balance. Dynamic balance (usually measured by having subjects stand on a pendulous stabilometer platform) is a skill most people master early in life, but as a result of aging or injury commonly
needs to be retrained by physical therapists. In their second experiment, Wulf et al. (1998) demonstrated the advantages of an external focus in learning dynamic balance. In this experiment, subjects
stood on a stabilometer and maintained balance by keeping the platform in a horizontal position. To
direct the focus of attention subjects were told to focus on their feet (internal focus group) or on markers placed in front of their feet on the platform (external focus group) and, depending on the condition,
keep either their feet or the markers level. On two consecutive days, subjects completed practice trials
while being reminded of how they should focus their attention on alternating trials. On the third consecutive day, subjects were given a retention test, but no instructions on how to focus attention. During this retention test subjects who practiced with an external focus of attention showed signicantly
better performance than internally focused subjects, measured by root mean squared error (RMSE) of
platform movement. Wulf and Shea (1999) replicated these results in a stabilometer task, but also
manipulated the feedback subjects received about their performance. Feedback was provided concurrently to the task on a computer screen that illustrated deviations of the platform. Internally focused
subjects were told that the feedback represented their feet, whereas externally focused subjects were
told that the feedback represented the platform. Both feedback and external focus of attention were
found to facilitate learning, as demonstrated on a retention test without feedback or attentional
instructions. Similarly, Wulf, Shea, and Park (2001) demonstrated an advantage for externally focused
attention in a stabilometer task, but also used self-report measures to assess subjects preferences for
external and internal focus if they were given the choice during practice. After a day of training with
both foci in separate blocks of trials, subjects were allowed to shift their attention freely, and in a post
test had to report how they were focusing their attention. Most subjects reported that they adopted an
external focus of attention.
By keeping the markers very close to the feet in the stabilometer task, researchers have controlled
for the spatial focus of attention, making the critical difference between the two conditions a conceptual difference between the subjects own body and the platform of the stabilometer, when the actual

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spatial difference is a matter of millimeters. A few studies have manipulated the spatial distance of
attentional foci and generally found an advantage for extending the focus of attention well beyond
the body. One study looked at placing different markers along the platform of the stabilometer, with
markers either under the feet (near-external), at the fulcrum of the platform (inside far-external), or at
the edges of the platform (outside far-external). These three external focus groups were compared to
each other as well as to an internal focus group. As predicted, the external focus groups all had significantly smaller RMSE during retention testing than the internal focus group. Interestingly, the two farexternal focus groups also outperformed the near-external focus group, indicating that increasing the
distance of external focus can enhance learning, although the two far-external focus groups were not
different from each other (McNevin, Shea, & Wulf, 2003). Similar to the ndings of McNevin and
colleagues, Park, Shea, McNevin, and Wulf (2000) found an advantage for increasing the distance of
external focus in a stabilometer task (see also Bell & Hardy, 2008). Rather than using near- versus
far-external foci on the stabilometer platform, however, Park et al. placed markers on 1 m rods that
extended out from the platform in front of the subjects feet. Again, this far-external focus resulted
in smaller RMSE during retention than a near-external focus, and both external focus groups out
performed internally focused subjects.
But how exactly does attentional focus confer an advantage? Previous research has very clearly and
empirically demonstrated the advantage of externally focusing attention during dynamic balance
tasks (Park et al., 2000; Shea & Wulf, 1999; Totsika & Wulf, 2003; Wulf et al., 1998, 2000) as well
as more athletic endeavors (Maddox et al., 1999; Wulf & Su, 2007; Wulf & Weigelt, 1997; Wulf
et al., 1998) and even therapeutic settings (Fasoli, Trombly, Tickle-Degnen, & Verfaellie, 2002; Landers,
Wulf, Wallman, & Guadagnoli, 2005; Wulf, Landers, Lewthwaite, & Tllner, 2009). Yet all of these previous studies have focused on the outcomes of movement (e.g., distance of a ball from the target or
motion of the stabilometer platform) rather than on the quality of the movement itself. Thus in the
current experiment, we include a comprehensive analysis of changes in motor performance that occur
with a shift in attentional focus by using not only behavioral measures of performance but also detailed electrophysiological measures and biomechanical measures.
A few previous studies have incorporated EMGs as a measure of attention and performance. These
studies have replicated behavioral ndings that externally focused attention improves performance
but also found a general reduction in EMG activity when subjects adopt an external focus of attention.
Vance, Wulf, Tllner, McNevin, and Mercer (2004) recorded EMG activity of the agonist (biceps brachii) and antagonist (triceps brachii) muscles in the biceps curl under different attentional foci. Vance
et al. found signicantly reduced integrated EMG activity (iEMG) when subjects adopted an external
focus of attention compared to when subjects adopted an internal focus of attention, in both the biceps and triceps muscles. By using an integrated fast Fourier transform of the raw EMG data, Vance
et al. were also able to calculate the mean power frequency (MPF) of contractions. In early repetitions,
an external focus of attention led to smaller MPF than an internal focus of attention, suggesting that
externally focusing attention improves movement economy at the level of muscle ber recruitment.
Zachry, Wulf, Mercer, and Bezodis (2005) also used surface EMG to study how attentional focus affects the neuro-muscular system while shooting free-throws with a basketball. In this experiment,
subjects were instructed to focus either on the motion of their wrist (internal focus) or the rear-center
of a basketball hoop (external focus). Free-throw accuracy was greater in the external focus condition
and, congruent with the results of Vance et al. (2004), there was reduced EMG activity in the biceps
and triceps brachii during the shooting motion when subjects adopted an external focus of attention.
Increased EMG activity in both the biceps and the triceps suggests increased muscle stiffness that
might hamper ne motor control.
Although the current study used dart throwing (see also Marchant, Clough, & Crawshaw, 2007) instead of dynamic balance or bicep curls, based on the results of Vance et al. (2004) and Zachry et al.
(2005), we anticipated a similar advantage in behavioral measures of accuracy and reduced EMG
activity in the biceps and triceps brachii when subjects used an external, rather than internal, focus
of attention. Further, we hypothesized that reduced muscle stiffness (i.e., reduced EMG activity) in
the external focus condition would also lead to increased variability in the joint kinematics. Thus,
we predicted an increase in kinematic variability with an external focus of attention, but based on
COBALT (Willingham, 1998) as a model, it seemed unlikely that shifting from an external to an

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internal focus of attention would produce qualitatively different movements as represented by the
other kinematic variables. However, we did predict an increase in preparation time between trials
with an internal rather than external focus, because greater explicit control is theoretically being
exerted on the perceptual-integration and sequencing processes during internal focus.
2. Method
2.1. Participants
Data were collected from 12 participants, three of whom were left handed and nine of whom were
right handed (identied rst by having subjects sign a letter of informed consent and later by self report). Participants always threw with their dominant hand. Participants were recruited through introductory psychology classes and participated in the experiment to fulll course credit requirements.
2.2. Apparati and measurements
A commercially available competition bristle dart board was set to a regulation height (1.73 m off
the ground) and distance (2.37 m from the throwing line). Participants threw regulation steel tip darts
that weighed 22 g. Error was measured as the linear distance from the center of the dartboard (bullseye) to the dart, and served as the behavioral measurement of performance.
For the EMG recording, the throwing arm was tted with pairs of circular EMG electrodes (Ag/AgCl
electrodes) on the surface of the skin on the mid-line belly of the biceps (antagonist muscle) and the
mid-line long head of the triceps brachii (agonist muscle). Electrodes had a 1-cm diameter and were
placed approximately 1 cm apart. The surface of the skin was prepared using an alcohol wipe with a
mild abrasive, and EMG electrodes were coated with conductive gel then afxed using adhesive collars.
A GB Instruments GMT 312 multimeter measured the resistance between EMG electrodes; if the resistance was greater than 100 Os, the area was cleaned again and the electrodes were reattached. An electrical common for each electrode pair was attached to the ear lobe. EMG data were collected using
Biopac MP100 hardware at 1000 Hz sampling rate and analyzed using Biopac AcqKnowledge software.
The raw EMG signal was converted to RMSE, which some research suggests is a more accurate index of physiological changes than measures of raw amplitude (Basmajian & De Luca, 1985; De Luca,
1997) and was used in previous studies on the focus of attention (Zachry et al., 2005). The EMG signal
was time-locked to the video data so that the moment of release for each trial was noted. In our analyses we were interested in EMG activity from the onset of activity to the moment of release. The moment of release was extracted from video data and the time of onset was estimated as the earliest
continuously rising deviation above baseline for the triceps muscle (i.e., a deviation that rose and then
fell back to baseline was not considered an onset). From the onsetrelease interval we analyzed the
time of onset (release timeonset time), peak activation (in V), and the integral of the signal (iEMG,
which represents both temporal and spatial components of the EMG signal).
We also calculated mean power frequency (MPF) to replicate the ndings of Vance et al. (2004), but
because dart throwing uses dynamic contractions, considerable reservations must be taken in interpreting the frequency components of the EMG signal, which are very sensitive to morphological properties of the muscle and the relative relationship of EMG electrodes to the neuro-muscular system
(Farina, 2006; Farina, Merletti, & Enoka, 2004; Merletti, Rainoldi, & Farina, 2001). MPF was computed
by selecting the onsetrelease area of the raw EMG signal and computing a Fast Fourier Transform
(FFT), which was windowed using a Hamming function. The FFT was then squared and integrated.
From this integrated waveform, the frequency (Hz) corresponding to the mean power (V) between
1 and 250 Hz was selected as the MPF.
A Canon Z950 MiniDV (30 frame per second capture rate) camera was placed perpendicular to the
line of the throw to capture participants movement in the sagittal plane. Participants were asked to
limit their throwing as much as possible to exion and extension of the arm and wrist in the sagittal
plane (i.e., no side-arming the throw). Two participants (in different counterbalancing orders) failed
to follow this instruction satisfactorily, and as a result their data were omitted from the kinematic

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analysis. Video data were captured and analyzed using Dartsh ConnectPro motion analysis software. The kinematic variables of interest included shoulder angle, elbow exion, throwing time,
and angular velocity of the dart. Shoulder angle and elbow exion were measured at two critical times
in the throwing motion: at the moment of retraction (point of maximum elbow exion) and at the moment of release. To measure these variables, anatomical markers were placed at the acromion process,
the lateral epicondyle, and styloid process of the throwing arm (see Fig. 1). Angular velocity of the
throw (in degrees per second) was calculated by subtracting elbow exion at retraction from exion
at the moment of release and dividing by throwing time. Preparation time, dened as the time
between throws (from the moment of release in trial n to maximal exion in trial n + 1), was also

Fig. 1. Kinematic measures of interest at retraction, dened as the moment of maximum elbow exion (top). Kinematic
measures of interest at release, dened as the moment the dart has clearly left the hand (bottom).

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extracted from the video and served as a combined measure of feedback integration from the previous
trial and preparation for the next trial.
2.3. Design
The experiment was divided into three phases, and during each phase participants completed seven
blocks of three dart throws. Participants received 2 min of rest between phases, in which they were allowed to sit, and some rest between blocks (while error was being measured) but remained standing.
The rst phase (acquisition phase) of the experiment familiarized participants with the experiment
and no explicit instructions on how to focus attention were given, although in all phases, participants
were instructed that they should throw the dart as accurately and consistently as they could to the center of the board. Phases 2 and 3 were counterbalanced between participants with internal focus and
external focus instructions given by the experimenter, Visually focus on the bulls-eye. . . mentally focus on the [movement of your arm/ight of the dart]. When youre off target think about how you can
correct the mistake by changing the [motion of your arm/ight of the dart]. Each time you throw, focus
on [your arm/the dart] and think about [how you are moving/how it should y]. Between each block,
participants were reminded, Focus on the [motion of your arm/ight of the dart] while being as accurate as possible. Thus, there are within-subject variables of phase (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), block (seven
blocks per phase), trial (three trials per block), and attentional focus condition (internal, external)
and one between-subjects variable of order (internal then external or external then internal) for the
dependent variables of behavioral performance measures, EMG measures, and kinematic measures.
Phase was only initially analyzed for accuracy to assess participants improvement across phases of
the experiment regardless of focus condition. In all subsequent analyses, Order  Condition  Block  Trial mixed factorial ANOVAs were conducted for each dependent variable. Condition
replaced phase as a factor, because the only counterbalanced conditions were the internal and external
focus conditions (balanced between the second and third phases). Acquisition, in which no explicit
attentional focus instructions were given, was confounded with order because it was always the rst
phase, invalidating comparisons between the acquisition phase and internal/external phases. All signicant effects are reported in the results section, as well as some non-signicant effects that are germane to the experimental hypotheses. All unreported main effects and interactions were nonsignicant in the mixed factorial ANOVA for that dependent variable (p > .05).
3. Results
3.1. Behavioral performance measures
Overall, participants absolute error from the center of the target was 8.06 cm. Accuracy improved
across blocks and error reduced from 10.41 cm in Block 1 to 8.01 cm in Block 7, F(6, 60) = 4.90, g2p = .33,
p < .001; see Fig. 2a. The main effect of phase was not signicant, F(2, 20) = 1.89, g2p = .15, p = .18,
although error declined from the rst phase (8.66 cm) to the second phase (7.63 cm) and third phase
(7.89 cm). Restricting the analysis to only the internal and external focus phases, participants had signicantly less error when externally focused than when internally focused, F(1, 10) = 4.79, g2p = .32,
p = .026 (by a directional test; t(10 = 2.19); see Fig. 2b. In this restricted analysis the effect of block
was still signicant, F(6, 60) = 2.89, g2p = .22, p = .015, however the interaction of block and condition
was not, F(6, 60) = 1.56, g2p = .17, p = .139, suggesting that the improvement from Block 1 to Block 7
was comparable for the internal and external focus conditions. The between-subjects variable of order
was not signicant, F(1, 10) = 1.16, g2p = .10, p = .307, and did not signicantly interact with any of the
within-subject variables.
In terms of preparation time, participants averaged 2.98 s between throws. Preparation time significantly increased across blocks, from 2.60 s in Block 1 to 3.03 s in Block 7, F(6, 60) = 3.57, g2p = .26,
p = .004. Restricting the analysis to only the internal and external focus phases, participants took less
preparation time during external focus than during internal focus, F(1, 10) = 5.11, g2p = .33, p = .047; see
Fig. 3a. In this restricted analysis the effect of block was still signicant, F(6, 60) = 2.44, g2p = .19,

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Fig. 2. (a) Absolute error as a function of block. (b) Absolute error as a function of attentional focus condition. Bars show
between-subjects standard error.

p = .035, and participants preparation time increased from Block 1 (2.69 s) to Block 7 (3.15 s). The
interaction of condition and block was not signicant, F(6, 60) = 1.47, g2p = .128, p = .202.
3.2. EMG measures
Integrated EMG activity (iEMG) was calculated for the onset-to-release interval for both the triceps
(agonist) and biceps (antagonist) muscles. There was signicantly less iEMG activity in the triceps
muscle during external focus than during internal focus, F(1, 10) = 5.54, g2p = .35, p = .040. A similar
pattern was found for iEMG in the biceps, where activity during external focus was less than during
internal focus, but this difference was not signicant, F(1, 10) = 1.86, g2p = .14, p = .200; see Fig. 4a.
We also calculated an index of co-contraction by taking the ratio of iEMG in the agonist divided by
iEMG of the antagonist; there was no difference in the iEMG ratio between attentional focus conditions, external = 4.71 and internal = 5.41, F(1, 10) < 1. No difference in the contraction ratio suggests
no difference in co-contraction between internal and external focus conditions. However, decreased
iEMG activity in the external focus condition can be interpreted as improved movement economy
and reduced muscle stiffness because less activity (i.e., energy) is required and produces a more accurate result than the internal focus condition.
Peak amplitude of the RMSE rectied EMG in the tricep was also signicantly less during external
focus than during internal focus, F(1, 10) = 6.32, g2p = .38, p = .031. Again, a similar pattern for peak
amplitude was found in the biceps, where activity during external focus was less than during internal
focus, but this difference was not signicant, F(1, 10) < 1; see Fig. 4b.

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Fig. 3. (a) Preparation time as a function of attentional focus condition. (b) Throw time as a function of attentional focus
condition. Bars show between-subjects standard error.

EMG onset was computed from the RMSE rectied EMG and measured from the onset of activation
in agonist muscle to the time of release. During external focus, onset time was signicantly shorter
than during internal focus, F(1, 10) = 8.22, g2p = .45, p = .017; see Fig. 4c.
MPF was computed from an FFT of the raw EMG signal and restricted to frequencies between 1 and
250 Hz. There was no signicant difference in MPF between the internal and external focus conditions,
F(1, 10) < 1; see Fig. 5a. Also, contrary to the results of Vance et al. (2004), there was no signicant
interaction of condition and block, F(6, 60) = 1.55, g2p = .14, p = .179, such that the difference between
early and late blocks was the same for external focus and internal focus conditions; see Fig. 5b.
3.3. Kinematic measures
Throwing time (from maximum elbow exion to the point of release) was not signicantly different between external focus and internal focus, F(1, 10) < 1; see Fig. 3b. Interestingly, there was a signicant effect of trial, such that Trial 1 (0.202 s) was slower than Trial 2 (0.183 s) and Trial 3 (.186 s),
F(2, 22) = 13.040, g2p = .54, p < .001, indicating that participants moved faster as a block progressed.
Although the difference between blocks was not signicant, participants throwing time also reduced
from Block 1 (.201 s) to Block 7 (.183 s), F(6, 60) = 1.92, g2p = .14, p = .090. There was also no difference
in the standard deviation of throwing time between conditions, F(1, 10) < 1.

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Fig. 4. (a) iEMG activity in the agonist (triceps) and antagonist (biceps) muscles as a function of attentional focus condition. (b)
Peak EMG activity in the agonist and antagonist muscles as a function of attentional focus condition. (c) Time from the moment
of release to the onset of EMG activity in the agonist muscle as a function of attentional focus condition. Bars show betweensubjects standard error.

Angular velocity was computed by examining the difference between maximum elbow exion and
the degree of elbow exion at release divided by throwing time. Similar to the results from throwing

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Fig. 5. (a) MPF as a function of attentional focus condition. (b) MPF as a function of attentional focus (external or internal) and
block. Bars show between-subjects standard error.

time, there was no signicant difference in angular velocity between external focus (409.7/s) and
internal focus (395.6/s), F(1, 8) < 1. There were no effects of trial or block on angular velocity, respectively, F(2, 16) = 1.03, g2p = .11, p = .378 and F(6, 48) < 1. There was also no difference in the standard
deviation of angular velocity between conditions, F(1, 9) < 1.
Joint angles at the shoulder and elbow were measured at the moment of retraction (maximum elbow exion) and at the moment of release. During retraction, participants had an average shoulder
angle of 69.72, there was no signicant difference in shoulder angle between external and internal
focus, F(1, 9) = 1.14, g2p = .11, p = .313, and no difference in the standard deviation of shoulder angle,
F(1, 9) < 1. During retraction, participants had an average elbow exion angle of 46.07; there was
no signicant difference in elbow exion between external and internal focus, F(1, 9) < 1, and no difference in the standard deviation of elbow exion, F(1, 9) < 1. At the point of release, participants had
an average shoulder angle of 80.12, and there was no signicant difference in shoulder angle between
external and internal focus, F(1, 9) < 1. However, the standard deviation in shoulder angle during
extension was greater during external (2.29) than internal focus (1.90), F(1, 9) = 6.71, g2p = .42,
p = .029. At the point of release, participants had an average elbow extension angle of 114.33, there
was no signicant difference in elbow extension between external and internal focus, F(1, 9) < 1, and
no difference in the standard deviation of elbow angle, F(1, 9) < 1.

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Additionally, all kinematic measurements were used as predictor variables of accuracy in a linear
regression within each participant. Although occasionally an individual predictor was signicant, the
omnibus test including all six predictors was only signicant for one participant. Averaging across participants the omnibus ANOVA was F(6, 56) = 1.49, g2p = .11, p = .195. Thus, accuracy does not seem to
be tied to a particular kinematic measurement or set of measurements.

4. Discussion
Improved accuracy in dart throwing during an external relative to internal focus of attention is consistent with previous research that has demonstrated improved performance in dynamic balance tasks
(McNevin et al., 2003; Wulf & Shea, 1999), athletic performance (Maddox et al., 1999; Wulf & Su,
2007; Wulf et al., 2000), and rehabilitation (Landers et al., 2005). Reduced iEMG activity in the agonist
muscle for external relative to internal focus of attention is also consistent with previous ndings
(Zachry et al., 2005). Similar to the interpretation made by Zachry et al., we believe that the reduced
iEMG activity and improved performance that result from an external focus of attention can be interpreted as improved neuro-muscular efciency. Essentially, less muscular activation coincides with an
improved movement outcome. Thus an external focus of attention leads not only to more accurate
performance in dart throwing, but also to more economic movement.
Importantly, we have the added dimension of kinematics to examine whether movement economy
is improved. Although a more detailed assessment of the movement kinematics is needed (e.g., we
made no measurement of wrist or hand movements, which can tremendously affect the outcome of
the throw), we can see that movement time, angular velocity, and joint angles in the elbow and shoulder do not seem to change as a function of attention. However, variability of shoulder movement at the
moment of release was greater during external than internal focus (other kinematic variability
measures also showed this difference, but none were signicant). Although these results are somewhat
tentative, increased variability during an external focus of attention would be similar to functional
variability that is characteristic of expert performance (Mller & Loosch, 1999). Similar functional variability has been found in long jumping for stride length (Lee, Lishman, & Thompson, 1982) as well as
for center-mass position and angle of take-off (Voigt, 1933). In these studies the variability in the nal
result is considerably smaller than the variability of its components, suggesting that the function of
variability in movement control is to preserve the planned outcome or effect. This suggestion is congruent with Bernsteins (1967) hypothesis that the goal of the task serves as an invariant property in
the regulation of movement and agrees with Wulf and Prinzs (2001) conclusion that adopting an
external focus of attention may facilitate compensatory variability during movement to preserve the
movement effect, whereas focusing on the movements themselves may reduce movement variability
(e.g., through increased muscle stiffness) but at the expense of the movement outcome.
It is also important to note that the iEMG represents both the spatial and temporal dimensions of
the EMG signal, and those dimension are represented separately (albeit less completely) in measures
of peak amplitude and EMG onset. Simply knowing that a difference existed in iEMG activity would
not allow us to discriminate between low levels of activation that have a very early onset and high
levels of activation that have a late onset. However, by combining the iEMG with peak amplitude
and onset measures we can see that the difference in iEMG activity between the internal and external
focus conditions is attributable to both early onset (the internal focus condition has a longer onset
time in the agonist muscle) and increased magnitude of activity (the internal focus condition resulted
in larger peak amplitudes than external focus). Fig. 4 also shows a proportional increase in iEMG in the
antagonist muscle of the biceps during an internal focus of attention (although this difference was not
signicant). This concurrent increase in agonist and antagonist iEMG is evidence of increased muscle
stiffness and decreased efciency with an internal focus, and thus we can conclude that an external
focus of attention improves intermuscular co-ordination by reducing muscle stiffness, which is consistent with the nding of increased movement variability.
Beyond the magnitude of activation in a particular muscle, the frequency characteristics of the contraction also need to be considered. Smaller MPF during the external focus attention found by Vance
et al. (2004) is indicative of less muscular recruitment, because of the incremental nature of muscle

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contraction (i.e., the size principle of muscular contraction; Olsen, Carpenter, & Henneman, 1968).
However we failed to replicate this we found in a dart throwing task, instead nding very similar
MPF with internal and external focus. Both of these conclusions must be treated with caution, however, because these studies (this study and that by Vance et al.) used dynamic contractions. During
dynamic contractions muscle morphology, relative location of the electrodes to the innervation zone,
and relative depth of active motor units are changing, so it becomes impossible to make denitive
statements about what physiological changes the MPF represents (Farina, 2006). To understand the
implications of change in MPF that results from a shift in attentional focus, isometric contractions will
need to be examined so that muscle morphology remains constant through the contraction. We aim to
address this question in future studies (Lohse, Sherwood, & Healy, 2010).
In sum, the present study succeeded in replicating previous behavioral results but went further by
adding new electrophysiological and biomechanical dimensions that help to explain exactly how
changing the focus of attention improves performance. Notably, an external focus of attention leads
to improved movement economy through reduced activity of the agonist and antagonist muscles,
but also increases the functional variability of the movement. As research on the focus of attention
continues to demonstrate, even subtle differences in the structure of a task (in this case, subtle
changes in the wording of the instructions) can have profound effects on motor behavior and the
underlying physiology. Practitioners and instructors need to be aware that shifting ones focus of
attention affects performance and should develop effective strategies to keep the performers attention focused externally on the goals of the task. Growing evidence suggests that internally focusing
on ones own movements constrains the motor system and leads to movements that are not only less
accurate, but also less efcient at the neuro-muscular level. An intriguing new nding of the present
study was the increased preparation time during an internal focus of attention. Our measure of preparation time conrmed the initial prediction that preparation time would be decreased with an external focus of attention and is consistent with neuropsychological theories of motor learning and control
(Willingham, 1998), but it is not clear what this decrease in preparation time represents (at either a
theoretical or physiological level), and more detailed analyses of preparation time offer a promising
direction for future experiments.
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