On the advantage of an external focus of attention: A benefit to learning or performance?

Keith R. Lohse, David E. Sherwood, Alice F. Healy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Although there is general agreement in the sport science community that the focus of attention (FOA) has significant effects on performance, there is some debate about whether or not the FOA adopted during training affects learning. A large number of studies on the focus of attention have shown that subjects who train with an external FOA perform better on subsequent retention and transfer tests. However, the FOA in these studies was not experimentally controlled during testing. Therefore, the current study used a dart-throwing paradigm in which the FOA was experimentally manipulated at both acquisition and testing over very short and long training times. Performance at test, in terms of accuracy and precision, was improved by adopting an external focus at test regardless of the focus instructed during acquisition, in both Experiment 1 and 2. Although an effect of acquisition focus during testing in Experiment 2 provides some evidence that FOA affects learning, the current data demonstrate a much stronger effect for performance than learning, and stronger effects of attention on precision than accuracy. Theoretical implications of these results are discussed, but in general these data provide a more nuanced understanding of how attentional focus instructions influence motor learning and performance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-134
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Movement Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • Attention
  • Motor control
  • Motor learning


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