The effect of an external and internal focus of attention on dual-task performance

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Only a few research studies using reaction time (RT) measures have clearly shown that an external focus of attention requires fewer attentional resources than an internal focus of attention. The present experiments used combinations of auditory and motor tasks to examine the relation between the direction of the focus of attention (external/internal) and attentional demand on accuracy. Participants concurrently performed a dart throwing task and either a tone estimation task (Experiments 1 and 2) or a manual force production task (Experiments 3 and 4). In Experiment 1 with a between-subjects design there was a nonsignificant trend for spatial errors in dart throwing to be reduced when focus was directed externally, as opposed to internally, but only in the dual-task condition. In Experiment 2 with a within-subject design both the internal and external focus conditions showed reduced errors in the dual-task conditions compared with the single-task conditions. The correlations between the actual and estimated tones were strong and positive in both experiments (at least .90). In Experiment 3, focusing externally on either task resulted in better force production accuracy than did focusing internally. In Experiment 4, an external focus on either task resulted in better throwing accuracy than did an internal focus. Overall, the results are consistent with the predictions of the constrained action and conscious processing hypotheses that an external focus of attention lowers attentional demands relative to an internal focus of attention, but focus of attention effects also depend on the overall attentional demands of the tasks involved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-104
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Auditory estimation
  • Dual-task performance
  • Force production
  • Throwing accuracy


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