Choose Your Words Wisely: Optimizing Impacts on Standardized Performance Testing

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Gait and Posture



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Background: An implication of the OPTIMAL theory of motor learning [1] is that standardized clinical and laboratory assessments of physical capacity and motor performance likely do not reflect true maximal capabilities unless they are “optimized” with appropriate testing conditions. The influence of motivational (enhanced expectancies, EE, and autonomy support, AS) and attentional (an external attentional focus, EF) factors on a clinical-applied test of balance control was examined with healthy participants. Given the motor performance benefits of optimized conditions predicted by the OPTIMAL theory, it was hypothesized that providing participants with information that induced EE, provided them with AS, and promoted their use of EF would reduce balance errors and postural sway. Methods: We used as an exemplar assessment, the Balance Error Scoring System (BESS), and center-of-pressure (COP) velocity measurements of postural sway. Participants performed under two different conditions, separated by two days: an optimized (EE, AS, and EF) condition and a control (neutral) condition, with sample-wide order counterbalancing. In each condition, participants performed three stances (single-leg, double-leg, and tandem) on two support surfaces (firm and foam). Stance order was participant-determined in the optimized condition and, for the control condition, yoked to a participant in the optimized condition. Results: Participants committed fewer balance errors in the optimized condition than in the control condition... (See full abstract in article).


BESS test; OPTIMAL theory; Balance; Enhanced expectancies; Autonomy support; External focus of attention


Kinesiology | Psychology of Movement



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