Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Interdisciplinary Programs

First Committee Member

Gaby Wulf

Second Committee Member

Julia Freedman Silvernail

Third Committee Member

Szu-Ping Lee

Fourth Committee Member

Jonathan Hilpert

Number of Pages



A central question in the development of skilled movement is: how a performer should focus their attention while preparing for the execution of a motor skill? Considerable evidence has shown that directing attention towards an intended movement effect (i.e., external focus) results in performance benefits relative to focusing on body movements (i.e., internal focus). While most of the previous research has emphasized the effects of internal versus external foci, evidence also suggests that external foci located at greater distances from the body (distal foci) are more effective than external foci located in greater proximity to the body (proximal foci) and that proximal external foci are still more effective than internal foci. However, in the context of the “distance effect”, the interaction between the performer’s level of expertise and focus distance has yet to be fully elucidated by the present literature. Three experiments were conducted to examine how the effectiveness of different types of attentional focus affect motor performance for novice and expert (skilled) performers. In addition, an investigation into the quality of movement coordination regarding the optimal external focus of attention was carried out.The first study (Chapter 2) utilized a within-participants design to address the question whether a focus on an image that represents a body part (platform) (external focus) would be more effective for motor performance than a focus on the body parts (arm) themselves (internal focus). Results indicated that novice volleyball players performing a whole-body, dynamic, and continuous aiming task (volleyball pass) produced higher total scores when focused on the platform rather than their arms. The second study (Chapter 3) investigated whether the distance of the external focus impacts the performance of relatively inexperienced and experienced performers differently. Using the same motor task as the first study, the results showed that the expert group’s accuracy scores were higher in the distal relative to proximal focus condition whereas the novice group’s accuracy scores was greater in the proximal relative to distal focus condition. Finally, an overhand volleyball serve was used in the third study with a within- participants design (Chapter 4). Alongside movement outcome measures (accuracy scores), biomechanical analysis was used to identify whether the distance of the attentional focus would alter the structure of movement variability in skilled performers as measured by upper extremity joint kinematics. The results demonstrated that a distal external focus relative to a proximal or internal focus enhances movement outcomes by increasing functional variability. Overall, data from three experimental studies in this dissertation suggest that the optimal external focus is a function of both the physical distance from the body as well as the performer’s level of expertise. That is, when performing complex motor skills, novices benefit from a proximal external focus while skilled individuals produce more effective performance with a distal external focus. Underlying these effects is fluid goal-action coupling due to changes in motor control associated with an external focus. Practitioners can take advantage of these findings when deciding the wording of instructions to optimize motor performance.

Controlled Subject

Performance;Motor skills;Motor ability;


Kinesiology | Psychology

File Format


File Size

1815 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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