Practice variability promotes an external focus of attention and enhances motor skill learning

Lee Kuen Chua, Maria Katrina Dimapilis, Takehiro Iwatsuki, Reza Abdollahipour, Rebecca Lewthwaite, Gabriele Wulf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Variability in practice has been shown to enhance motor skill learning. Benefits of practice variability have been attributed to motor schema formation (variable versus constant practice), or more effortful information processing (random versus blocked practice). We hypothesized that, among other mechanisms, greater practice variability might promote an external focus of attention on the intended movement effect, while less variability would be more conducive to a less effective internal focus on body movements. In Experiment 1, the learning of a throwing task was enhanced by variable versus constant practice, and variable group participants reported focusing more on the distance to the target (external focus), while constant group participants focused more on their posture (internal focus). In Experiment 2, golf putting was learned more effectively with a random compared with a blocked practice schedule. Furthermore, random group learners reported using a more effective distal external focus (i.e., distance to the target) to a greater extent, whereas blocked group participants used a less effective proximal focus (i.e., putter) more often. While attentional focus was assessed through questionnaires in the first two experiments, learners in Experiment 3 were asked to report their current attentional focus at any time during practice. Again, the learning of a throwing task was more effective after random relative to blocked practice. Also, random practice learners reported using more external focus cues, while in blocked practice participants used more internal focus cues. The findings suggest that the attentional foci induced by different practice schedules might be at least partially responsible for the learning differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-319
Number of pages13
JournalHuman Movement Science
StatePublished - Apr 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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