What is it about?

Does it matter what a young soccer player, an elite musician, or someone recovering from a stroke concentrates on when they perform a movement skill? For more than 20 years, scientists have compared how an external attentional focus on the intended outcome of the movement affects performance and learning relative to focusing attention on body movements (internal focus). We reviewed many available studies, which included thousands of participants who performed a wide variety of motor skills. Our meta-analyses showed that adopting an external focus is clearly superior to an internal focus, regardless of age, (dis)ability, and level of expertise. Not only does an external focus enhance the learning of motor skills, it also benefits performance immediately, particular if the focus is farther away from the body. By producing more efficient neuromuscular processing than an internal focus, an external focus results in better movement accuracy, improved balance, greater force production, and superior movement form.

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Why is it important?

Anyone performing (e.g., athletes, musicians, surgeons) or teaching motor skills (e.g., coaches, physical therapists, music teachers, or parents) should be aware of the influences of attentional focus. Directing attention to the task goal or intended movement effect provides clear advantages compared with focusing on body movements. Maintaining an external focus of attention even in challenging situations will facilitate optimal performance.

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This page is a summary of: Superiority of external attentional focus for motor performance and learning: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses., Psychological Bulletin, June 2021, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/bul0000335.
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