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Concept: Preparation for and performance of motor skills are influenced by our limited capacity to select and attend to information.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define the term attention as it relates to the performance of motor skills

  • Discuss the concept of attention capacity, and identify the similarities and differences between fixed and flexible central-resource theories of attention capacity

  • Describe Kahneman's model of attention as it relates to a motor skill performance situation

  • Describe the differences between central- and multiple-resource theories of attention capacity

  • Discuss dual-task techniques that researchers use to assess the attention demands of performing a motor skill

  • Explain the different types of attentional focus a person can employ when performing a motor skill

  • Define visual selective attention and describe how it relates to attention-capacity limits and to the performance of a motor skill

  • Discuss how skilled performers engage in visual search as they perform open and closed motor skills


When you are driving your car on an open highway that has little traffic, it is relatively easy for you to carry on a conversation with a passenger in the car or on a cell phone (although it is illegal in many states in the United States and countries) at the same time. But what happens when the highway you are driving on becomes congested with other traffic? Isn't it difficult to carry on a conversation with your passenger or on your phone while driving under these conditions?

Consider some other examples in which doing more than one activity at a time may or may not be a problem. A skilled typist can easily carry on a conversation with someone while continuing to type—but a beginner cannot. A child learning to dribble a ball has difficulty dribbling and running at the same time, whereas a skilled basketball player does these two activities and more at the same time. A physical therapy patient tells the therapist not to talk to her while she is trying to walk down a set of stairs.

These examples raise an important human performance and learning question: Why is it easy to do more than one thing at the same time in one situation, but difficult to do these same things simultaneously in another situation? The answer to this question comes from the study of attention as it relates to the performance of multiple activities at the same time.

Another aspect of attention occurs when you need to visually select and attend to specific features of the environmental context before actually carrying out an action. For example, when you reach for a cup to drink the coffee in it, you visually note where the cup is and how full it is before you reach to pick it up. When you put your door key into the keyhole, you first look to see exactly ...

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