Focus of attention and anxiety’s respective effect on motor control

Electronic versions


  • Robin Owen

    Research areas

  • Motor control, Anxiety, Reinvestment, Pressure, Ego-depletion, Focus of attention, Offline Planning, Online Correction, Self-control, PhD, School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences


This body of work investigated the (separate) effects of focus of attention and cognitive anxiety on offline planning and online correction motor control mechanisms. We assessed planning and correction processes via variability profiles of computer-based target-directed aiming movements, captured on either a two-dimensional tablet or three-dimensional Vicon motion capture system. Experimental Chapter 1 investigated heightened anxiety’s effect on offline movement planning and online movement correction using trajectory variability and cursor perturbations to directly test whether strategic trade-offs reduce online corrections under heightened anxiety. This effort was complemented by attempts to tease apart the therein roles of conscious processing (i.e., reinvestment) and distraction (i.e., cognitive overload) by measuring trait conscious processing propensity and manipulating cognitive resources. Results suggested online corrections are reduced under heightened anxiety when the need for correction is low (i.e., in normal trials) but increased if the need for correction is great (i.e., in perturbation trials). High reinvestment propensity positively predicted online-to-offline strategy shifts in normal trials, and depleted cognitive resources reduced online corrections in normal and perturbation trials. Experimental Chapter 2 investigated the effect of heightened anxiety on offline planning and online control when vision was unavailable and proprioception was the sole source of relevant afferent information. Results revealed no significant differences in the efficacy nor prominence of offline planning and online correction. It was concluded that the distraction and conscious processing mechanisms associated with heightened anxiety may not impair the planning and correction of movements when based primarily on proprioceptive afferent information. Experimental Chapter 3 explored a different research domain, by investigating the effect of internal (i.e., body) and external (i.e., environmental movement effect) foci of attention on offline movement planning and online movement correction. Proprioceptive salience was manipulated across this chapter’s experiments to also test whether the proposals of the constrained action hypothesis hold true when only an internal focus of attention was congruent with task-relevant afferent feedback. Results suggested that an internal focus of attention is optimal for outcome performance when congruent with afferent proprioceptive information, and that these effects originate within offline movement planning. Overall, the present thesis provides substantial clarification concerning offline and online motor control’s role in outcome performance-centric anxiety and focus of attention literature.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date3 Aug 2020