Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Free-Throw Shooting during Dual-Task Performance: Implications for Attentional Demand and Performance

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Free-Throw Shooting during Dual-Task Performance: Implications for Attentional Demand and Performance

Article excerpt

In this study, the dual-task paradigm was used to determine peak attentional demand during the free-throw process. Thirty participants completed 40 free-throw trials. The free throw was the primary task, but participants also verbally responded to a tone administered at one of four probe positions (PP). Repeated measures analysis of variance showed no significant difference in free-throw performance across PPs, indicating participants were able to keep the free throw as the primary task. Repeated measures analysis of response time (RT) showed significant differences, with RT at PP1 (preshot routine) and PP2 (first upward motion of the ball) significantly higher than baseline RT. These results suggest that PP1 requires the greatest attentional demand, followed by PP2.

Key words: basketball, capacity theory, dual-task paradigm, reaction time


Limits in attentional capabilities become readily apparent when attempting to perform multiple tasks at the same time, such as making business calls while driving or balance the checkbook while cooking dinner. No matter how programmed the tasks are when performed individually, interference affects the one, if not both, actions when done simultaneously. The division of attention among multiple streams of incoming information is a classic psychological dilemma. William James (1890) defined attention as "The taking possession of mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others..." (pp. 403-404). The definition suggests that attention is a constant battle of attending to the appropriate information at the appropriate times. James also implied that drawing attention from certain stimuli to attend to others is not passive but requires intention and conscious effort.

Research on observations of dual-task performance led to two predictions: (a) interference occurs even when the two activities do not share common mechanisms; and (b) the extent of interference depends in part on the attentional load each activity imposes (Kahneman, 1973). Therefore, performance on any task done concurrently with another is likely to be interrupted by capacity interference, and the amount of attention the task requires determines the extent of interference. These predictions are based on capacity theory, which states that attentional capacity is limited and interference occurs when the demands of two activities exceed available capacity (Kahneman, 1973). Posner and Rossman (1965) demonstrated the limits in attentional capacity when they asked participants to retain three letters for a brief interval during which they engaged in mental tasks of varied complexity. Retention decreased with increasing difficulty of the secondary task, demonstrating that an increase in attention to one task left less attention available for a second task.

While capacity theory states that attention can be allocated between two tasks with considerable freedom, performance falters or fails when the attention supply does not meet the demands. In addition, the theory holds that different tasks require varying amounts of attention. Therefore, an "easy" task leaves attentional resources available to support a secondary task. However, a "difficult" task requires greater attention, leaving fewer resources for secondary task performance (Styles, 2006).

The dual-task paradigm was developed to determine task difficulty and, therefore, the amount of attention devoted to a particular task at any given time (James, 1890). It is used to test attentional capacity theories and is based on the premise that (a) different tasks demand varying degrees of processing and (b) simultaneous task performance can overload the limited capacity system (Kahneman, 1973). In a dual-task setup, participants are asked to complete a primary task alone and then concurrently with a secondary task. …

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