Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Haste Does Not Always Make Waste: Expertise, Direction of Attention, and Speed versus Accuracy in Performing Sensorimotor Skills

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Haste Does Not Always Make Waste: Expertise, Direction of Attention, and Speed versus Accuracy in Performing Sensorimotor Skills

Article excerpt

In two experiments, we examined the attentional mechanisms governing sensorimotor skill execution across levels of expertise. In Experiment 1, novice and expert golfers took a series of putts under dual-task conditions designed to distract attention from putting and under skill-focused conditions that prompted attention to step-by-step performance. Novices performed better under skill-focused than under dual-task conditions. Experts showed the opposite pattern. In Experiment 2, novice and expert golfers putted under instructions that emphasized either putting accuracy or speed-the latter intended to reduce the time available to monitor and explicitly adjust execution parameters. Novices putted better under accuracy instructions. Experts were more accurate under speed instructions. In agreement with theories of skill acquisition and automaticity, novice performance is enhanced by conditions that allow for on-line attentional monitoring (e.g., skill-focused or accuracy instructions) in comparison with conditions that prevent explicit attentional control of skill execution (e.g., dual-task or speed constraints). In contrast, the proceduralized skill of experts benefits from environments that limit, rather than encourage, attention to execution.

Theories of skill acquisition and automaticity suggest that novice performance is supported by unintegrated task control structures held in working memory and attended in step-by-step fashion. Expert performance is thought to occur more automatically, largely controlled by procedures that run outside of working memory during execution (Anderson, 1993; Beilock & Carr, 2001; Fitts & Posner, 1967; Keele & Summers, 1976). These differences in attentional demands of performance readily lead to predictions concerning how situations that alter the deployment of cognitive resources-either by drawing attention toward execution or by taking attention away-will affect performance across skill levels.

In two experiments, we manipulated deployment of attentional resources during on-line golf putting in an attempt to shed light on differences in control structures governing novice and expert sensorimotor skill execution. In Experiment 1, novice and expert golfers performed putts under skill-focused conditions intended to direct attention toward a component process of performance and also under dual-task conditions designed to draw attention away from execution via secondary task demands. If novices dedicate attention to controlling real-time execution, performance should be worse under dual-task than under skill-focused conditions, since nontask-related stimuli in the dual-task condition should occupy resources needed for primary skill execution (Nissen & Bullemer, 1987). Once a skill becomes well learned, however, attention should not be needed for step-by-step execution. Experts, then, may not be negatively affected by secondary task constraints (Allport, Antonis, & Reynolds, 1972). Yet attention prompted toward a component process of well-learned performance may disrupt automated processes that normally run as uninterrupted routines.

In Experiment 1, we found differences in the effect of attention as a function of skill level. Novice putting was more accurate under skill-focused than under dual-task attention conditions, but experts showed the opposite pattern. In Experiment 2, we pursued an implication of this conclusion-that any environment whose characteristics work to alter the attentional resources available for on-line execution may have different effects on performance as a function of expertise. For example, because attention takes time to deploy (Posner & Snyder, 1975; Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977), time constraints on performance may harm the execution of poorly learned skills by reducing the ability of novices to monitor and adjust task parameters, in relation to performance environments where time constraints are not an issue. However, the same temporal demands may help well-practiced execution if they limit attention to task control and guidance. …

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