How Do Batters Use Visual, Auditory, and Tactile Information about the Success of a Baseball Swing?

By Gray, Rob | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, September 2009 | Go to article overview

How Do Batters Use Visual, Auditory, and Tactile Information about the Success of a Baseball Swing?


Gray, Rob, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Bat/ball contact produces visual (the ball leaving the bat), auditory (the "crack" of the bat), and tactile (bat vibration) feedback about the success of the swing. We used a batting simulation to investigate how college baseball players use visual, tactile, and auditory feedback. In Experiment i, swing accuracy (i.e., the lateral separation between the point of contact and "sweet spot") was compared for no feedback (N), visual alone, auditory alone, and tactile alone. Swings were more accurate for all single-modality combinations as compared to no feedback, and visual produced the greatest accuracy. In Experiment 2, the congruency between visual, tactile, and auditory was varied so that in some trials, the different modalities indicated that the simulated ball contacted the bat at different points. Results indicated that batters combined information but gave more weight to visual. Batting training manuals, which typically only discuss visual cues, should emphasize the importance of auditory and tactile feedback in baseball batting.

Key words: auditory cues, visual cues, tactile cues, motor control

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When performing the complex motor actions involved in sports, participants are exposed to multisensory information. For example, when a baseball batter contacts the ball with a swing, visual, auditory, and tactile feedback provide a measure of its success. When a gymnast executes a somersault visual, proprioceptive and vestibular information is available to control the movement. Do athletes use multisensory information when performing an action? On one hand, we might expect sensory information other than vision to play only a minor role in sports since many of the actions are visually dominated (Posner, Nissen & Klien, 1976). Yet, research has shown that the information provided by senses other than vision can play an important role in many complex motor actions (e.g., Jordan, 1972; reviewed in Gray, 2008). In the present study we investigated the use of multisensory information in baseball using a batting simulation (Gray, 2002a). In particular, we attempted to determine whether players use all of the available sensory feedback (i.e., visual, auditory, and tactile) and if so, how they combine this information.

Visual Information

Two sources of visual information potentially can measure the success of a baseball swing: (a) the location at which the ball contacts the bat, and (b) the trajectory (speed and direction) of the ball leaving the bat. Research on eye movements suggests that because the ball is so far away from the fovea at the point of contact with the bat, batters most likely could not perceive this information accurately enough to have anyvalue (Bahill & LaRitz, 1984). Most batters attempt to follow the flight of the ball as it is released from the pitcher's hand using smooth-pursuit eye movements; these movements are not fast enough to follow a typical pitch all the way to the plate. The fastest recorded smooth-pursuit eye movements are on the order of 100 [degrees]/s, whereas a 100-mph pitch travels at roughly 500 [degrees]/s (Watts & Bahill, 1991). However, it may be possible for expert batters to accurately judge the point of contact. Unlike the novices in Bahill and LaRitz's (1984) study, in their studies a former professional baseball player followed the ball for a short time with a smooth-pursuit eye movement and then generated a saccadic eye movement to the predicted location in space of bat/ball contact. If this strategy is used and the prediction is accurate then the ball may be foveated at the instant of contact. However, it is not clear how often batters actually use this strategy and, in many cases, batters' predictions about the bali's location are incorrect, resulting in perceptual illusions such as the rising fastball (McBeath, 1990; Bahill & Karnavas, 1993). Furthermore, even if the point of bat/ball contact was foveated, its location would not be judged with a high degree of accuracy since the bat and ball are moving at high speeds and the contact duration is less than 1 ms (Watts & Bahill, 1991). …

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