2023 Undergraduate Research Showcase


Swing and Sink: Investigating the Relationship Between Self-Talk and Attentional Focus in Motor Performance at the Behavioral and Psychophysiological Levels

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Mariane Bacelar


Self-talk is a psychological strategy that athletes can use to help improve their motor performance. It consists of cues spoken either out loud or silently to oneself that can be instructional (e.g., “swing back”) or motivational (e.g., “you can do it”) in nature. Instructional self-talk is a type of self-talk that allows the athlete to use technical, direction-related cues to guide movements. Overall, studies on the topic support the beneficial effect of instructional self-talk on sport performance when compared to no self-talk. Notably, most of this research combines different types of instructional self-talk cues, which can either direct the athletes’ attention to the movement (“arms back”, internal focus) or to the outcome of the movement (“swing and sink”, external focus). Previous studies in the motor learning domain have shown that adopting an external focus of attention can lead to improved performance while an internal focus of attention can be detrimental to motor performance. Yet, the existing self-talk literature has not investigated how different self-talk cues affect motor performance. The present study fills the knowledge gap by comparing the effect of external instructional self-talk and internal instructional self-talk on motor performance in a golf-putting task. Specifically, after the pre-test, participants will be randomly assigned to one of three groups: external instructional self-talk, internal instructional self-talk, and control (unrelated self-talk). Next, participants will perform 8 blocks of 10 trials of the golf putting task using their assigned instructional or unrelated self-talk cue. Participants will be informed that the goal of the putting task is to make the ball stop as close to the center of the target as possible. Bivariate variable error and radial error will be used as a measure of participants’ precision and accuracy, respectively. We will also record participants’ brain activity throughout the experiment to investigate the psychophysiological mechanisms underlying self-talk. We predict that participants assigned to the external instructional self-talk group will show better performance than both the internal instructional self-talk and control groups. To our knowledge, this will be the first study to investigate the relationship between self-talk and attentional focus as well as the mechanisms underlying this interaction. We hope that our findings will encourage researchers to work beyond the realm of existing literature and continue to make discoveries regarding how self-talk can play a beneficial role in motor performance.

This document is currently not available here.