Attention, Gaze, Response Programming: Examining the Cognitive Mechanisms Underpinning the Quiet Eye
Walters-Symons, Rosanna Mary
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The quiet eye (QE) - the final fixation or tracking gaze on a specific location that has an onset prior to the start of a final, critical movement (Vickers, 2007) - has emerged as a key predictor of proficient performance in targeting and interceptive tasks over the last 20 years. Since Vickers’ seminal study in golf putting, the QE has been examined in over 28 different motor tasks, with a longer QE duration often referred to as a characteristic of superior performance and a measure of optimal visuo-motor control. However, the underpinnings of QE are not fully understood, with many researchers advocating the need to better identify and understand the mechanisms that underlie the QE (Williams, 2016; Gonzalez et al., 2015). Consequently, the overriding goal of this thesis was to examine the function of the QE duration, what it represents and how it exerts an influence, by exploring the attentional underpinnings of the QE and the prominent cognitive mechanism of response programming. In study 1 (chapter 4), the manipulation of different parameters of golf putting and the examination of different response programming functions (pre-programming vs online control) during the QE enabled me to build on previous explorations of the response programming function by investigating QE’s response to specific iterations of increased task demands. Experienced golfers revealed that longer QE durations were found for more complex iterations of the task and more sensitive analyses of the QE proportions suggest that the early QE (prior to movement initiation) is closely related to force production and impact quality. While the increases in QE were not functional in terms of supporting improved performance, the longer QE durations may have had a positive, insulating effect. In study 2 (chapter 5), a re-examination of Vickers’ seminal work in golf putting was performed, taking into account an error recovery perspective. This 3 explored the influence of trial-to-trial dependence on the functionality of the QE duration and the possible compensatory mechanism that assists in the re-parameterisation of putting mechanics following an unsuccessful trial. The results reveal that experienced golfers had consistently longer QE durations than novices but there was no difference in QE between randomly chosen hits and misses. However, QE durations were significantly longer on hits following a miss, reflecting a potential error recovery mechanism. Importantly, QE durations were significantly lower on misses following a miss, suggesting that motivation moderates the adoption of a compensatory longer QE strategy. These findings indicate that the QE is influenced by the allocation of attentional effort. To explore this notion further, in study 3 (chapter 6), two experiments were undertaken. Experiment 1 examined the QE’s response to attentional effort that is activated via goal motivation and experiment 2 examined the effect of disrupting the allocation of attentional effort on the QE using a dual-task paradigm. The early proportion of the QE was sensitive to motivation, indicating that the QE is not purely determined by the demands of the task and golfers have the ability to apply attentional effort, and therefore QE, strategically (exp. 1). The results also support the assumption that QE reflects overt attentional control but question the sensitivity of QE to detect movements in the locus of attentional effort that does not activate shifts in gaze (covert attention) (exp. 2). The results in this thesis conclude that, while significant contributions to understanding what the QE represents and how it may exert its influence are made, there still remains unanswered questions and tensions that require exploration.
Walters-Symons, R. M., Wilson, M. R., & Vine, S. J. (2017). The Quiet Eye supports error recovery in golf putting. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 31, 21-27.
PhD in Sport and Health Sciences