Cognitive Reference Frames of Complex Movements

2010-10 till 2012-10
Research Areas: 

Little is known about the cognitive background of unconscious visuomotor control of complex sport movements. Therefore, we investigated whether novices and athletes of the high jump movement are able to identify visually presented body postures of the high jump unconsciously. A priming experiment with not consciously perceivable stimuli of a high jump was designed to determine whether subliminal priming of movement phases (an approach or a flight phase) or temporal order (i.e. natural vs. reversed movement order) affects target processing.


Methods and Research Questions: 

Complex actions need to be adjusted during movement execution, as not all motor commands can be determined before movement initiation (storage problem, Schmidt 1975). Importantly, movement adjustments might occur without conscious perception of relevant stimuli (e.g. Weiskrantz 1986; Perenin and Jeannerod 1975, Johnson and Haggard 2005; Chua and Enns 2005).

To our knowledge, there is little evidence of whether or not unconscious processing of movement-related visual information is influenced by the availability of specific motor representations (e.g. for the high jump movement). Some work has been devoted to unconsciously controlled decision making in sports (Kibele 2006), which is particularly relevant for fast motor reactions. In contrast, longer lasting and precise, to-be produced actions highly depend on adjustments made during movement execution. These adjustments require action feedback about produced sub-goals of the movement. Think for example of the approach in a high jump, where the length of successive steps needs to be evaluated and adjusted in order to reach the optimal take off. Even though unconscious processing is theoretically (Goodale and Milner 1992; Milner and Goodale 1995) and empirically (e. g. Dehaene et al. 1998; Eimer and Schlaghecken 1998) grounded, different mechanisms that may mediate this process are still widely discussed in cognitive psychology (e. g. Dehaene et al. 1998; Elsner et al. 2008; Kunde et al. 2003). Therefore, the question was raised whether or not the availability of motor representations influence unconscious visual perception of high jump pictures.

A subliminal response-priming experiment with photographical stimulus material taken from the high jump movement was conducted (Fosbury Flop). Participants had to classify the target pictures as depicting the approach or the flight phase of a high jump movement. Before the target appeared, a masked (not consciously perceivable) prime picture was presented, which could either depict a body posture from the approach or from the flight phase. It was expected that prime pictures would activate the motor response of their movement phases (see Dehaene et al. 1998), and thus influence the response to the target stimulus. This should produce a response-congruency effect, that is, faster responses when prime and target are from the same movement phase (response-congruent condition) than when they are from different movement phases (response-incongruent condition). As predicting future aspects of a movement may also play a critical role in movement perception, we hypothesised that responses would be facilitated when the target depicts a future segment of the movement compared to the prime. Such an effect may occur for prime-target pairs from different movement phases (response-incongruent condition) and for prime-target pairs from the same movement phase (response-congruent condition).



Athletes as well as novices have a preferred temporal orientation of the high jump movement sequence. However, novices have only coarse-grained movement knowledge for a rough movement prediction (between movement phases). This rough movement prediction might be adequate when observing moving objects, namely to extrapolate the trajectory of a moving object to overcome the neuronal delay within the visual system (50-100 ms; cf. De Valois and De Valois 1991). However, for efficient movement control, a more precise anticipation is needed. We regard the anticipation of future states of our own body movements as anticipation of to-be-produced perceptual effects (the goal or sub-goals of the action and its consequences on the organism; ideomotor hypothesis; Greenwald, 1970). As these perceptual effects allow the online control of movement execution, movement control should be more efficient if representation and related effect anticipation is more precise Thus, athletes with domain-specific motor expertise are better in movement prediction and can make more evaluative use of the perceptual action feedback (Kunde et al. 2004; Schack 2004).