Does bodily awareness interfere with highly skilled movement?

Abstract

It is widely thought that focusing on highly skilled movements while performing them hinders their execution. Once you have developed the ability to tee off in golf, play an arpeggio on the piano, or perform a pirouette in ballet, attention to what your body is doing is thought to lead to inaccuracies, blunders, and sometimes even utter paralysis. Here I re-examine this view and argue that it lacks support when taken as a general thesis. Although bodily awareness may often interfere with well-developed rote skills, like climbing stairs, I suggest that it is typically not detrimental to the skills of expert athletes, performing artists, and other individuals who endeavor to achieve excellence. Along the way, I present a critical analysis of some philosophical theories and behavioral studies on the relationship between attention and bodily movement, an explanation of why attention may be beneficial at the highest level of performance and an error theory that explains why many have thought the contrary. Though tentative, I present my view as a challenge to the widespread starting assumption in research on highly skilled movement that at the pinnacle of skill attention to one's movement is detrimental

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2010-05-07

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Author's Profile

Barbara Gail Montero
CUNY Graduate Center

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