The effect of attentional focus on running performance.

 

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION & LITERATURE REVIEW

  1. Attentional focus


Running is the choice activity for many individuals seeking improved health and physical fitness.  Over time there has been a marked increase in the number of individuals who take part in running; an example of this is, the growth the London Marathon.  The first London Marathon (1981) had 6,747 entrants; the most recent London Marathon (April 2012) saw 35,970 starters took part in the 26.2 mile race (Lewis, 2012).  Paralleling this flux in running, there has been increased interest into the ‘mind of the runner’ and the cognitive strategies implemented whilst running within sports psychology literature.  

Sports psychologists are now aware that a performer’s focus of attention has a significant effect on learning, retention and performance of a number of motor skills (Bell & Hardy, 2009; Castaneda & Gray, 2007; Perkins - Ceccato, Passmore, & Lee, 2003; Vine & Wilson, 2010; Wulf, McNevin, & Shea, 2001).  Attentional focus has been identified as the influence of instructions to consciously attend to specific information during the production of an action (Perkins- Ceccato et al., 2003).  

Attentional focus encompasses two large strands of research relating to sports and exercise performance; these are categorised into an internal/external and associative/dissociative focus of attention.  A number of researches have attempted to define these terms whilst relating them to physical effort and task performance.  Early work relating to association and dissociation was investigated in a landmark study by Morgan and Pollock (1977); stating that association was regarded as an internal attentional style.  Whereby athletes seek to monitor sensory input and adjust their effort accordingly (e.g. via monitoring of heart rate (HR) or net pain etc.)  Dissociation referred to any thought that served to divert attention away from internal sensations and toward external distracting stimulation (Morgan & Pollock, 1977).  These definitions were classed as too simplistic and could not account for the full spectrum of cognitions that can occur during a bout of running (Stevinson & Biddle, 1999).  Additional research stated that there must be either a relevance or direction to cognitions; this evidence was broadly termed as internal and external foci of attention.  Internal being defined as; focusing on one’s body movements during the execution of a motor skill (Vance, Wulf, McNevin, Mercer, & Tollner, 2004) and an external focus; conceptualised as attention being directed to an external stimuli and the effect those body movements have on the environment (Wulf et al., 2001).  

With regards to the psychological aspects of running and performance; attentional focus evidence has been limited due to a fundamental problem.  The dispute comes down to synthesizing the results of research in this area; as there is a lack of agreement regarding the parameters of the constructs and a lack of consistency in the terminology used to label them.  Several researchers have turned to an information–processing capacity when discussing the underlying devices of attentional focus.  The specific mechanisms for the effects of attention on skilled performers are unknown; but it has been theorised that the Constrained Action Hypothesis (CAH) (Wulf, 2007) attempts to explain any changes that take place.  The CAH builds on Prinz’s common–coding theory (Prinz, 1997) and states that autonomic processes (such as running) will be disrupted by conscious control (an internal focus), hence causing deterioration in performance, duration and muscle efficiency (Wulf, 2007).  Support for this theory comes from a number of studies with varied sporting environments (Bell & Hardy, 2009; Castaneda & Gray, 2007; McNevin, Shea & Wulf, 2003; Wulf et al., 2001).  Running is a highly autonomous action and adaptation to the physiological and psychological changes that ensue does not call for conscious monitoring as the body can naturally self-organise (e.g. regulate oxygen consumption, HR, running action etc.).  Therefore the instruction given to novice runners to concentrate on breathing is highly detrimental as one can assume this will constrain the autonomic motor systems thus increasing HR, and stress placed on the body.  Investigations by Wulf et al. (2001) using a secondary task of probe reaction times to ascertain the relative automaticity of processes involved when balancing on a stabilometer (balance is a very autonomous skill comparable to running) illustrated that an external focus of attention is superior to internal as results confirmed smaller balance errors and faster probe reaction times.  In a recent study by Vance et al. (2004) using physiological parameters; electromyography (EMG) and HR to determine differences in attentional foci during a bicep curl; demonstrated reduced EMG signals and HR in the external foci group.  Thus supporting the consensus that an external focus of attention is more desirable.  Thus on a theoretical level it can be assumed that an external focus of attention leads to improved performance illustrated through a variety of environments and tasks (Gill & Strom, 1985; Morgan, Horstman, Cymerman & Stokes, 1983; Vance et al., 2004).

With regards to research at high intensities; studies have consistently demonstrated an intensity-allocation shift.  This has been termed Tenenbaum’s Social Cognitive Model (2001) postulating the relationship between physical effort and attention allocation, stating that, above a given effort threshold physiological cues dominate attention focus (Tenenbaum, 2001).   This theory has been replicated in a number of studies from rowing (Tenenbaum & Connolly, 2008) to cycling (Stanley, Pargman & Tenenbaum, 2007) and handgrip tasks (Hutchinson & Tenenbaum, 2007) thus presenting that an associative focus of attention comes ‘naturally’ at high intensities.  

After reviewing the literature relating to running it is clear that the shift to associative focus of attention is evident at varying speeds, distances and durations.  Masters and Ogles (1998) further developed the work of Morgan and Pollock (1977) testing elite marathon runners to establish where attention was focused to deal with the taxing demands of marathon competition/training.  The findings from this study state that attention during competition is largely associative.  These findings contradict those in relation to motor control; the reasoning for this has been largely attributed to the monitoring and/or adjusting to body signals, to maintain endurance exercise; a factor that may not be present in the current study as a shorter more intense duration is implemented. 

Assessing the shift of focus of attention at high intensities with regards to running has constantly implemented the subjective measure of RPE.  The research on the optimal focus of attention with regards to running and RPE and has been inconsistent.  Some studies show higher RPE with an associative focus (Baden, McLean, Tucker, Noakes, & St Clair, 2005; Tammen, 1996; Schomer & Connolly, 2002; Fillingim & Fine, 1986). Other studies show higher RPE with a dissociative focus (Delignières & Brisswalter, 1994; Russell & Weeks, 1994), and other studies show no difference (Weinberg, Smith, Jackson, & Gould, 1984; Harte & Eifert , 1995; Couture, Jerome, & Tihanyi, 1999).  These differing results are due to inconsistent measures of performance, small sample size, conflicting foci of attention and diverse selection of participants.  In theory the use of a dissociative focus of attention should be implemented as a pain – blocking tool; thus allowing performers to have some relief from physically strenuous tasks and thus lessening the RPE hence being able to work at a higher intensities.   

A flaw with a large amount of attentional focus experimentation is that cognitions are internal to the participant and not directly observable to others (Masters & Ogles, 1998).  Additionally, due to participants being engaged in physical activity or a task, this may cause then to stray away from the required attentional focus condition (Hutchinson & Tenenbaum, 2007).   Although the differing definitions of attentional control that are implemented within the laboratory setting are rarely separated from each other in a real world setting (Lohse & Sherwood, 2011).  

  1. Rationale 


The aim of the current project is to establish whether experimentally manipulating an individual’s focus of attention, will have a significant effect on running performance.  The CAH states that an internal focus of attention negatively affects autonomous skills, and Tenenbaum’s social cognitive model (2001) states that as intensity increases attention shifts from a dissociative to an associative focus of attention.  Additionally researchers have suggested further research related to running for shorter durations at higher intensities should be considered (Schüker, Hagemann, Strauss, & Völker, 2009).  Physiological assessment was suggested as an objective measure that cannot be affected by the confounding variable of motivation (Schüker et al., 2009) and as previously stated the use of physiological factors is an improved measure of tasks that do not involve a far aiming skill.  Therefore HR will be used, along with the subjective measure of RPE  (Borg, 1998) to assess whether physiological changes are similar to perceived effort.  Total distance and average speed will also be measured as is defining performance parameters since previous research has only looked at performance on a one dimensional level (Bell & Hardy, 2009; Stanley et al., 2007).

  1. Hypothesis 


Based on this previous research it was hypothesised that during a high intensity running condition (70 – 90% HR) an external dissociative focus of attention will lead to reduced HR and RPE, with greater running distance and average speeds compared with an internal or external associative.

 

CHAPTER 2: METHODOLOGY

2.1 Participants


Participants (N = 14) were undergraduate students (14 females) from the University of Exeter running club, aged 18 -22 (M =20.6 years, SD ± 1.08 years), mean height of 166.9cm (SD ± 4.20cm), mean weight of 61kg (SD ± 5.39kg) with a mean weekly running distance of 22.4km (SD ± 3.13).  Participants were comprised of experienced runners due to the correlated relationship between skill level and attentional focus (Castaneda & Gray, 2007).  Studies have suggested that skills which are proceduralized (i.e. running) are more susceptible to performance decrements due to an internal focus (Beilock & Carr, 2001).  Participants were Caucasian, no previous chronic running injuries; with a running history of >1 year (M = 3.4 years, SD ± 2.6 years).  Climatic conditions were recorded during testing with mean temperature 23°C (SD ± 0.3°C).  Participants were informed of experimental procedures and the possible risks involved (see appendix A) before providing written ethical consent (see appendix B) and completing a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR – Q) (see appendix C).  Ethical approval was obtained from the Sport and Health Sciences Ethics Committee, University of Exeter (see appendix D).  All participants volunteered to take part in the study.

2.2 Experimental Design


The order of attentional focus was randomly sequenced and assigned between participants with six possible sequences of attentional conditions (internal, associative, dissociative vs. associative, dissociative, internal etc.) to control for the effects of learning.  Training effects were not a matter of contention, since all participants were regular runners.  No control group was used owing to the fact that findings have shown that participants perform similarly under internal focus and “normal” control conditions as people have a tendency to focus internally when confronted with a novel task (Wulf, 2007).

2.3 Dependent Measures


Performance: 

Performance was assessed in terms of average speed (km • h-1), HR (beats per minute (BPM)) and total running distance (km) during the 10 minute bout.  Along with an additional measure of (RPE) (Borg, 1998) to obtain a subjective assessment of participants exertion during the experiment.  

Ratings of Perceived Exertion.

The experimenter explained the Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE) (Borg, 1998) to the participants.  This scale begins at 6 “no exertion at all” and continues to 20 “maximal exertion” the odd numbers have verbal anchors (e.g. 11 fairly light, 13 somewhat hard, 15 hard, 17 very hard, 19 extremely hard, 20 maximal exertion).  This scale has been widely used in research, clinical and training settings, to provide a subjective supplement to physiological data recorded during exercise.  RPE scale has a strong between – trial correlation (r = 0.3 and r = .94) and HR (r = .08 – .09) correlation.  Furthermore there are consistently strong correlations between VO2 and RPE for high intensities (RPE ≥ 17) (r ≥ 0.92).  Therefore it is a useful instrument for the assessment of high intensity exercise.   The scale was briefly presented to the participants briefly to ensure no dissociation towards the scale.

Heart Rate.

Participants were asked to maintain a HR corresponding to 70% HRmax - 90%max calculated via maximal HR (HRmax = 206.9 – 0.67 *age (years)) (McArdle, Katch, & Katch, 2010) as these values are within the training sensitive zone that simulates aerobic response.  Monitored by a HR monitor (Polar HR monitor, (Polar Electro, Finland) providing an up – to –the – second HR of the participant via a digital watch face worn by the experimenter, to ensure the participant did not attend to HR during the testing.  

Speed and Distance.

Speed was recorded and considered important as it had an impact on the other variables (HR, RPE and distance) (Baden, Warwick-Evans, & Lakomy, 2004).  Speed was under the control of the participant in all attentional focus conditions.  Throughout the experiment gave constant verbal reminders that participants should be working at a high intensity.  During testing participants were not able to see the speed, time or distance they had run as this may have stood as a target for each progressive trial (Baden et al., 2005) along with a distraction to the designated focus of attention.  Distance covered was recorded at 60 second intervals; and the total distance was recorded at the end of each trial.  As distance is a measure of performance for the novice and elite runner, thus was considered an important variable for assessment.

Manipulation Check. 

Upon completion of each 10 minute bout participants completed a manipulation check (see appendix E) to assess their subjective assessment of the three attentional focus conditions.  This questionnaire included assessments of how effective the implemented attentional focus condition had been (%); how well participants tolerated the task and how much effort they invested in the task (Hutchinson & Tenenbaum, 2007; Schüker et al., 2009; Stanley et al., 2007)  rated on a 5 point Likert scale anchored by 0 (none/not at all) to 5 (very much/very well).  

2.4 Protocol and Apparatus


Participants attended the sessions individually to ensure no effects from social desirability, social apprehension and/or anxiety.  After reading the written information (appendix A) and signing the informed consent (appendix B), measurements were then carried out during four sessions separated by an interval of one day.  The first session served as a familiarisation with the apparatus and the testing environment.  This session involved anthropometric measurements of height, weight etc. along with completion of a questionnaire of requirements, (appendix F) ensuring participants were suitable to take part in the study.  This session gave the participants an opportunity to prepare before running under experimental conditions, attributed to the fact that not all participants were experienced with running on a treadmill within the laboratory environment.  During this session participants were instructed to perform a five minute warm up followed by five minutes running on a treadmill (Woodway PPS 55 Sport slat-belt treadmill, Woodway GmbH, Weil am Rhein, Germany) at the assigned intensity 70%HRmax – 90%HRmax (Baden et al., 2004; Hutchinson & Tenenbaum, 2007; Nabetani, Teru, Tokunaga, Mikio, 2001; Schüker et al., 2009; Stanley et al., 2007; Tenenbaum  & Connolly, 2008). 

During testing the experimenter directed the participants focus of attention to three different conditions.  These were internal, external dissociative and external associative.  Participants were instructed prior to testing on the attentional focus condition they were running under via verbal explanation (internal: During this 10 minute high intensity run please ensure you focus all of your attention on your breathing, and pay particular attention to breathing deeply in and out, whilst ensuring you are running to 70 – 90% of your maximum speed’.  External dissociative: During this 10 minute high intensity run please ensure you focus all your attention on your position on the treadmill with particular attention paid to maintaining a central position on the treadmill whilst ensuring you are running to 70 – 90% of your maximum speed’.  External associative: During this 10 minute high intensity run please ensure you focus all of your attention to the feelings in your legs, with particular attention to the burning sensation in your legs; whilst ensuring you are running to 70 – 90% of your maximum speed’).   

Throughout testing participants performed a five minute warm up and were instructed by the experimenter to approach but not eclipse the assigned HR.  After completion of the warm up the 10 minute testing bout promptly began.  Participants ran at an intensity of 70%HRmax – 90%HRmax at an incline of 1% to replicate an outdoor running condition (Jones AM, 1996) for 10 minutes; (Baden et al., 2004; Schüker et al., 2009; Stanley et al., 2007; Tenenbaum & Connolly, 2008) this is of adequate duration to elicit muscular fatigue, and aerobic response. The knowledge of performance duration has an influence on running economy (Baden et al., 2004) so participants were informed of the exact procedure before starting to run.   During the testing period standardized instructions were repeated every 60 seconds using a voice recording (Schüker et al., 2009).  The instructions were as follows: internal condition; ‘concentrate on breathing’ alternated with ‘pay attention to breathing in and out’; external dissociative ‘concentrate on your position on the treadmill’ alternated with ‘pay attention to maintaining a central position on the treadmill’ and external associative; ‘concentrate on the feelings in your legs’ alternated with ‘pay attention to the burning sensation in your legs’ (Schüker et al., 2009; Stanley et al., 2007).  Upon the completion of the testing period participants undertook a five minute cool down at a self-selected speed.  Followed by a debrief and completion of the manipulation check questionnaire 

2.5 Statistical Treatment


Descriptive statistics (M, SD) of all independent variable were computed along with a One-Way Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance (RM ANOVA); sphericity was checked, and consequently if not met a Greenhouse Geisser adjustment was employed.  Significant results (p <.05) found within the data lead to a Tukey HSD post hoc test using pairwise comparisons with Bonferroni adjustment of the alpha level to assess the interactions within data. Descriptive statistics of the manipulation check were also calculated; along with Cronbach's alpha (α) (Cronbach, 1951) to assess internal reliability of the questionnaires.  Values of >.7 indicated high internal reliability (Field, 2009). CHAPTER 3: RESULTS


All data from each participant collected during testing was entered into the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) these data were then analysed and the results are shown below: 


Table 2: Mean and Standard error of the mean of RPE, Speed, HR and total distance covered in all conditions (N = 14)values based on RM ANOVA. 

 

Note. Values presented using units of RPE (6 – 20), speed (km • h-1-1), HR (BPM) and distance (km).

*Significant interaction (p <.05) between the variables in the three conditions.  ** Highly significant (p < .01) interaction between the variables in the three conditions


The mean (± SD) performance measures of speed (km • h-1), distance (km), HR (BPM) and a subjective measure of RPE (6 – 20 Borg Scale) data (table 1) were analysed using RM ANOVA.  Due to the small sample size sphericity assumptions for RPE were not met, thus a Greenhouse Geisser adjustment was employed within the ANOVA.  RPE showed highly significant differences between the conditions (RPE = (FGG(1.408,18.302) = 7.552, p <.01).  A Tukey’s HSD modified for repeated measures post hoc test using pairwise comparisons with Bonferroni adjustment of the alpha level revealed significant main effect  for RPE between external associative (M = 16.1 SD ± 0.6) and external dissociative (M = 15.3 SD ± 0.8) conditions (p = .021).  Thus clearly showing participant’s perceived exertion was greater when using the external associative condition followed by the internal condition and lastly an external dissociative.  

This data revealed a significant main effect between speed and the attentional focus conditions (p = .047) with the assumption of sphericity being met (F (2,26) = 3.442, p <.05) .  Post – hoc examination of pairwise comparisons showed non -significant interactions between the conditions, but internal (M = 12.5km • h-1 SD ± 1.0km • h-1) and external associative (M = 12.0km • h-1 SD ± 0.8km • h-1) showed a slight interaction but was not statistically relevant (p = .056).  

Additionally HR was assessed and (F(2,26) = 4.144, p <.05) found to be significant (p = .027) although post – hoc analysis showed no significant interactions between the variables; whilst sizable differences must be noted between the internal (M = 170BPM SD ± 9.9BPM) and external dissociative (M = 158BPM SD ± 0.4BPM) conditions.  

Lastly total distance covered (F(2,26) = 13.258, p <.01) was found to be highly significant (p = .001) in 2 of the conditions.  The significant interactions between external dissociative (M = 2.10km SD ± 0.20km) and external associative (M = 1.97km SD ± 0.14km) conditions (p = .001); and internal (M = 2.03km SD ± 0.19km) and external dissociative (M = 2.10km SD ± 0.20km) conditions (p = .025). 

The conclusion to be drawn after analysis of these results is that an external dissociative focus of attention is superior to both an internal and external associative focus of attention as it resulted in lower ratings of RPE, and reduced HR readings with a greater total distance covered and higher speeds.

3.1 Manipulation Check

Scores for the manipulation check questionnaire were entered into SPSS.  Mean scores (± SD) (figure 1) were assessed; along with Cronbach's α (Cronbach, 1951) to determine the internal consistency and gauge the questionnaires reliability.  The manipulation check consisted of five questions found to be highly reliable (k = 5; a = .755) (Field, 2009).

 

Figure 1: Mean and standard error of the mean displaying percentage time participants were able to follow the indicated attentional focus condition (%).

From graphical illustration (figure 1) it can be clearly observed that participants indicated they complied with the instructed focus of attention.  An internal focus of attention (M = 93.14% SD ± 5.08%) was found to be easiest to attend to; followed by external dissociative (M = 84.64% SD ± 12.32%) and lastly external associative (M = 73.93% SD ± 17.89%).  Therefore it was concluded that the instructions given were adhered to and put into practice.  

3.2 Subjective Ratings


The mean subjective ratings of commitment to the task, effort invested in the task, and how well participants implemented the task (figure 2) were highly related within all attentional focus conditions.  The largest variance between the focus of attention was seen in the tolerance of effort associated with the task.  A noticeable difference was seen between external dissociative (M = 3.86 SD ± 0.73) and external associative (M = 2.71 SD ± 0.78 ); demonstrating that participants felt that they struggled with the effort associated when performing the task in the external associative condition.  

   

Figure 2: Subjective ratings of participant’s ability to tolerate the effort associated with the task, commitment to the task, effort levels and subject’s ability to implement the instructed condition.  Rated on a 5 point scale (ranging from 0 = none/not at all to 5 = very much/very well).CHAPTER 4: DISCUSSION


The aim of this study was to examine whether experimentally manipulating a runner’s focus of attention would have a significant effect on running performance.  Previous research has highlighted the benefits of focusing externally during the performance of motor skills (Castaneda & Gray, 2007; Jackson, Ashford, Norsw, 2006; McNevin et al., 2003; Perkins – Ceccato et al., 2003; Vance et al., 2004; Vine & Wilson 2010) along with coping strategies for increased pain tolerance (Hutchinson & Tenenbaum, 2007; Stevinson & Biddle, 1999).  The results of this study demonstrate that an external dissociative focus of attention has a significant and positive effect on running performance at high intensities (70% HRmax – 90%HRmax).  More specifically, external dissociative focus lowered RPE, HR along with increased speed and distance more so than either an internal or external associative condition; whilst running under identical physical intensity loads.  

The benefit of this study is to help to consolidate attentional control research (internal/external and associative/dissociative), to ascertain if focus of attention would improve performance in the environment that was tested and to see if the theoretical constructs could be implemented to a high intensity running condition.

4.1 Performance


RPE.

There was a significant main effect for RPE between external associative and external dissociative conditions (p < .01) (table 1); suggesting that participants found running “easier” in the external dissociative condition.  The explanation for this change in perceived exertion has been associated to Tenenbaum Social Cognitive Model (2001); that when under no attentional foci instruction this internal/associative focus of attention transpires naturally to runners (Hutchinson & Tenenbaum, 2007; Schüker et al., 2009; Stanley et al., 2007).  Therefore attending to any painful sensations (burning sensation in the legs) caused the participant to be more aware of them thus finding the task harder when implementing an associative focus of attention.  Consequently when under a dissociative focus of attention this draws attention away from the painful sensations (in effect becoming a pain blocking tool) giving the runner relief from the physical, and psychological stresses of high intensity running and in turn improving performance.  The findings relating to RPE support previous research (Baden et al., 2005; Fillingim & Fine, 1986; Schomer & Connolly, 2002; Tammen, 1996).  Although investigations on the optimal focus of attention with regards to running and RPE at a variety of intensities has shown inconsistent results.  The explanation for this was largely due to inconsistent measures of performance and varied foci of attention.  These problems were overcome within this study with the use of attentional foci that was implemented in studies with a similar constructs (Schüker et al., 2009; Stanley et al., 2007) along with using an assessment of performance on a multi – dimensional level (speed, HR and distance covered).  

Heart Rate.

HR data was found to be significant (p = .027), although with no interactions between the three conditions.  However substantial changes in mean HR between internal and external dissociative conditions suggest that autonomic control is disrupted by an internal focus of attention.  The external dissociative focus of attention enabled the autonomic process to continue without interference, and running performance was at its best; these results support the CAH (Wulf, 2007).  Moreover unless breathing is subjective to volitional control, it is a highly autonomous process and will adjust more efficiently to the needs of the body without conscious control.  Therefore, the explicit monitoring of breathing is a disruptive factor and running performance declines with a rise in HR; and in particular, fewer deeper breaths; stressing the respiratory muscles by performing an action they are unfamiliar with.  An observable change in running style and breathing rhythm was seen was seen during the internal condition; again affecting the otherwise autonomic process of running. Hence what is clear from this study is an internal focus of attention on breathing disrupts respiratory regulation; a finding that has been replicated (Shüker et al., 2009).  The conclusions regarding the disruption autonomic processes have to be treated with caution, since there was no direct assessment of autonomy (usually performed with a duel task paradigm), largely due to the nature of testing.  The performance of a secondary task would be somewhat difficult due to the testing environment and may have lead to participants straying away from the assigned focus of attention.   Additionally when relating HR to RPE, subjects found the internal conditions to be “harder” than the external dissociative condition; due to increased HR in the internal condition; and the increased RPE ratings were shown on a physiological level not just a subjective capacity.



Speed and Distance.

Speed is a common performance marker; and was found to be significant (p < .05) although post-hoc tests revealed a non -significant interaction between the conditions.  Internal and external associative foci of attention showed possible interactions but were not statistically relevant.  This further demonstrates that an external dissociative focus of attention is more desirable when running at high intensities as participants are able to perform at higher speed than previously thought due to reducing the attention allocation shift proposed by the Tenenbaum’s Social Cognitive Model (2001).  Speed has not traditionally been measured when looking at attentional focus; although in a study by Baden et al., (2005) there was no significant change in speed.  The increased speed in the external dissociative condition naturally lead to an increase in distance covered.  Comparing the three attentional focus conditions the data showed a highly significant interaction (p < .01) between an external dissociative condition and external associative conditions; and internal and external dissociative conditions.  Previous researchers had not implemented the direct measure of distance (Stanley et al., 2007). Thus a suggestion for future research would be to measure speed in differing intensities, environments and sporting tasks, to gather more reliable evidence regarding this variable.  The results obtained regarding speed and distance further show the benefits of an external dissociative focus of attention.

This study has shown the benefits of an external dissociative focus of attention to either an internal or external focus of attention is applicable to high intensity running performance.  These findings oppose the conclusions of Masters and Ogles (1998) potential reasons for this have been explained above although further explanation can be put forward.  Firstly with an external dissociative focus of attention there is more than simply being distracted away from the task/movement.  Thus attention must be focused on some effect or relevant dimension of the task such as direction and/or relevance.  The complete inclusion of these constructs was beyond the scope of this experiment.  Although some participants may have implemented a relevance/direction when in the dissociative focus of attention, whereas this may not have been the case in the internal or external associative condition.  Hence performance was improved by adhering to the attentional focus construct slightly differently.  This adaptation of focus of attention implies an increased competition between the cues; as cognitions about pain become more prevalent at higher intensities in the external associative condition; shown from the higher ratings of RPE. 

The use of a treadmill setting in this experiment reduces the external validity as this in not the environment that the majority of runners run in.  Previous studies have looked at RPE and satisfaction ratings in differing settings and found the recurring trend of increased RPE and reduced course satisfaction at varied intensities when running on a treadmill (LaCaille, Masters , & Heath, 2004; Harte & Eifert , 1995).  However the use of a treadmill in the study was necessary to ensure that performance data could be accurately recorded (distance, speed, HR and RPE).  However the treadmill environment is less engaging and may have required greater adjustment to external conditions and more focus on the ‘negative’ effects of high intensity running due to less external stimulation.  


4.2 Manipulation Check


Results indicated that the attentional focus instructions were adhered to throughout testing.  The subjective rating (figure 2) showed a change in perceived tolerance, this is highly related to the RPE scores, as participants found the perceived exertion to be greater they would also find tolerating the exercise harder.  The underlying reasons for have been previously explained.

4.3 Limitations


The results of this study must be interpreted in light of some of the limitations common in attentional focus research.  Firstly participants were aware that HR was being monitored throughout the testing bouts which may cause attention to shift to an internal focus of attention, as HR is a traditional internal/associative focus of attention.  Potentially leading to an overlap in the conditions.  Testing took place in a laboratory with less external stimulus to look at, possibly causing attention to become more internalised.  Also the required HR (70%HRmsx - 90%HRmsx) may have been too high for a shift in attention from associative (the usual trend seen at this intensity) (Tenenbaum, 2001; Tenenbaum et al., 2008) as the signals of pain from the Central Nervous System were too high to ignore.  Furthermore there are many potential focal points that could be utilised for attentional focus conditions, and the constructs utilised in this study may not be implemented as well by other runners, perhaps being detrimental to performance.  This study had a high internal reliability as a within group design was implemented with a counterbalanced order.  Although external validity was limited due to the laboratory setting, the assigned foci of attention and compulsory high intensity.

4.4 Implications


The implications of this study to the general population firstly changing the focus of attention may be a useful training tool for novice/beginners as the reduced RPE scores may allow beginners to reach intensities they thought they could not; by blocking out pain and not affecting the autonomous skill of running or the physiological components.  Plus the additional benefit of reducing stress on the body due to the demonstrated decreased HR in the external dissociative condition.  Furthermore the use of breathing as a coaching point fornovice runners could be put to rest, since results have demonstrated that it is detrimental to performance.  Lastly the general increase in performance (HR, speed, and total distance) that resulted from an external focus of attention would benefit all runners who train and run at a high intensity.  

4.5 Future Research


Future research should be directed towards a number of areas that would improve the research on this topic.  Firstly as observed during testing a marked change in running kinematics took place, thus an assessment of biomechanical kinematic data may help to explain why and internal focus of attention caused a decrease in performance.  Also implementing cognitive strategies within a training programme, to ascertain the effect of changing attentional foci over a long period as runners will be able to train at higher intensities for long durations.  



4.6 Conclusion


In conclusion the results of the present study support previous research that attentional focus has a significant effect on performance when assessing a number of physiological aspects and RPE.  Specifically that an external dissociative focus of attention is superior to both an internal and external associative focus of attention during a high intensity (70% HRmax - 90% HRmax) run in a laboratory setting.