Effect of Attentional Focus on Premotor and Motor Components of Reaction Time

Two important loci of focus exist. They include internal and external foci. The internal focus targets the subject’s body movements, whereas the external focus centers on the effects that the performer’s movements have on the surroundings. There is a lot of evidence showing that external focus of attention yields better outcomes for performance and learning than internal focus (Wulf, 2007; Wulf, 2013). Various experiments have been done to contrast the efficacy of the two forms of attentional foci using different motor skills such as jumping, throwing darts, balance, golf, and basketball (Wulf, 2007).

The attentional focus has been shown to influence the efficiency of movement, for example, balance, precision, and motion efficiency as determined by muscular activity, the release of maximum force, speed, or endurance (Wulf, 2013). The benefits of external focus apply to a wide range of skills and levels, which have been established in young adults, children, in addition to individuals with physical insufficiencies. These factors are also known to determine reaction time, which is the time required for an individual to respond to a stimulus or event. Conversely, other studies have tweaked the subjects’ attentional focus through instructions and feedback (Brown & Ferrigno, 2014). One question that remains unclear is the component of reaction time that is affected by attentional focus.

A model for information flow that leads to responses in living organisms can be illustrated as originating from the stimulus to receptor, integrator, and finally to an effector, which elicits a response. This model has been expanded in vertebrates to stimulus, sensory neuron, spinal cord or brain, and ultimately motor neuron, which produces the desired response. This illustration highlights the importance of the brain and spinal cord in the production of responses.

As a result, reaction time can further be divided into premotor and motor constituents. These components match the central nervous system delays that occur before the initiation of muscle action potential (MAP) as well as the muscular delays that take place from the first MAPs to the start of the movement (Suminski, Mardoum, Lillicrap, & Hatsopoulos, 2015). This fractionation makes it possible to ascertain the locus of temporal changes caused by experimental conditions, which would not be possible when considering reaction time as a whole (Christina & Rose, 1985).

Information flow is followed by processing, which starts with the input of information from the surroundings into the system (via the sense organs). A black box model considers the subject to be the box. Activities that occur in the box lead to the generation of outputs in the form of motor activity. The most common strategy to investigate information processing is to examine the duration of these processes. This approach is referred to as the chronometric method, which takes advantage of reaction times to investigate the effect of various experimental factors. Cognitive psychology recognizes that information processing occurs in three stages, which can further be grouped into serial (successive) or parallel (concurrent). Therefore, the focus of this study is to investigate the impact of attentional focus on the premotor and motor components of reaction time.

The time interval between the stimulus and the first change in EMG is referred to as premotor time, which represents the central processing involved from registering the stimulus to activating the Fibrous muscle (Schmidt & Lee, 2011). Studies focusing on the “mental events…of stimulus processing, decision making, and movement programming” rely upon the premotor variable of RT to better understand how mental processes lead to the movement (Schmidt & Lee, 2011). Following the premotor time, the motor component of RT occurs from the first change in EMG to muscular movement, which represents “the processes associated with the musculature itself” (Schmidt & Lee, 2011).

Other studies that focus on the interrelationships between the processing of stimuli, deciding, and initiating movement have explored activities such as short races, particularly the starting point. It is reported that the outcome of a race and the time taken to complete it is largely determined by the start. Kovacs, Miles, and Baweja (2018) indicate that the start contributes to about 5% of the total time in a 1000-meter race.

Consequently, participants in such races need to take the least time possible to accelerate from the starting block after hearing the start signal (gunshot). This way, the athletes can attain the maximum velocity within the shortest time. For this reason, incorporating any measures that reduce race time could be advantageous to the participants (Kovacs et al., 2018). Such measures include enhancing the processing of information and execution of movement. This observation is reiterated by Ille, Selin, Do, and Thon (2013).

The issue of dual-tasking often arises while attempting to elucidate the specifics of information processing and movement. Dual-tasking denotes the execution of two activities concurrently. Such paradigms help distinguish the function of attention on motor regulation. It is hypothesized that the attention given to a single task is drawn from a pool of resources (Jehu, Desponts, Paquet, & Lajoie, 2015).

The common observation is that an individual can only focus on a task for a specified duration, which implies that the capacity to process information is restricted. Consequently, when attempting to complete two tasks at the same time, the overall attention capacity is surpassed, leading to a dual-task interference upshot that may ultimately interfere with the performance of the two tasks that are contending for the same resources. Dual-task models can also be used to assess the effect of information processing requirements of deportment with other minor tasks, including those involving reaction time (Jehu et al., 2015).

This information can be put to better use by optimizing performance (Wulf, 2013). However, there is a need to clarify the precise effect of attentional focus on different aspects of reaction time. Thus, the purposes of this research are to find answers to the following questions: Is there a relationship between reaction time (including premotor and motor components) and attention focus? If so, which component of reaction time (premotor or motor) is more affected by attention focus?


Ille, A., Selin, I., Do, M. C., & Thon, B. (2013). Attentional focus effects on sprint start performance as a function of skill level. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31(15), 1705-1712.

Jehu, D. A., Desponts, A., Paquet, N., & Lajoie, Y. (2015). Prioritizing attention on a reaction time task improves postural control and reaction time. International Journal of Neuroscience, 125(2), 100-106.

Kovacs, A., Miles, G., & Baweja, H. (2018). Thinking outside the block: External focus of attention improves reaction times and movement preparation times in collegiate track sprinters. Sports, 6(4), 1-10.

Wulf, G. (2013). Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 15 years. International Review of sport and Exercise psychology, 6(1), 77-104.