A distraction can impair or enhance motor performance

Hemond, C., Brown, R. M. and Robertson, E. M. (2010) A distraction can impair or enhance motor performance. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(2), pp. 650-654. (doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4592-09.2010) (PMID:20071529) (PMCID:PMC2823087)

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Humans have a prodigious capacity to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Being distracted while, for example, performing a complex motor skill adds complexity to a task and thus leads to a performance impairment. Yet, it may not be just the presence or absence of a distraction that affects motor performance. Instead, the characteristics of the distraction may play a critical role in affecting human motor performance. Here, we show that performance of a motor sequence can be substantially enhanced by simultaneously learning an independent color sequence. In contrast, performance of the same motor sequence was impaired by concurrently counting the number of red cues that were in the color sequence. The color and motor sequences had different lengths (10 vs 12 items), different numbers of elements (five vs four elements), and different temporal patterns (randomly intermittent vs continuous) and thus were independent of one another. These observations show that distracting information does not always impair motor performance, and so is not a sufficient explanation for the impaired performance. Instead, the influence that a distraction exerts upon performance is mediated by the type of processes engaged: when similar core processes are engaged, motor performance is enhanced, whereas when very different processes are engaged (i.e., counting and sequence performance), performance is impaired. Thus, these observations deepen our understanding of how a distraction, depending on its characteristics, can either impair or enhance performance and may offer novel approaches to optimizing human cognition.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Robertson, Professor Edwin
Authors: Hemond, C., Brown, R. M., and Robertson, E. M.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
Journal Name:Journal of Neuroscience
Publisher:Society for Neuroscience
ISSN (Online):1529-2401
Published Online:13 January 2010
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2010 The Authors
First Published:First published in Journal of Neuroscience 30(2):650-654
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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