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Oral-Motor Learning, Retention, and Transfer as a Function of Attentional Focus
Skott E. Freedman, Edwin Maas, Michael P. Caligiuri, Gabriele Wulf, & Donald A. Robin

Previous studies have reported enhanced limb motor learning when participants adopt an external focus (focusing on the movement effect) versus an internal focus of attention (focusing on bodily movements). The present study represents a first step in applying such a principle of motor learning to the oral-facial system and in understanding its potential role in the acquisition and rehabilitation of speech. Two groups of participants practiced hand and tongue control tasks; groups differed in attentional focus (either internal or external). Participants were required to exert rapid pressure bursts to achieve a target level of 20% of their maximal strength. Findings revealed a significant advantage of external focus during practice (relative to internal focus of attention), but not during retention or transfer trials administered one week post-practice. No significant effects were found during retention between groups. Interestingly, an opposite pattern from practice emerged during transfer trials to a 30% novel target level, in which the internal group demonstrated significantly greater accuracy and less variability. One interpretation is that while an external focus may serve as a temporary enhancement during acquisition, an internal focus of attention may allow for greater flexibility and generalization.

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