Outreach posts

Publicly-funded research belongs in the public domain and it is our duty to make our research understandable. Here you will find posts that try to explain our research in a way that is user friendly. Many of the students in the lab will have written these posts and often these students have been directly involved in this research. It is our aim over the next few years to grow this site to provide summaries of all our newly published research. Please add your own comments and get involved with the discussion. And feel free to email us to let us know what you think or would like to see included here.

Anticipating with our bodies


You're watching someone shoot on goal, but you can't see the final outcome. Can you predict what will happen next, and if you can, how are you able to do this? In a couple of studies, we've tested the idea that the way you solve this problem is by drawing on your own "motor memories". When people have had physical experience throwing a dart for example, if they now watch someone else throw a dart, they can "understand" that action by activating their own motor system and use their experience to arrive at a decision.

How practice without vision aids later seeing and predicting in a throwing task


ImageDo you think that blindfolded practice of a motor skill would allow you to more accurately predict the outcomes of that skill when viewing a video of someone else performing it?  Would you be able to improve in prediction ability as much as if you had full vision during practice?  In the present study we set out to see how the physical and visual experiences contribute to enhancing one's ability to predict action outcomes.

Do your movements have a “mind” of their own? When watching leads to unintended doing


ImageMany movements we perform on a daily basis are preplanned in our brains well before we intend to execute them. For example, when a sprinter takes the blocks in a race, they have a very good idea of what movements they need to produce when the starting signal is heard. If this starting sound is above a certain level (124 dB) it may elicit what is called a startle response.

Describing changes in the brain with practice


ImageWorking with Katie Wadden and Lara Boyd (in the Brain and Behaviour Lab, UBC), we have recently assembled a data base of neuroimaging studies exploring motor learning. These studies involve a range of skill types, tasks (one-handed, two-handed), and (most importantly) different durations of training.

How ice hockey players and fans understand hockey talk


ImageNicole Ong, in collaboration with Scott Sinnett (at the University of Hawaii) and other members of the Motor Skills Lab, recently had an experiment accepted for publication in Acta Psychologica. In this experiment, we wanted to explore how people understand action-related sentences and how this understanding might rely on the motor system (in addition to verbal and visual systems).

Mixing it up a little: Benefits of interspersing demonstrations with physical practice


Should we spend all of our practice time physically attempting skills, or is it good to intersperse our practice attempts watching someone else? In this study we required learners to practice aiming movements in a novel environment where they had to learn new relations between actions and visual outcomes. We showed that MIXED practice (in this case 25% physical practice, 75% observing) facilitated both strategy learning as well as a more robust measure of implicit (automatic) motor-learning, in comparison to either method alone.

Avoid body-focused instructions, especially early in practice


ImageHaving been a coach/educator myself, I can relate to the practitioner’s urge to value-add to students’ and athletes’ learning. We tend to offer prescriptive (“what-to” or “how-to”) instructions for various reasons; perhaps because this is how we were instructed, because it justifies our role as the authority/expert or most probably, because of our belief that doing so expedites and aids learning.

Observing leads to a different type of learning than acting, being more verbal and strategic


If someone informed you that learning a skill through demonstration was no different from learning by physically performing the skill itself, your first reaction to this news might be suspicion and/or disbelief. However, this piece of information would seem more plausible if you were aware of developments in neurophysiology pertaining to the discovery of “mirror neurons”, first in macaque monkeys then subsequently in the human brain.

It’s not enough just to feel or see what’s correct, you need to 'actively' experience


ImageHave you ever wondered how effective it is to physically guide a person through an action? In sports, the instructor might hold a person's arm to show them how to hit a golf ball or strike a volleyball serve. In rehabilitation, robotic devices are used to guide a person's limb for therapy purposes. What we and others have shown is that this technique is useful when applied, but that it compromises learning once it is removed. In this study, people practised a novel, two limb coordination movement.