A Distraction Can Impair or Enhance Motor Performance

The Journal of Neuroscience,Vol. 30, No. 2, pg. 650-654, 2010.

Christopher Hemond, Rachel M. Brown, Edwin M. Robertson

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.

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(Something interesting I found)Posted:Jan 01 2010, 12:00 AM by nick stock
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