Physical Activity, Exercise Physiology, Movement
Changes in motor performance, mental workload, and self-efficacy as a function of the level of difficulty during learning a novel reaching task
(School of Public Health (UMD) Kinesiology Undergraduate Student)
Objectives: Although there are several existing studies that focus on motor learning, few studies have compared changes in motor performance, mental workload, and self-efficacy as a function of varying difficulty levels. Hence, the aim of this study was to determine the effect of different levels of task difficulty on the cognitive-motor processes underlying the learning of a new sensorimotor mapping during a novel reaching task. It was hypothesized that as the task difficulty increased, the individuals’ level of mental workload would increase, while the overall self-efficacy and motor performance would decrease. It was also predicted that individuals’ motor performance would improve throughout the practice session of the task. Approach: Participants were instructed to reach targets of different sizes via a head-controlled virtual robotic arm through a human-machine interface. The two groups of participants were presented with targets of either large or small diameters, which corresponded to either low or high indexes of difficulty, respectively. The participants’ mental workload and self-efficacy were assessed through surveys, while their motor performance was assessed via kinematics of the robotic arm. Findings: Compared to participants who practiced the reaching task at a lower level of difficulty, those who were trained at a higher level of difficulty experienced an increase in mental workload during practice, as well as an overall decrease in motor performance and self-efficacy. Additionally, the motor performance of individuals in both groups improved throughout practice. Conclusions: Generally, the findings suggest that an increase in task difficulty during practice i) results in a need to recruit additional attentional resources in order to enhance motor performance ii) weakens individuals’ confidence in performing the task. Public Health Significance: This work can inform other varieties of training and assessment involving head-controlled devices, as well as more generally assistive technology and prostheses. Future work will focus on employing EEG to further investigate the role of cognitive-motor processes during motor practice and learning in both healthy individuals and clinical population.