Ecological validity of cognitive-motor skills in everyday-like contexts: The roll of distal goals

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To investigate individuals’ everyday life cognitive-motor skills, the degree of ecological validity to which laboratory experiments are representative and generalizable to situations outside the lab is an essential point. Despite the existence of a number of studies regarding ecological validity, there is a lack of clarity how to prove the extent of the ecological validity of the experiments intending naturalistic methods in studies of human cognitive-motor skills. Recently, it has been proposed that researchers investigating ecological validity of cognitive-motor skills should always specify and describe the specific functional context of the cognitive and behavioral processes one is interested in, by which the gap between typical laboratory and everyday life may be distinguished.
Given that cognitive-motor skills may be affected by participants’ attentional or motivational focus, this thesis deals with uncovering the role of distal goals as a specificity for ecologically valid experiments in cognitive-motor performance. Therefore, all experiments in this thesis required participants to focus on proximal goals while they attained distal goals, in order to induce responses and movements as natural as possible (e.g., finding and grasping objects, or body turns while wayfinding, or wayfinding while recognizing spatial features of surroundings).
First, the role of distal goals was determined depending on the way of the verification i.e., direct verification within an experiment (Study I), and indirect verification between previous and present experiments (Study II). Both studies were implemented in a simulated grocery shopping task. Study I verified whether the context dependence in grasping movements (laboratory vs. everyday-like context) holds the existing evidence even though a distal goal is embedded in the movement sequence. Study II analyzed the eye-head-trunk coordination while walking and turning with a distal goal to compare with results from literature.
Second, the role of distal goals was determined if distal goals lead to same or different learning curves in different experimental settings and task complexity. Contrary to Study I and II, Study III and IV implemented participants’ wayfinding ability in a virtually simulated urban city task (VR-City) with distal goals. VR-City required more complex tasks than grocery shopping task (more turns and to-be-recognized features), longer learning phase, as well as self-estimation after learning phase rather than simultaneous objective analysis.
Study I reaffirms and expands the existing evidence that the grasping movement is characterized differently in the laboratory and the everyday-like context, even though a distal goal was provided. Study II also demonstrated that the ordered sequence of eye- then head- then trunk turns can be observed not only with a proximal, but also with a distal goal. These results indicate that both direct and indirect verifications of ecological validity are conceivable when a distal goal is embedded in the movement sequence.
Furthermore, participants’ performance in Study III and IV showed gradually developed learning curves from the first to the last trials, whereas the performance in Study I and II showed striking change after the very first trial. These results confirms that the role of distal goals can be different depending on the experimental settings and task complexity.
Finally, this thesis suggests that distal goals are adequate as a particular specificity for ecologically valid experiments in cognitive-motor skills. Nevertheless, it remains questionable how to control the learning effect derived by repetitiveness of the tasks, even in employing naturalistic methods in an everyday-like context. As a matter of fact, repetitiveness of the experimental tasks is indispensable for collecting statistically comparable data. Thus, the challenge of future studies may be to develop a learning paradigm that is capable of producing robust implicit learning without concomitant explicit awareness.
Translated title of the contributionÖkologische Validität kognitiv-motorischer Fähigkeiten in alltagsnahen Kontexten: Die Rolle distaler Ziele
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationKöln
PublisherDeutsche Sporthochschule Köln
Number of pages54
Publication statusPublished - 15.01.2021

ID: 5911593


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