2012. Vol.3, No.5, 406-409
Published Online May 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Self-Controlled Feedback and Trait Anxiety in
Motor Skill Acquisition
Raquel Maia Bokums, Cassio M. Meira Jr., Jaqueline F. O. Neiva,
Thaynara Oliveira, Jusselma Ferreira Maia
University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Received February 22nd, 2012; revised March 27th, 2012; accepted April 28th, 2012
This study examined the relationship between trait anxiety (TA) and self-controlled (SC) frequency of
feedback in the acquisition of the overhead volleyball serve. Forty-eight adolescent girls performed 240
acquisition trials, with the provision of knowledge of results (KR). After 48 h, they performed 16 transfer
no-KR trials. Although no interactions were found on either acquisition or transfer, the high-anxious girls
requested more feedback than the low-anxious ones. Also, feedback was requested more after accurate
than after inaccurate trials.
Keywords: Self-Control; Feedback; Knowledge of Results; Anxiety; Motor Learning
With the purpose of reconciling counterintuitive findings in
motor learning (ML), Guadagnoli and Lee (2004) proposed a
challenge-point framework (CPF) based on the idea that learn-
ing is directly related to the level of challenge imposed by a
practice or feedback condition. These authors argued that
learning is maximized when a person faces an optimal level of
challenge during the process of motor skill acquisition. In con-
trast, learning will be compromised if the challenge imposed is
either too high or too low. The challenge-point created by any
given ML situation is determined by the functional difficulty of
the task, which results from an interaction between nominal
task difficulty, the learner’s skill level, and the conditions of
practice and/or feedback. The nominal difficulty of a task is a
fixed characteristic based on specific perceptual and motor
requirements. For example, an underarm volleyball serve has a
lower nominal task difficulty than an overhead serve. Thus, the
higher the nominal task difficulty, the higher the functional task
difficulty and, in turn, the higher the challenge-point of learning.
CPF has gained support in the learning of sport (Brady, 2008;
Guadagnoli & Lindquist, 2007) and surgical (Cristancho, Mou-
ssa & Dubrowski, 2010; Gofton, 2006; Hodges, Kuper, & Phil,
2012; Moulton, Dubrowski, MacRae, Graham, Grober, & Rez-
nick, 2006) skills, handwriting (Asher, 2006), walking (Do-
mingo & Ferris, 2009), and in physical therapy (Descarreaux,
Passmore, & Cantin, 2010; Maas, Robin, Hula, Freedman,
Wulf, Ballard, & Schmidt, 2008; Onla-or & Winstein, 2008).
Given that, in the CPF, practice variables have been examined
across different types of participants, we believe that investi-
gating people with different levels of trait anxiety (TA) could
help to better understand ML processes.
TA, defined as a predisposition of an individual to perceive a
wide range of situations that, objectively, are not actually dan-
gerous as threatening (Weinberg & Gould, 2011), has been
pointed out as a personal characteristic that influences motor
performance and learning (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2008; Wris-
berg, 2007). Individuals who have high levels of TA respond to
perceived threatening situations with reactions that are dispro-
portionate to the objective danger when compared to low TA
individuals (Spielberger, 1972). Although high TA is often
associated with negative performance on cognitive tasks (Ey-
senck, 1992; Eysenck & Calvo, 1992), there is no evidence of
deleterious effects of high TA on motor performance (Calvo &
Ramos, 1989, Experiment 2). Negative effects of high TA on
the efficiency of processing are generally greater in concurrent
cognitive tasks (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo, 2007).
Knowledge of results (KR) is a form of augmented feedback
which provides information on the outcome of the movement
(Magill, 2011). Self-controlled (SC) frequency of KR gives the
learner the opportunity of receiving information only when he
or she requests it. Several studies have shown that SC-KR fa-
cilitates ML when compared to externally controlled KR
schedules (Chiviacowsky & Wulf, 2002, 2007, 2009; Chivia-
cowsky et al., 2005, 2008; Janelle et al., 1995, 1997). It has
been argued that SC-KR, when compared to yoked (YK) KR
(when KR is presented at a frequency yoked to a SC partici-
pant’s KR requests), engages the leaner in the process of learn-
ing more, on account of the freedom it provides to make deci-
sions about some of its aspects. More specifically, SC-KR al-
lows engagement in problem-solving strategies as well as acts
as a source of motivation to continue to practice. Self-control is
thought to facilitate ML because it enables subjects to test
movement strategies (Wulf & Toole, 1999), to manage practice
according to their needs (Chiviacowsky & Wulf, 2002, 2005),
and to perceive themselves more autonomous and thus more
motivated during the learning process (Lewthwaite & Wulf,
The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship
between TA and SC-KR in the acquisition and transfer of the
overhead volleyball serve. Grounded upon CPF and on litera-
ture about TA and SC-KR, we hypothesize that low-anxious
individuals who self-control their feedbacks will show superior
motor learning than their YK and high-anxious counterparts.
Forty-eight female students aged between 12 and 14 years
(M = 13.33, SD = .72) were selected from a sample of 134 stu-
dents to take part in the study. All participants filled out the
Brazilian version (Biaggio & Natalício, 2003) of the State-Trait
Anxiety Inventory (STAI, Spielberger, Gorsuch, Lushene,
Vagg, & Jacobs, 1983) and were organized into three categories,
based on their TA scores: low TA (31 - 42), intermediate TA
(43 - 51), and high TA (52 - 63). For the purposes of the current
study, only low and high TA individuals were asked to partici-
pate in this study. Participants were then semi-randomly as-
signed to one of four experimental groups: self-control/high
trait anxiety (SC-HighTA), yoked/high trait anxiety (YK-
HighTA), self-control/low trait anxiety (SC-LowTA), and
yoked/low trait anxiety (YK-LowTA). The parents/tutors of all
participants signed consent forms, approved by the University
Ethics Board, prior to their participation. None of the partici-
pants had prior experience at the task.
The task, an overhead volleyball serve, is defined as having
high nominal difficulty (Guadagnoli & Lee, 2004) due to vari-
ous perceptual motor and physical fitness abilities underlying it,
such as anticipation timing, multi-limb coordination, speed of
arm movement, gross body coordination, arm explosive strength
(Fleishman & Quaintance, 1984), static balance, visual acuity,
visual tracking, and eye-hand coordination (Magill, 2011). All
serves were performed with the dominant hand and aimed to-
ward a circular target, 18 meters in diameter. The task’s goal
was to serve the ball on the target’s center (10 points), which
measured one meter in diameter; the other areas measured one
meter in diameter more than the next smallest area, assuming
values of 8, 6, 4 and 2, respectively. Zero was the score given
for a ball which did not fly over the net or for a ball which
landed outside the target. In case a ball had landed on the bor-
derline, it was given the score of the area whose value was
higher. All borderlines were 5 cm wide. To perform the task,
participants stood behind the service line, diagonally to the net.
Participants performed 240 acquisition trials, equally distrib-
uted over five days of practice. Each practice day consisted of
two blocks of 24 trials. Sixteen transfer trials were administered
48 hours after the end of acquisition. Prior to the start of the
experiment, each participant watched an instructional video on
how to perform the overhead volleyball serve, which was
shown as many times as the participant wanted and were given
information about task goal, scoring system, and basic proce-
dures of receiving KR. During acquisition, the serves were
performed from a fixed area on the left side of the court, at a
distance of five meters from the net. During transfer, partici-
pants served from the same distance, but from the right side of
the court. The net’s height was set at 2 meters.
During acquisition, terminal KR was provided verbally about
both direction (left, right, near or far) and magnitude (10, 8, 6, 4,
2, and 0). No KR was given during transfer. The participants in
the SC condition were informed that they would control the
frequency of KR; that is, they would not receive KR, unless
they asked for it. The YK participants were informed that they
would only receive KR after certain trials. Participants were
prevented from seeing where the ball landed on account of a
black tarp on the net. Five minutes after the end of acquisition,
the participants answered a questionnaire (adapted from
Chiviacowsky & Wulf, 2002) about the preference of receiving
KR after accurate (good) or inaccurate (bad) trials.
Data was organized in blocks of 16 trials (average score), to-
taling 15 acquisition blocks (A1-A15) and one transfer block
(T). No missing data or outliers were detected. Analysis in-
volved the comparison among means (analysis of variance). No
violations of data distribution or sphericity were detected. For
acquisition, we ran a 2 (SC/YK) X 2 (highTA/lowTA) X 2
(initial block-A1/final block-A15) analysis of variance with
repeated measures on the last factor. For transfer, a 2 (SC/YK)
X 2 (highTA/lowTA) analysis of variance was used. To detect
whether participants showed better performance in the trials
with or without KR, we ran a 2 (KR trials/no-KR trials) X 2
(SC/YK) analysis of variance. To compare the levels of anxiety
with the frequency of KR requested in the SC groups during the
first and second halves of acquisition, a 2 (highTA/lowTA) X 2
(first half/second half) analysis of variance was carried out.
When appropriate, F-ratios involving repeated measures factors
were reported with the Greenhouse-Geisser df adjustment. Par-
tial eta-squared values (η2) were also reported to indicate effect
sizes for significant results. Follow-up testing was conducted
using Sidak post hoc procedures. For all analyses, alpha was set
at .05. The percentage of responses obtained in the question-
naire regarding good and bad performances from the SC and
YK conditions were also described.
Figure 1 shows the mean values of points obtained by the
experimental groups on acquisition and transfer. A significant
effect for the main factor “Block” was found between A1 and
A15 [F(1, 22) = 15.78, p = .001; 2 = .42], but no significant
differences were detected for either the interaction “Group X
Block” or the main factor “Group” on acquisition and transfer.
Regarding the amount of KR requested on the first half of
acquisition, high-anxious participants requested more informa-
tion (170 KRs) than their low-anxious counterparts (65 KRs),
albeit the significance was marginal [F(2, 21) = 2.75, p = .069].
No difference in the amount of KR requested was detected
between high (170 KRs) and low (157 KRs) TA participants in
the second half of acquisition. Overall, participants asked for
KR after 562 out of 11,520 trials (4.88%), 4.07% in the first
and 5.68% in the second half.
With the purpose of determining whether the participants
who practiced under SC and YK conditions showed better re-
sults in trials after the presence or absence of KR, the sum of
each of these trials in the two acquisition halves were calculated.
Regarding trials after which KR was received in the first half of
acquisition, SC participants scored 59.1 points, whereas YK
participants scored 30.1 points; in the second half of acquisition,
SC participants obtained 89 points, while their YK counterparts
obtained 48.8 points. With respect to trials after which KR was
not received, SC participants achieved 234.9 points, whereas
YK ones scored 262.5 in the first half; SC participants obtained
274.9 points, whereas YK ones scored 277.4 points in the sec-
ond half.
It was also detected that SC participants scored higher than
YK participants in the first and second halves of acquisition
[F(1, 46) = 2.83; p = 0.06]. In contrast, no significant effects
were found for the no-KR trials. It is important to report that in
no-KR trials (25193 - 61% of all trials) both SC and YK condi-
tions had higher scores than in KR trials (5446 KRs - 39% of
all trials).
Regarding exclusively to those who SC their KR, 16 (67%)
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 407
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Figure 1.
Average scores (X-axis) of the four experimental groups on acquisition (A1-A15) and transfer (T) (Y-axis).
reported requesting KR after good trials, while 18 (75%) re-
ported that they did not ask for feedback after bad trials.
The results showed no significant interactions between TA
and SC-KR. This fact refutes the stated hypothesis that low-
anxious individuals who self-control KR would show enhanced
learning. Several studies have reported no differences between
high and low anxiety levels in response accuracy (Blankstein,
Flett, Boase, & Toner, 1990; Blankstein, Toner, & Flett, 1989;
Calvo, Alamo, & Ramos, 1990; Calvo & Ramos, 1989). The
lack of differences between SC and YK is quite surprising.
Considering that the overhead volleyball serve has a high
nominal difficulty, it may be that for tasks with high perceptual
and motor requirements, the engagement in active processes of
performance evaluation (i.e., elaborative encoding) is elicited
by both SC and externally controlled schedules of KR. It may
also be that the effects of SC are offset by the functional diffi-
culty of the task, that is, beginners performing a task with high
nominal difficulty. According to CPF (Guadagnoli & Lee,
2004), if the participants were experts or the task was of low
nominal difficult, the likelihood of facing an optimal level of
challenge during the process would be higher and, as a result,
learning would be maximized.
High-anxious individuals requested more KR than low-anx-
ious individuals. A plausible explanation for this finding is that
those who score high in TA, invest in extra processing re-
sources (Calvo & Ramos, 1989); that is, requesting more in-
formation to facilitate drawing attention to their inner resources
to cope with task demands (Jones, 1995; Jones & Swain, 1995;
Weinberg & Gould, 2011). With regard to SC participants,
two-thirds of them reported that KR was requested after per-
ceived successful trials (good), a typical finding in current ML
literature (Chiviacowsky, 2002, 2005, 2007; Chiviacowsky,
Godinho, & Tani, 2005; Chiviacowsky, Wulf, Medeiros, Kae-
fer, & Wally, 2008); this reinforces the importance of KR as a
tool to confirm a learner’s subjective evaluation of performance.
In addition, SC participants obtained more points than their YK
counterparts after serves followed by KR.
A central hypothesis of the CPF is that reduced KR is bene-
ficial to beginners when learning a task with low levels of
nominal difficulty, while frequent KR is beneficial to beginners
when learning a task with high levels of nominal difficulty
(Guadagnoli & Lee, 2004). It was thus expected that SC par-
ticipants would request frequent KR, but they asked for very
little augmented information (one KR at every 20 trials on av-
erage). Such a reduced KR schedule helps the development of
the learner’s autonomy via exploration of inherent feedback
(Schmidt & Lee, 2011; Magill, 2011). The reduced frequency
of KR requested by the SC participants of the current study is
in line with the pattern that has been reported in the ML litera-
ture (Chiviacowsky & Wulf, 2002, 2007, 2009).
The improvements throughout trials are crucial to quantify
the gains in performance and almost certainly can be inter-
preted as caused by motor learning (Lee, 2011; Schmidt & Lee,
2011). Our results showed that the amount of points in succes-
sive blocks decreased from the initial to the final acquisition
block. Moreover, other compelling evidence that learning oc-
curred is the fact that the transfer performances showed by the
experimental groups were similar to the performances showed
in the final acquisition block (Magill, 2011).
As a concluding remark, we would like to highlight that the
literature on anxiety has been differentiating effectiveness from
efficiency (Calvo & Ramos, 1989, 1990; Eysenck, 1979; Ey-
senck & Calvo, 1992; Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo,
2007). While the first is associated with the quality of per-
formance, the latter relates to the relationship between the ef-
fectiveness of performance and the effort or resources spent.
Efficiency is thought to decrease as more resources are invested
to attain a certain level of performance. Given that the negative
effects of TA are greater on efficiency than on effectiveness, it
is also of great importance that future research includes vari-
ables that assess not only effectiveness, but also efficiency. For
example, self-preoccupation (or worry) is characterized by
concerns over evaluation, failure and expectations of aversive
consequences (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo, 2007)
and represents efficiency because it reduces storage and proc-
essing capacity and increments on-task effort.
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