A Nonlinear Pedagogy Approach to Mental Imagery for Skill Acquisition

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Lindsay, Riki (2022) A Nonlinear Pedagogy Approach to Mental Imagery for Skill Acquisition. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Previous research has found mental imagery (MI) to be an effective tool for enhancing performance and skill learning across a range of contexts from sport to music and dance. The beneficial effects of MI are often contextualised through the functional equivalence hypothesis, which proposes that MI and physical practice (PP) activate similar neural mechanisms. Therefore, MI research has often emphasised replicating critical aspects of PP in MI to maximise functional equivalence. Despite this, the MI research literature has rarely investigated the application of key skill acquisition principles commonly utilised in PP to MI. One approach to skill acquisition strongly influencing our current understanding of how to develop skill is nonlinear pedagogy (NLP). NLP draws on key principles of ecological dynamics, proposing that skill development is nonlinear, and emerges as the result of dynamic learner-environment interactions. Captured this way, implementation of NLP design principles such as constraint manipulation, representative design, information- movement coupling, and movement variability are proposed to facilitate the development of adaptable, individualised movement solutions. Given the emphasis on creating MI practice conditions that mimic PP, using a NLP informed approach in MI may help facilitate the effective development of adaptable, individualised skills that can deal with changing performance contexts. The inclusion of non-sport related skills (e.g., finger tapping) and other psychological techniques in previous MI reviews made it difficult to ascertain how MI directly attributes to skill development in sport. Therefore, Study 1 attempted to address this gap in the literature through a meta-analytic review of MI, focusing on sport-specific-motor skills. From the 36 studies reviewed, it was found that MI has a significant positive effect on the development of sport-specific-motor skills (g = 0.476). Further analysis revealed MI combined with PP to be most effective (g = 0.579). Skill complexity, MI delivery type (i.e., MI combined or independent of PP), and performance measures were found to moderate the efficacy of MI interventions. A key finding that has helped to further understanding about the impact of MI interventions was the identification of skill complexity as moderating MI effectiveness. Results indicated that MI interventions practicing simple skills are significantly more effective relative to more demanding, complex movements. However, MI research investigating complex sport-specific-motor skills was lacking (5/58 analysed effect sizes). The need for further MI research on complex sport-specific-motor skills formed the rationale for selecting the power clean (PC) – a complex Olympic weightlifting skill – in Study 4 of this thesis. An ecological dynamics perspective of skill acquisition in PP was presented in Study 2, highlighting the importance of adaptability in skill development and the relevance of such a perspective to MI was discussed. The applicability of NLP design principles to MI interventions was presented alongside practical examples of how these principles could be integrated alongside existing MI guidelines. Key considerations included the incorporation of movement variability through task constraint manipulation, inclusion of critical aspects of performance environment (e.g., defensive pressure and other team members), and the use of movement outcome focused instructions. This study provided the theoretical foundation to further examine the application of NLP to MI interventions. Based on the review of NLP research in Chapter 2, the influence of a NLP approach for skills that emphasise movement form for performance (e.g., Olympic weightlifting) was identified as an area for further investigation. Specifically, preliminary case study evidence was identified using a constraints-based approach (key methodological influence on NLP) to the PC (e.g., Verhoeff et al., 2018) which presented promising results for the use of ecological dynamics informed approaches (i.e., NLP). Therefore, the effectiveness of NLP relative to linear pedagogy (LP) practice was investigated in Study 3. This study involved beginner learners to engage in either NLP or LP practice of the PC over a 4-week intervention. Contrary to predictions, exploratory behaviour (i.e., presence of movement variability) was not significantly different between NLP and LP conditions. However, equivalent improvements between conditions in performance accuracy (i.e., FxD; forward barbell displacement) were observed. This suggested that pedagogical approach may not be a precondition for adopting a particular technique, and inherent individual and task constraints may require learners to self-organise behaviour to develop an individual task solution. Importantly, deviation from an instructed technical model does not appear to lead to less efficient performance. Such a finding has important implications for a practitioner’s overall learning philosophy. Even in activities considered to rely upon a specific movement form (i.e., PC), practitioners might want to distinguish between techniques that are effective and movement patterns that look correct. That is, the effectiveness of the movement for producing specific outcomes may be more a more important consideration than reproducing the ideal ‘aesthetic’ or movement style (i.e., what the movement looks like). Study 4 aimed to investigate the influence of a NLP approach to MI in relation to a LP practice approach to MI with beginners learning the PC. The same design was implemented as Study 3 (i.e., practice sessions, instructions, reps, and 3-D motion capture and horizontal barbell displacement). Like Study 3, no significant differences were observed in exploratory behaviour and equivalent improvements in performance accuracy (RxD; rearward barbell displacement) for both conditions. Consistent with the Study 3, these findings suggest that establishing a movement pattern that achieves overall performance goals (e.g., reduced forward or backward barbell displacement) is more important than replicating a prescribed technique that looks correct. Considered with the results of Study 3 these results suggest an equivalence in training-related improvements, highlighting that it may be possible to reproduce similar behavioural adaptations observed (to a lesser magnitude) when using NLP or LP approaches in MI. In summary, the aim of this thesis was to enhance our understanding of applying a NLP approach to MI intervention design. Therefore, this thesis did not aim to investigate whether NLP was ‘better’, but rather to provide preliminary findings and hopefully stimulate further discussion about incorporating established skill acquisition principles from PP into MI. It is not definitive whether NLP provides further benefits to skill development over and above LP practice, however, the overall improvement in performance outcomes in Studies 3 and 4 suggest it is a legitimate consideration for future interventions. The lack of significant differences between LP and NLP conditions suggests that despite being prescribed a specific movement form, learners may search for more individually appropriate techniques, and importantly, these deviations are not necessarily detrimental to overall performance.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/44252
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4207 Sports science and exercise
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Current > Division/Research > College of Sports and Exercise Science
Keywords mental imagery, skill acquisition, nonlinear pedagogy, physical practice, sport
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