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ABSTRACT: The past decade has witnessed increased interest in the visual search behaviour of athletes. Little is known, however, about the relationship between anxiety and eye movements in sport performers or about the extent to which athletes' planned and actual visual search strategies correspond. To address these issues, we conducted two studies. In Study 1, eight expert female gymnasts were presented with three digital slides of a model performing a skill that is known to be anxiety-provoking in this sport--namely, the 'back flip' on the beam. By varying the height of the beam and the presence or absence of safety mats, the slides differed in the amount of anxiety that they elicited vicariously in the viewer. In the study, the gymnasts were asked to imagine themselves in the position of the depicted model and to describe the anxiety that they felt. As they viewed the slides, their eye movements were recorded. As predicted, anxiety was associated with an increase in the number of fixations to peripheral areas. In addition, the more 'threatening' slides elicited significantly more fixations than the less feared images. In Study 2, the plans of 15 equestrian performers (5 expert, 5 intermediate and 5 novice) were elicited as they engaged in a virtual 'walk' around a computerized show-jumping course. Contrary to expectations, the congruence between intended and actual search behaviour was not significantly greater for expert riders than for the less skilled groups. Also, the fact that the top riders allocated more fixations to slides than the less skilled performers challenged the prediction that expertise would be associated with economy of visual search. Finally, as expected, the expert riders were significantly less dependent on the overall 'course plan' than the intermediate and novice equestrian performers when inspecting the fences.
Journal of Sports Sciences 04/2002; 20(3):225-36. · 2.08 Impact Factor