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Autonomy-supportive instructional language does not enhance skill acquisition compared to controlling instructional language




Motor learning, Retention, OPTIMAL theory, Preregistered


Instructional language is one of three techniques in OPTIMAL theory that can be manipulated to foster an autonomy-supportive practice environment to enhance motor performance and learning. While autonomy-supportive language has been shown to be beneficial in educational psychology, coaching, and health settings, the wording of task instructions has received minimal attention in the motor learning literature to date. We investigated the influence of two instructional language styles on skill acquisition in a preregistered experiment. Participants (N = 156) learned a speed cup stacking task and received instructions throughout practice that used either autonomy-supportive or controlling language. Although the autonomy-supportive instructions resulted in higher perceptions of autonomy, there were no group differences for motor performance in acquisition or retention. Perceptions of competence and intrinsic motivation did not differ between groups at any time point. These data are difficult to reconcile with key predictions in OPTIMAL theory regarding a direct and causal influence of motivational factors on performance and learning. However, our equivalence test suggests these effects on skill acquisition may be smaller than what we were powered to detect. These findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence highlighting the need for much larger N experiments in motor learning research.


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2023-05-19 — Updated on 2024-02-07