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PCT could hold the key to success in various fields
September 17, 2017, 2:58 pm

Psychologists say that Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), a little known psychological theory, can be applied to improve the performance of amateurs or professionals in a range of activities.

The theory argues that when trying to improve performance, teaching people what to do is less effective than teaching them how to picture the outcome.

To test the theory, 48 participants in a psychological study were asked to draw images that ranged from complex to simple symbols using different instructions. Participants were asked to either copy them directly, copy from memory, or copy by being giving instructions on how to move the pen, or to draw the image after being told what it looked like.

Describing the image led to significantly more accurate drawings than giving the instructions for what movements to make.

People are commonly instructed in terms of the physical actions they must carry out in order to perform any task, said the research team behind the study. “But our study tests the effect of describing how to perform a skill in terms of the perception of the outcome, compared to the observable actions,” they said.

"And the results were fascinating: the accuracy of the drawings where participants were told what to perceive was almost as good as copying the image directly.

"There is a physiological explanation to this: muscle groups interfere with each other by contracting against another when performing a variety of tasks — whether that is drawing, dancing or catching a ball. So you may not be able to accurately instruct your limbs what to do, but creating a mental picture of the desired outcome gets around that in efficient manner.

"Different coaches in sport use a wide array of methods, some of which involve the coach directly instructing the learner how to move. Yet if our research generalizes, then a simpler, purely 'perceptual', method might be developed," said the researchers.



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