Throughout their article entitled Emotion and Motor Control: Movement Attributes Following Effective Picture Processing, Coombes et al. discuss the relationship between perception of pleasant (P) versus unpleasant (U) images, and the speed – accuracy tradeoff within a task (also known as Fitts’ Law). Emphasizing the importance of emotions as precursors to behavior, the argument was made that “activation of appetitive and defensive circuitry modulates movement direction and speed (Coombes et al., 2005, p. 425). After conducting an initial experiment as well as a modified experiment, data supported the relationship between movement speed and affect, as well as suggesting that arousal only contributes to accuracy of performance when the perceived stimulus is considered pleasant. Overall, participants reacted much quicker to the unpleasant or negative stimuli than to the positive, especially when allowed significant time to process the visual cue and return to baseline between reps.
While the meaning behind the confirmation of rapid activation of defense mechanisms presented in this study is clear, I have to wonder if there would be any difference in results if, instead of using visual images or pictures, the presented P and U stimuli were auditory or kinesthetic. From my personal experience, I would hazard a guess that something of an unpleasant nature touching you or sounding right behind you presents higher levels of stress activation and arousal. However, ethical considerations must be taken into account with such cues, perhaps the inclusion of a debriefing.
While learning more about Fitts’ Law and task – a principle on which this study is based – I stumbled upon a very interesting article detailing the application of this law to situations I which visual stimuli where either impaired or removed, and how this affects both stimuli and response. This approach seems much more applicable to a sport domain than the original in that it accounts for the unexpected nature of cues and stimuli in a continuous environment. As Fitts’ Law accounts for both continuous and discrete tasks, it would be very interesting to see the emotional connection presented with an unknown component such as an unfamiliar sound discussed above. Much food for thought!
Coombes, S. A., Janelle, C. M., & Duley, A. R. (2005). Emotion and motor control: Movement attributes following affective picture processing. Journal Of Motor Behavior, 37(6), 425-436. doi:10.3200/JMBR.37.6.425-436