Perceptual-Cognitive Skill

Challenging gaze behaviour research: Importance of variability?

Matt Dicks and colleagues recently published an article in Sports Medicine that draws attention to differences in research approaches when examining perceptual-motor skill. The authors outline the current state of gaze behaviour research and compare this to contemporary research on movement coordination.

Gaze behaviour research

A number of researchers have highlighted key differences in gaze behaviour between experts and novices during anticipation or decision making tasks. For instance, when anticipating the direction of a soccer penalty kick, skilled players fixate more on the legs and the ball compared to novices. Likewise, successful performance during aiming tasks, such as basketball shooting and golf putting, is consistently characterised by longer fixations on the target prior to execution of the skill. This is also referred to as “quiet eye“.

The overarching goal of this research approach is to discover the optimal gaze strategy for successful perceptual-motor performance.

Movement coordination research

Movement variability has been demonstrated as a critical aspect of motor performance and motor learning. Indeed, a characteristic of a skilled performer is the ability to adapt their movement patterns for the task at hand. As a result, their movement patterns are constantly changing, yet similar performance outcomes emerge. Certainly this is evident in elite sport whereby a number of techniques are often on display.

A central argument stemming from this body of research is that there is no “one size fits all” movement pattern.

Hence, this research approach challenges current gaze behaviour research by suggesting that eye movement variability should be taken into consideration as there is no “one” optimal strategy.

Directions for future gaze behaviour research?

The authors argue that gaze behaviour research would benefit by examining data at an individual level rather than assessing group averages. Such an approach will compliment our existing knowledge of the relationship between gaze behaviour and motor performance.


Dicks, M., Button, C., Davids, K., Chow, J. Y., & Van der Kamp, J. (2016). Keeping an eye on noisy movements: On different approaches to perceptual-motor skill research and training. Sports Medicine, 1-7.

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