The use of Video Game Technology for Investigating Perceptual and Cognitive Awareness in Sports

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Emerging evidence concerning the nature of expertise in sport shows that, regardless of innate talent, genetic limitations, and hereditary predispositions, elite skill levels cannot be attained without many years of focused, dedicated, and deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesh-Romer, 1993; Starkes, 2000; Starkes, Helson, & Jack, 2001). Through this ‘immersive’ environment players acquire the appropriate perceptual, cognitive, and social skills needed to optimise anticipation and decision-making within their sport. Similarly, current research indicates that video game play is also a highly immersive endeavour, whereby players develop advanced perceptual, cognitive, and social skills that they are, for the most part, unaware of (Gee, 2003). It is this similarity that we seek to exploit through the utilisation of sports video game play as a framework to understand the mechanisms underlying decision-making in sport. Our research is concerned with the development of expertise. We seek to understand the characteristics of expert awareness and decision-making in sport. The current standard laboratory research paradigm in sport psychology favours independent trials where the onset of the trial is defined by the occurrence of the presented stimulus, a process outside the control of the subject (Ericsson & Smith, 1991). Mechanisms such as cueing strategies, pattern recognition, and visual search strategies are all investigated in isolation of each other. In contrast, within the ecological landscape of an athlete’s playing environment, expert performance is ever-changing and continuous, characterised by a perception-action continuum, and the need to analyse emergent situations in order to elicit responsive action instantaneously (Ericsson & Charness, 1994). While we agree that expertise encompasses specific skills at each of the perceptual, cognitive, and social levels, and that it is important to understand the individual underlying mechanisms involved in expert performance, we contend that researchers must also consider the interplay between these mechanisms, and the ecological context in which they are performed, in order to fully understand the nature of expertise. While much of our own research involves investigation in the field, we propose here a novel ecological approach to the study of sports expertise. This methodological framework takes advantage of the immersive nature and realism of high-fidelity sports video game technology in an attempt to elicit and examine the perceptual, cognitive and social mechanisms at play within the actual sports environment. It is now recognised that experts in sport are differentiated from novices by their superior decision-making abilities (Williams et al., 1999). Decision-making is a by-product of perceptual, cognitive and social skill, and the elements that have been shown to contribute most to high levels of perceptual, cognitive and social skill in sport include; - the ability to process contextual information using effective advance postural cue utilisation; - superior recall and recognition of sport-specific patterns of play; - more appropriate and efficient visual search strategies; and - the ability to anticipate future events through the efficient assignment of appropriate situational probabilities (Tenenbaum, 1999; Williams et al., 1999). From the characterisation presented it is clear that there are various different knowledge elements important to the formation of expertise. The stance taken by most current literature suggests that there are distinct frameworks that govern such different cognitive knowledge types, and that these elements are treated independently. Our research seeks to extend this approach by investigating the ongoing interaction between all of these knowledge types (i.e. cue utilization, pattern recognition, visual search, assignment of situational probabilities), and the instantaneous, and quick-shifting pattern of action between them. Our overarching research hypothesis contends that expertise is characterised by the ability to shift, or translate, between various knowledge representations, or strategies, and to hold these different knowledge types in memory simultaneously during decision-making. Our long-term research goal is to advance the formation of expertise by providing learning mechanisms designed to enhance this ability to shift between, and learn, different knowledge attributes. Specifically, the goal is to create a conceptual framework that will help designers make better-informed design decisions through a more thorough understanding of the constituents of, and interplay between, different knowledge types. This paper will present the results of a pilot study we are currently undertaking to uncover the precursors to perceptual, cognitive and social attributes of decision-making in hockey, as well as the mechanism of interplay between these knowledge elements. We are using an immersive hockey video game environment to examine the perceptual, cognitive and social strategies used by teenage girls and boys in ‘game-like’ situations. The study is specifically interested in; (a) Understanding and enumerating perceptual, cognitive and social knowledge elements used for decision-making in ice hockey. (b) The interplay between the different perceptual, cognitive and social knowledge types employed for decision-making within game play. (c) The temporal patterns of their elicitation. (d) The general patterns of play that precede decision-making. (e) The suitability of a high-fidelity video game environment as a platform to emulate and examine the real ecological environment of sport. Eye-tracking, think-aloud, and interview protocols will be employed in an effort to elicit participants decision-making processes and triangulate the results of the study. A modified grounded theory methodology will be employed based on Glasser and Strauss’ grounded theory approach (Glasser & Strauss, 1967, Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The approach is modified to allow for a combination of inductive and deductive techniques. Further, a twin study is planned that will examine the same processes in the field, in an effort to corroborate the findings of the current study and provide further evidence as to the effectiveness of the video game environment for this type of research. Specifically the procedure will involve a preliminary interview with participants, asking them about their general on-ice decision-making process. Next, the participants will be eye-tracked while engaged in a hockey video game session. Finally, a post-game interview will be conducted whereby participants will be asked to describe their decision-making process concerning plays that will be presented from the eye-tracking data. References Ericsson, K. A., & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49, 725-747. Ericsson, K. A., & Smith, J. (1991). Prospects and limits of the empirical study of expertise: An introduction. In K. A. Ericsson & J. Smith (Eds.), Toward a general theory of expertise (pp. 1-38). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406. Gee, J. P. (2003) What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan Press. Glasser, B. G. & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategy for qualitative research. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine Publishing Company. Starkes, J. L. (2000). The road to expertise: Is practice the only determinant? International Journal of Sport Psychology, 31, 431-451. Starkes, J. L., Helsen, W., & Jack, R. (2001). Expert performance in sport and dance. In R. N. Singer, H. A. Hausenblas, & C. M. Janelle (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 174-201). New York: Wiley. Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications. Tenenbaum, G. (ed.) (1999). The development of expertise in sport: Nature and nurture. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 30, 113-304. Williams, A.M., Davids, K. & Williams, J.G. (1999). Visual Perception and Action in Sport. London: E & FN Spon.

Contact: Desmond Mulligan, SIAT - SFU,
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