The quiet eye (QE) is a term first proposed by Professor Joan Vickers of Calgary University. It refers a gaze behaviour observed immediately prior to movement in aiming tasks. An example of this is during a basketball free-throw: when a skilled individual prepares for their shot, they generally pause with their eyes steady on the target before initiating the movement of the shot. The final pause where their gaze remains steady on a single location before the movement is defined as the QE in this task. Vickers defines the quiet eye as ‘the final fixation on a location that is within 3ᵒ of visual angle for a minimum of 100ms’ (Vickers, 1996). Similar gaze behaviour is seen in a number of other aiming based tasks such as archery, darts, golf, football, ice hockey, shooting, snooker table tennis, tennis, and a number of other sports.
Theories as to why the QE is so effective as a trait of expert performance appear to base around the increased processing time. When more time is taken to view the target before initiating a movement more relevant information can be processed sub-consciously about the target and what is required to hit it. Referring back to a golf putting example, limiting one’s self to a single but prolonged look at the hole (~2seconds seems about right) and then swiftly directing gaze back to the back of the ball for a further 2s before putting is a much more efficient strategy when only task relevant information is processed.
The significance of the QE, particularly in sports is huge. Initial studies by Vickers and colleagues discovered the QE when they were performing exploratory studies on expert golf performers during putting (Vickers, 1992). They noticed that expert performers used more efficient and steady gaze behaviours compared to sub-elite and novice performers (see (Vickers, 2007) and this ‘aiming fixation’ particularly was prolonged. Further studies also demonstrated that a longer QE was also associated with successful performances on an individual basis too. An analysis of perceptual cognitive expertise by Mann and colleagues (Mann, Williams, Ward, & Janelle, 2007) identified the QE as a trait of expert performance.
More recently, researchers at the University of Exeter have developed the concept of the QE into a training technique. They’re initial studies in both golf putting and basketball have revealed that QE training of both novice and expert performances not only have the immediate implications that skills can be learned to a higher level in less time, but also that individuals who receive QE training appear to be able to retain their performances better under pressure compared to performers who received more regular ‘technical’ training (Vine, Moore, & Wilson, 2011; Vine & Wilson, 2010, 2011). This obviously has huge implications for sports performers and skill acquisition researchers as it would appear QE training can ‘buffer’ and individual from the effects of anxiety and pressure on performance.
One theory for this buffering effect is that QE training is an implicit learning technique (Masters & Maxwell, 2004). This theory suggests that explicit learning which is the conscious awareness of the technical elements of a skill – for example learning the correct grip, feet positions, arm actions and head movements of a goal putt – can cause an individual’s performance to break down when performing under pressure. The Conscious Processing Hypothesis predicts that when put under pressure to perform, individuals exert more effort into consciously controlling their movements. This puts significantly more strain on the individual’s working memory and takes processing resources away from task and goal relevant stimuli that may be happening around them. If a skill is learned implicitly, such as the QE training which gives simpler directives of where to look and when, performance is often retained to a higher level under pressure. Rich Masters and colleagues take implicit learning further to include analogies such as a ‘swinging pendulum’ instead of instructions about using arms and shoulders (Maxwell, Masters, & Eves, 2000) which have also have significant results in the skill acquisition of novices.
The implications of this research are now even more significant as Mark Wilson and Sam Vine and colleagues at the University of Exeter are able to work with the Peninsula Medical School and are currently performing studies involving the training of laparoscopic surgeons. Using the QE training techniques to teach more efficient gaze behaviours based on those of experts, they are getting very positive results that may have significant baring of the future training of surgeons.
The final and most recent development of QE training is now taking place also at the University of Exeter in the field of motor control in children. The theory is, if QE training can improve the performance of athletes in various sport tasks, can we also use it to improve the motor skill of children, particularly those with motor coordination problems such as Developmental Coordination Disorder? Over the next few years, my PhD research will aim to answer this question.
Mann, D. T. Y., Williams, A. M., Ward, P., & Janelle, C. M. (2007). Perceptual-Cognitive Expertise in Sport: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29, 457-478.
Masters, R. S. W., & Maxwell, J. P. (Eds.). (2004). Implicit motor learning, reinvestment and movement disruption: What you don’t know won’t hurt you? London: Routledge.
Maxwell, J. P., Masters, R. S. W., & Eves, F. F. (2000). From novice to no know-how: A longitudinal study of implicit motor learning. Journal of Sports Sciences, 18, 111-120.
Vickers, J. N. (1992). Gaze control in putting. Perception, 21, 117-132.
Vickers, J. N. (1996). Visual Control When Aiming at a Far Target. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 22(2), 342-354.
Vickers, J. N. (2007). Perception, Cognition and Decicion Making: The Quiet Eye in Action. Champaign: IL: Human Kinetics.
Vine, S. J., Moore, L. J., & Wilson, M. R. (2011). Quiet eye training facilitates competitive putting performance in elite golfers. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(8), 1-9.
Vine, S. J., & Wilson, M. R. (2010). Quiet Eye Training: Effects on Learning and Performance Under Pressure. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 361-376.
Vine, S. J., & Wilson, M. R. (2011). The influence of quiet eye training and pressure on attention and visuo-motor control. Acta Psychologica.