Contextual information and perceptual-cognitive expertise in a dynamic, temporally-constrained task

Skilled performers extract and process postural information from an opponent during anticipation more effectively than their less-skilled counterparts. In contrast, the role and importance of contextual information in anticipation has received only minimal attention. We evaluate the importance of contextual information in anticipation and examine the underlying perceptual-cognitive processes. We present skilled and less-skilled tennis players with normal video or animated footage of the same rallies. In the animated condition, sequences were created using player movement and ball trajectory data, and postural information from the players was removed, constraining participants to anticipate based on contextual information alone. Participants judged ball bounce location of the opponent’s final occluded shot. The two groups were more accurate than chance in both display conditions with skilled being more accurate than less-skilled (Exp. 1) participants. When anticipating based on contextual information alone, skilled participants employed different gaze behaviors to less-skilled counterparts and provided verbal reports of thoughts which were indicative of more thorough evaluation of contextual information (Exp. 2). Findings highlight the importance of both postural and contextual information in anticipation and indicate that perceptual-cognitive expertise is underpinned by processes that facilitate more effective processing of contextual information, in the absence of postural information.