Neural correlates of motor performance in target sports: The model of movement-related alpha gating [Powerpoint]

What determines optimal motor performance? Scientists have addressed this question through various approaches. One such approach involved the measurement of brain activity during performance of aiming motor tasks by using electroencephalography (EEG). This research field has produced compelling evidence that a particular type of brain activity involved with neuronal inhibition – oscillations within the alpha frequency (8-12 Hz) – is associated with successful motor performance (e.g., a holed putt in golf). Our programme of research evaluated the utility of examining EEG alpha activity from multiple brain regions while relatively-inexperienced recreational golfers putted golf balls to a hole or a series of targets. Our findings revealed that motor execution was accompanied by a regional pattern – alpha gating – whereby neuronal activation was diverted away from movement-unrelated regions of the brain exhibiting enhanced alpha activity (temporal and occipital), and gated towards movement-related regions exhibiting diminished alpha activity (central). Greater inhibition of movement-unrelated regions was associated with greater movement accuracy and improved performance after skill practice, provided that an adequate level of neuronal activation was maintained in movement-related regions. In addition, a disturbance to the alpha gating, induced by randomly varying target location, resulted in impaired performance and greater perceived task difficulty. The main theoretical contribution of this research programme lies in the proposal of the movement-related alpha gating model of motor performance in target sports. These findings lay out the foundations for future applied work aimed at teaching athletes to self-regulate their brain activity to recreate the alpha gating pattern for optimal performance at will.