The role of contextual information during skilled anticipation

In dynamic, temporally-constrained tasks, individuals often need to anticipate what will happen next prior to information becoming available within the environment. In such situations, the availability of contextual information can facilitate anticipation, often in conjunction with postural information. While many researchers have identified the specific sources of postural information facilitating anticipation, few have investigated the specific sources of contextual information employed. In two experiments, we presented skilled and less-skilled tennis players with animations of rallies from real matches that omitted access to postural information from the opponent, constraining participants to anticipate based on contextual information alone. In Experiment 1, participants anticipated the outcome of an opponent’s shot under three conditions in which the sequence length (i.e., number of shots in a rally) preceding the same occluded shot was varied. Participants anticipated shot direction more accurately when the preceding shot sequence was presented than not. In Experiment 2, we presented animations that depicted the ball, the players, or both, in either dynamic or still form. Those conditions in which only the ball was depicted yielded the lowest response accuracy scores. It appears that information from the player and ball motion is required to provide the context under which skilled performers can consciously pick up and utilise information to anticipate more accurately than their less-skilled counterparts.