Introduction: The goal-directed action of crossing a gymnastic balance beam is a complex skill involving multisensory integration. In order to maintain balance and posture during such a task visual and proprioceptive receptors provide the performer with information about body position relative to his or her environment. The main aim of the present study was to examine the effect of removing vision during locomotion across a balance beam (acquisition phase) on subsequent full vision performance.
Methods: Thirty novice gymnastic performers were allocated to one of three groups based on pre-test scores. The main dependent variable throughout was time taken to successfully cross a regulation gymnastic beam 30cm from ground level. The pre-test involved 5 trials crossing the beam with full vision and 5 trials with no vision. Group A subsequently performed 50 practice trials walking across the beam with full vision. Group B performed 50 trials walking across the beam after having peripheral vision removed. Group C performed 50 trials walking across the beam with no vision. Immediately after the practice trials, all participants performed a post-test identical to the pre-test. A further retention test (identical to the post-test) was performed 2 hours after the post-test. Data were analysed via administering a 3 (group) x 3 (time; pre, post and retention test) between-within factorial ANOVA for both the full-vision and no-vision data.
Results: All three groups showed a reduction in time taken to cross the beam between pre-and post-test trials for both the full-vision and no-vision conditions. The main significant findings were apparent between Groups A and C. For example, Group A crossed the beam, on average, in 25.9s and 23.5s in the no-vision pre-and post-test respectively. Similarly, the mean time for Group C participants to cross the beam in the no-vision pre-and post-test was 25.1 and 12.4s respectively. Therefore, Group C crossed the beam significantly quicker than Group A during the no-vision post-test. More interestingly, Group C crossed the beam significantly quicker than Group A in the full-vision post-test (3.5 and 2.6s respectively). These differences were still evident during the 2-hour retention test. For example, the mean time taken to cross the beam for Group A in the full-vision and no-vision retention test was 3.6 and 20.4s respectively. The mean time for Group C during the retention test was 2.7s (full-vision) and 11.1s (no- vision).
Conclusions: The main finding from the present study suggested that participants who practiced the balance beam task with no vision outperformed those who practiced with full vision, in both full-vision and no-vision post-test trials. This suggests that when participants are required to focus more on utilising proprioceptive information during the no- vision acquisition, this has subsequent benefits when returning back to normal, full vision conditions. These findings may have implications for skill acquisition processes across a wide age range.