Black-Box Model of Information Processing

Three Stages of Information Processing

Human functioning can be described in terms of the processing of information. It is hypothesized that the environment holds a lot of information that is accepted by an individual and kept in storage systems known as memory. However, further actions can only ensue from the information following processing, which occurs in three key stages the first of which is the input of signals. During this stage, sense organs perceive information from the surroundings in the same way that a computer receives data through input gadgets. The information in the surroundings is considered a stimulus.

The second step involves the processing of information within the individual, who is considered a black box in the black-box model. Processing occurs in several possible ways that could either be sequential or parallel. In sequential processing, one process must be completed before moving on to the next, whereas in parallel processing several inputs can be processed at the same time. These courses are usually carried out in the brain (Schmidt & Lee, 2011). The processed information then leads to the third stage, which is the production of a response or output.

The constituents of the black-box model of information processing can be compared to a physiological feedback loop where information flows from the stimulus (signal) to a receptor that perceives it. The integrator processes the signal and conveys the resultant feedback to the effector, which generates the desired response. Invertebrates, this model can be expanded to stimulus, sensory neuron, spinal cord or brain, and motor neurons that produce the anticipated response.

This model can be used to describe how a human being processes an auditory stimulus to elicit a motor response. An example is athletes taking part in a sprint event. They depend on a start signal, which is an auditory input from the environment. The signal is detected by the sensory system and then processed in the brain (decoded to mean it is time to begin sprinting). The processed signal is transmitted from the brain to the muscles via the spinal cord causing the coordination of various muscles of the body and their contraction, ultimately producing a sprint start as the motor response (Ille, Selin, Do, & Thon, 2013). This example underscores the significance of the brain and spinal cord in the production of responses.

Reaction Time and How It Can be Fractionated into Two Components

Reaction time can be defined as the time taken between the presentation of a stimulus and the production of a motor response related to the impetus (Dean & Baker, 2016). In simple reaction time, a single response is elicited from one stimulus, whereas in complex reaction time a number of stimuli are presented and can cause different reactions. This time can be split into premotor and motor time. Constituents of the premotor reaction time encompass the time between the production of the signal and a change in electrical signals in the muscle. Conversely, motor reaction time is the duration that elapses between the change in muscle signal and the start of limb movement. The sum of these two components gives the overall reaction time.

Premotor reaction time corresponds to the central processing of information while motor reaction time matches peripheral processing. The precise steps involved in information processing are encoding of the input, activation of memory, making a decision, choosing a response selection, implementing the response. These steps are grouped into those done by the peripheral nervous system, the central nervous system, and the muscular system. Experimental procedures that involve the active manipulation of the peripheral nervous system alone or the central nervous system only can be used to apportion and measure the two components of reaction time (Kendall, 2018).

Muscle electromyography (EMG) is the most common technique used in this regard. In such experiments, the time gap between the stimulus and the initial change in EMG is called the premotor time, which corresponds to the central processing that takes place when the impetus is registered and when the fibrous muscle is activated (Davranche, Burle, Audiffren, & Hasbroucq, 2005). Conversely, the motor constituent of reaction time is the interval between the primary change in EMG and muscular movement. This time stands for all activities linked with the musculature (Schmidt & Lee, 2011).

How Reaction Time is Related to the Stages of Information Processing

Reaction time determines the processing of information. However, the actual effect of reaction time is realized by the decomposition of reaction time into its motor and premotor components. The general information processing steps include encoding of the input, activation of memory, making a decision, choosing a response selection, implementing the response. It is impossible to obtain the precise processing time for each of the listed information processing stages. Therefore, input and output times are usually combined under peripheral processing, whereas time taken for other stages such as retrieving memory, decision making, and selection of response are combined under central processing. This way, reaction time can be related to the different stages of information processing.

Attentional Focus and Performance

Research on attention and performance began in the 1950s with the development of attention theories such as the “Single Channel Theory” (1952), “Filter Theory” (1958), “Attenuation Theory” (1958), and “Late Selection Theory” (1960). The “Multichannel Theory” was introduced in 1971, after which the bottleneck of selection theory was later advanced in 1973. Many studies were conducted using diverse theories to evaluate how attentional focus influences the performance of different motor skills since the 1990s. For example, Wulf (2007) reviewed studies that examined the influence of attentional focus on motor performance.

The external focus of attention was induced by feedback or instruction and has demonstrated benefits in various populations at different levels of skill. Some of the activities that were investigated included balance tasks, golf, basketball, dart throwing, American football, and jumping. The common consensus was that the external focus of attention was more effective than the internal one. Additionally, the external focus of attention improved the motor execution of people with physical impairment.

The theoretical hypothesis supporting these observations was the constrained action hypothesis, which proposes that directing attention to the movement upshot (external focus) paves way for an involuntary mode of movement regulation, leading to the attainment of the anticipated upshot as a spinoff. Conversely, when people attempt to micromanage their movements consciously (internal focus), there is a high likelihood of constraining the motor system by meddling with the process that would otherwise control the synchronization of their movements. The findings of the studies implied that the external focus of attention enhanced automaticity in the regulation of movements, which improved the efficacy of motor performance. The external focus of attention not only improved the prevailing motor skills but also augmented the acquisition and retention of motor skills (Wulf, 2007).

Wulf (2013) conducted a 15-year review of attentional focus and motor learning. The outcomes showed that instruction or feedback that prompted the external focus of attention yielded better outcomes in terms of performance and learning in various tasks and skill levels across different age groups. These observations were explained by Prinz’s common coding theory of perception and action, which hypothesized that the brain has a common depiction for insight and action as distal occurrences. Consequently, it is possible to conduct commensurate coding and attain the observed outcomes.

The Relationship Between Attention and Information Process

Attention is the dynamic that governs which mental depictions of information are processed to form memories and the speed with which it is processed. Attentional focus acts as a driving force on the information processing system (Williams et al., 2015). Two important loci of focus exist, including internal and external foci. The former aims at the body movements of the subject while the latter concentrates on the consequences of the performer’s movements on the surroundings. Studies show that attentional focus influences the efficacy of different types of movement, including balance tasks, precision, and motion efficiency (Wulf, 2007; Wulf, 2013).

These effects occur as a result of muscular activity that releases maximum force, speed, or endurance (Wulf, 2013). There is a lot of evidence showing that external focus of attention yields better outcomes for performance and learning than internal focus.

Previous Research on the Effect of Attentional Focus on Information Processing

In the previous research and study, the goal was to determine the impact of attentional focus on fractionated reaction time. It was shown that attentional focus had a significant effect on reaction time and premotor time but not on motor time. Another observation was that external focus generated faster reaction time and premotor reaction time compared to the internal focus. These outcomes were explained by the fact that attentional focus influenced central processing speed as opposed to muscle activating latency.

Therefore, the external attentional focus had a positive influence on the promptness of information processing by the central nervous system. Future projects to continue this line of research could consider examining changes in brain activity in response to different attentional foci. Instead of EMG, functional magnetic resonance imaging could serve as a better tool.


Davranche, K., Burle, B., Audiffren, M., & Hasbroucq, T. (2005). Information processing during physical exercise: A chronometric and electromyographic study. Experimental Brain Research, 165(4), 532-540.

Dean, L. R., & Baker, S. N. (2016). Fractionation of muscle activity in rapid responses to startling cues. Journal of Neurophysiology, 117(4), 1713-1719.

Ille, A., Selin, I., Do, M. C., & Thon, B. (2013). Attentional focus effects on sprint start performance as a function of skill level. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31(15), 1705-1712.

Kendall, B. J. (2018). The effects of acute exercise on postural control, information processing, motor skill acquisition, and executive function (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan.

Schmidt, R. A., & Lee, T. D. (2011). Motor control and learning: A behavioral emphasis (5th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Williams, E. L., Jones, H. S., Sparks, S. A., Marchant, D. C., Midgley, A. W., & Mc Naughton, L. R. (2015). Competitor presence reduces internal attentional focus and improves 16.1 km cycling time trial performance. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 18(4), 486-491.

Wulf, G. (2007). Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 10 years of research. E-Journal Bewegung und Training [E-Journal Movement and Training), 1, 4-14.

Wulf, G. (2013). Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 15 years. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6(1), 77-104.