Prediction of tennis ball landing location: A cognitive and ecological approach to visual perception

Date of Completion

January 1998


Education, Physical|Psychology, Experimental|Psychology, Cognitive




Explanation of how one perceives environmental properties differs between cognitive and ecological theories of visual perception. This study compared hypotheses motivated by which approach (cognitive or ecological) best explained skilled tennis performers' ability to predict tennis ball landing location. Twenty-seven Division I male college tennis players observed two distinct video conditions representing the two divergent hypotheses. Participants viewed 24 video sequences of a Live Model (LM) executing four different tennis strokes, and 24 video sequences of a tennis ball's trajectory from a Ball Machine (BM). Participants predicted the ball's landing location by placing a 1/4$\sp{\prime\prime}$ dot on a paper diagram of a tennis court and circling their level of response confidence.^ Results found the BM condition was perceived more accurately than the LM condition along the x- and y-axes and in angular direction. Examination of x-axis responses found contrasting effects for the video condition and side of court (left, middle, right) interactions. LM left side shots were perceived right of the actual landing location while right side shots were perceived left of the actual landing location. Conversely, BM left side shots were perceived left of actual landing location while right side shots were perceived right of the actual landing location. BM Y-axis responses were superior to LM with the exception of the middle of the court in which players severely underestimated the landing position of balls approaching head-on. Within the LM condition, traditional ground strokes (closed-stance forehands, one-handed backhands) were perceived more accurately than non-traditional ground strokes (open-stance forehands, two-handed backhands). Finally, response self-confidence was not related to successful response predictions. In sum, a limited ball flight trajectory was more informative than pre-contact (advance) visual cues. While important perceptual information is specified in an opponent's pre-contact kinematics, success in predicting ball landing location may be due to a higher-order variable of optical structure, time-to-contact. That is, perceiver emphasis is on information generated by the ball itself, not by the person propelling the ball. ^