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Affordance-based control in running to catch fly balls

PhD ceremony:Mr D.B.W. (Dees) Postma
When:October 14, 2019
Supervisors:prof. dr. K.A.P.M. (Koen) Lemmink, dr. ir. F.T.J.M. (Frank) Zaal
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Medical Sciences / UMCG
Affordance-based control in running to catch fly balls

Control of motor behavior is complex in theory, but oftentimes effortless in practice. People cross the street, climb the stairs and play ball without giving it much thought. Still, for people to display adequate and effective behavior in an everchanging environment is an amazing feat. This thesis is dedicated to understanding this marvel. Specifically, this thesis examines how people deal with their action (im)possibilities when controlling their motor behavior.

As a case in point, the ‘fly-ball paradigm’ is examined, which considers the case of an outfielder in baseball running to make a catch. And while the fly-ball paradigm has already been thoroughly scrutinized, extant theories on motor control in running to catch fly balls have overlooked one crucial factor: the influence of catchability on running. When a fly ball is bound to leave the stadium, an outfielder would not attempt to make a catch. Similarly, when a fly ball is only just catchable, an outfielder might decide to kick it up a notch to secure the catch. As such, the action (im)possibility of catchability shapes not only outfielders’ continuous control of action but also their decision-making.

In this thesis, a new theory on motor control in running to catch fly balls is presented. The theory fits existing models but improves upon them by accounting for the influence of catchability. Thereby, this theory provides novel insights about the continuous control of motor behavior and decision making. Insights that are not just limited to sports but extend to everyday-life behaviors as well.