Languages Magazine

Help with a Lay Summary of My Throwing Research

By Andrew D Wilson @PsychScientists
I am applying for a research fellowship and part of the application is a 2500 character lay summary; see below. I would love all and any feedback from you about how well it scans for you.

I have also put a public copy of this and the scientific abstract on Google Drive that can take comments, if you are so inclined:

Lay summary
Scientific abstract
The remit of the section is
Provide a lay summary of your proposed project. This should be understandable by an A-level science student. Explain why you have chosen to work in this subject area and what it is about your proposed research that you find particularly exciting, interesting or important. Also explain the potential impact or wider benefits to society of your research. 

Imagine you are standing on the rocky shore of a lake with a friend, who challenges you to a competition: who will be first to hit that floating branch with a rock? You and your friend hunt for suitable rocks to throw, hefting them in your hand until you find some that feel just right. Then you take turns throwing those rocks to try and hit the branch, getting closer on each throw until finally one of you scores a direct hit.

This game might seem an odd thing to want to study scientifically – it all seems so straight forward. But this simplicity is deceptive. Throwing to hit a target like this is actually a surprisingly difficult action that requires you to produce a precisely timed movement that suits the task at hand (how far is the target? How big?). Throwing is in fact so difficult that humans are the only species who have specialised in it. We have hands that can grasp objects, bodies that help make the precisely timed throw possible, and the ability to perceive which objects are most suitable for throwing. Evolutionary biologists believe that throwing provided our relatively small and weak ancestors with the ability to hunt large animals such as mammoths. But even today, throwing still plays a large role in modern life, even if it’s more likely to show up in the sports arena than on the plains of North America.

Thanks to research in sports, we know a lot about what throwing looks like when it happens. What we don’t know is how a skilled thrower produces that throw in the first place. What makes an object ideal for throwing, and how do we perceive this when we heft that object? How do we perceive where our target is? And, most importantly, how do we use this information to select a throw that will move this object in just the right way so as to hit that target? This project is all about answering those questions, using modern motion-capture and data analysis techniques.

I find throwing fascinating because there are so many unanswered questions from so many different disciplines (e.g. psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology). But even better, my colleagues and I have the tools we need to actually answer these questions! We believe that the answers will be of interest to many people, including scientists but also coaches and athletes interested in improving their techniques and accelerating their learning. It’s rare to find a research question with such wide appeal, and this makes it a very exciting topic for me to work on as a scientist.

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