Directing attention to movement outcomes (external focus; EF), not body movements (internal focus; IF), is a better cognitive strategy for motor performance. However, EF is not effective in some healthy individuals or stroke patients. We aimed to identify the neurological basis reflecting the individual optimal attentional strategy using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Sixty-four participants (23 healthy young, 23 healthy elderly, and 18 acute stroke) performed a reaching movement task under IF and EF conditions. Of these, 13 healthy young participants, 11 healthy elderly participants, and 6 stroke patients showed better motor performance under EF conditions (EF-dominant), whereas the others showed IF-dominance. We then measured prefrontal activity during rhythmic hand movements under both attentional conditions. IF-dominant participants showed significantly higher left prefrontal activity than EF-dominant participants under IF condition. In addition, receiver operating characteristic analysis supported that the higher activity in the left frontopolar and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices could detect IF-dominance as an individual's optimal attentional strategy for preventing motor performance decline. Taken together, these results suggest that prefrontal activity during motor tasks reflects an individual's ability to process internal body information, thereby conferring IF-dominance. These findings could be applied for the development of individually optimized rehabilitation programs.
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