Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences


Edward T. Cokely


Paul Ward


Over 2 million Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries occur annually worldwide resulting in considerable economic and health burdens (e.g., suffering, surgery, loss of function, risk for re-injury, and osteoarthritis). Current screening methods are effective but they generally rely on expensive and time-consuming biomechanical movement analysis, and thus are impractical solutions. In this dissertation, I report on a series of studies that begins to investigate one potentially efficient alternative to biomechanical screening, namely skilled observational risk assessment (e.g., having experts estimate risk based on observations of athletes movements). Specifically, in Study 1 I discovered that ACL injury risk can be accurately and reliably estimated with nearly instantaneous visual inspection when observed by skilled and knowledgeable professionals. Modern psychometric optimization techniques were then used to develop a robust and efficient 5-item test of ACL injury risk prediction skill—i.e., the ACL Injury-Risk-Estimation Quiz or ACL-IQ. Study 2 cross-validated the results from Study 1 in a larger representative sample of both skilled (Exercise Science/Sports Medicine) and un-skilled (General Population) groups. In accord with research on human expertise, quantitative structural and process modeling of risk estimation indicated that superior performance was largely mediated by specific strategies and skills (e.g., ignoring irrelevant information), independent of domain general cognitive abilities (e.g., metal rotation, general decision skill). These cognitive models suggest that ACL-IQ is a trainable skill, providing a foundation for future research and applications in training, decision support, and ultimately clinical screening investigations. Overall, I present the first evidence that observational ACL injury risk prediction is possible including a robust technology for fast, accurate and reliable measurement—i.e., the ACL-IQ. Discussion focuses on applications and outreach including a web platform that was developed to house the test, provide a repository for further data collection, and increase public and professional awareness and outreach ( Future directions and general applications of the skilled movement analysis approach are also discussed.