Category: Sport

Episode 17: How To Make Running Less Painful And More Fun

GettyImages-958637750.jpgThis is Episode 17 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.


Can psychology help make running more enjoyable? Our presenter Christian Jarrett speaks to several experts about various strategies including “cognitive reappraisal” and the benefits of taking part in organised runs. He also hears how some of us are genetically disposed to find running less enjoyable than others, and why that isn’t an excuse for giving up.

Our guests, in order of appearance, are: Dr Grace Giles (US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, Natick), Dr John Nezlek (SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Faculty in Poznan and College of William & Mary, Williamsburg VA), Dr Marzena Cypryańska (SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw), and Professor Eco de Geus (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam).

Episode credits: Presented and produced by Christian Jarrett. Mixing and editing Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Key research mentioned in this episode:

Further background reading:

Check out this episode!

Subscribe and download via iTunes.
Subscribe and download via Stitcher.
Subscribe and listen on Spotify.

Past episodes:

Episode one: Dating and Attraction
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits
Episode three: How to Win an Argument
Episode four: The Psychology of Gift Giving
Episode five: How To Learn a New Language
Episode six: How To Be Sarcastic 😉
Episode seven: Use Psychology To Compete Like an Olympian.
Episode eight: Can We Trust Psychological Studies?
Episode nine: How To Get The Best From Your Team
Episode ten: How To Stop Procrastinating
Episode eleven: How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Episode twelve: How To Be Funnier
Episode thirteen: How to Study and Learn More Effectively
Episode fourteen: Psychological Tricks To Make Your Cooking Taste Better
Episode fifteen: Is Mindfulness A Panacea Or Overhyped And Potentially Problematic?
Bonus episode (sixteen): What’s It Like To Have No Mind’s Eye?

PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology.

PsychCrunch Banner April 16

Routledge interviewed PsychCrunch presenter Christian Jarrett about the aims of the podcast and engaging with the public about psychology research.

Are Bronze Medallists Really Happier Than Silver Medallists? New Insights From The 2016 Olympics

GettyImages-593247404.jpgBy guest blogger Bradley Busch

To win a medal of any kind at the Olympic Games takes years of training, hard work and sacrifice. Standing on an Olympic podium is widely regarded as the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. Nonetheless, only one athlete can win gold, leaving the two runner-up medallists to ponder what might have been. Intriguingly a seminal study from the 1992 Olympic Games suggested that this counterfactual thinking was especially painful for silver medallists, who appeared visibly less happy than bronze medallists. The researchers speculated that this may have been because of the different counterfactual thinking they engaged in, with bronze medallists being happy that they didn’t come fourth while silver medallists felt sad that they didn’t win gold.

However, subsequent research based on the 2000 Olympic Games did not replicate this finding: this time silver medallists were found to be happier than bronze medallists. To further muddy the waters, a study from the 2004 Games was consistent with the seminal research, finding that straight after competition, gold and bronze medallists were more likely to smile than silver medallists, with these smiles being larger and more intense.

Now further insight into the psychology of coming second or third comes via Mark Allen, Sarah Knipler and Amy Chan of the University of Wollongong, who have released their findings based on the 2016 Olympic Games. These latest results, published in Journal of Sports Sciences, again challenge that initial eye-grabbing result that suggested bronze medallists are happier than silver medallists, but they support the idea that the nature of counterfactual thinking differs depending on whether athletes come second or third. 

Continue reading “Are Bronze Medallists Really Happier Than Silver Medallists? New Insights From The 2016 Olympics”

These Are The Pre-match Emotional Control Strategies That Higher-ranked Table Tennis Players Use More Than Lower-ranked Players

GettyImages-691190188.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

In contact sports like boxing and rugby you can use your pre-match nerves to fuel your determination, speed and aggression. In contrast, in a sport like table tennis that involves fine motor control, nerves can also stifle your performance, making you stiff and clumsy. It seems obvious that learning to control your emotions prior to games should therefore be important to table tennis players (and competitors in other sports that require precision). Yet, surprisingly, as the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Personality point out, “to date, only a few studies have investigated the relation between emotional regulation and … sport performance”.

To find out more, Jeanette Kubiak and her colleagues, at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, surveyed hundreds of league table tennis players in Germany about the ways they controlled their emotions prior to matches, and then compared these results against objective measures of the participants’ league performance. The research uncovered several emotional control strategies used more often by better and improving players. “Taken together, the findings provide evidence for the importance of emotion regulation regarding sport performance,” the researchers said.

Continue reading “These Are The Pre-match Emotional Control Strategies That Higher-ranked Table Tennis Players Use More Than Lower-ranked Players”

How Competitiveness Leads Us To Sabotage Other People’s Personal Goals At The Expense Of Our Own

GettyImages-656568732.jpgBy Emma Young

Say you’re planning to run a marathon, and you have a target time in mind. Or you’re on a weight- loss diet, and your aim is to lose six kilos in six weeks. Or, there’s an exam coming up, and you want to score above 75 per cent. These are all individual goal pursuits. In theory, you’re not in direct competition with anybody else, though of course if you’re part of a running club, or a weight loss group, or an undergraduate class, you will be aware that others around you are striving to achieve their own goals. 

There’s plenty of evidence that sharing your own goals and hearing about other people’s can be helpful – in providing mutual encouragement, emotional support and motivation. However, a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows how, in certain circumstances, we can’t help ourselves from competing with others – an effect that can be surprisingly counterproductive. The findings suggest that when we’re paired with an individual striving for a similar goal and who is similarly able, we begin to view this other person as an opponent – leading us to sabotage their efforts, ultimately to the detriment of our own performance. 

“Pursuing individual goals together with others can at times lead to counter-productive behaviours that not only harm others but also harm oneself,” report Szu-chi Huang at Stanford University, and her colleagues. 

Continue reading “How Competitiveness Leads Us To Sabotage Other People’s Personal Goals At The Expense Of Our Own”

A Surprising New Way To Avoid Choking Under Pressure – Imagine You Have The Prize And Are Performing To Keep It

By Christian Jarrett

Choking is a ubiquitous and extremely frustrating human weakness – as the stakes are raised, our performance usually improves, but only up to a point, beyond which the pressure gets too much and our skills suddenly deteriorate. Any new psychological tricks to ameliorate this problem will be welcomed by sports competitors, students and anyone else who needs to be at their best under high pressure situations.

A fascinating paper in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience documents a new technique for reducing choking that has to do with altering how you look at what is at stake. Moreover, the research shows how this act of reappraisal is reflected in altered activity in a key brain area that’s previously been implicated in how well we can maintain our fine motor control under pressure.

Continue reading “A Surprising New Way To Avoid Choking Under Pressure – Imagine You Have The Prize And Are Performing To Keep It”

Runners Get A Wellbeing Boost From Participating In Organised Races

GettyImages-817351408.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

An increasing number of people are taking up recreational running. It often starts with a slow, painful canter around the block, followed by a wheezy vow to get into better shape. Maybe this was you, and you’ve since marshaled enough grit to complete runs of a sufficient length and frequency that you’re now comfortable telling people that you’re an actual, real-life runner. Do you leave it there, or is it time to train for and take part in a proper, organised race?

A recent study suggests it’s worth a go – Marzena Cypryańska and John Nezlek report in The Journal of Positive Psychology that recreational runners were happier and more satisfied with life during weeks in which they had taken part in an organised race. The pair believe this is because the main aim for most people who take part in (non-elite) organised races is simply to complete the course (which virtually all entrants do).  Therefore “no one loses, no matter how long they take to finish” and finishers usually get some kind of medal or award and come away with a powerful sense of camaraderie and achievement. The researchers add that “In this sense, mass road races, however unwittingly, potentially represent a positive psychology intervention.”

Continue reading “Runners Get A Wellbeing Boost From Participating In Organised Races”

A new review looks into the optimum exercise intensity, type and duration for boosting mood

By Christian Jarrett

It’s well-known that physical exercise is beneficial not just to physical health but also our mental health. Yet whereas most countries have detailed, evidence-backed guidelines on the type and intensity of exercise required for various physical health benefits, such guidelines do not yet exist for exercise and mood. This is partly due to a lack of necessary evidence. However, a new systematic review in The Journal of Psychology Interdisciplinary and Applied brings us usefully up-to-date on the current findings in this area, collating evidence from 38 relevant studies that examined the associations between exercise intensity, duration and modality and any effects on mood.

Continue reading “A new review looks into the optimum exercise intensity, type and duration for boosting mood”

A brief jog sharpens the mind, boosting attentional control and perceptual speed. Now researchers are figuring out why

By Christian Jarrett

If you wanted to ensure your mind was in top gear, which do you think would provide the better preparation – 15 minutes of calm relaxation, or a 15 minute jog?

A study involving 101 undergrad students suggests you’d be better off plumping for the latter.

Evidence had already accumulated showing that relatively brief, moderate aerobic exercise – like going for a brisk walk or a jog – has immediate benefits for mental functioning, especially speed and attentional control. A parallel literature has also documented how brief, aerobic exercise has beneficial effects on your mood, including making you feel more energetic, even when you don’t expect it to. In their new paper in Acta Psychologica, Fabian Legrand and his colleagues bridged these findings by looking to see if the emotional effects of exercise might be at least partly responsible for the cognitive benefits.

They asked their participants to rate how energetic and vigorous they were feeling and then to complete two cognitive tests (versions of the Trail Making Test, which involves drawing lines between numbers and letters as fast and as accurately as possible).

Next, they allocated half their student participants to go for a 15 minute group jog around the campus and the others to spend the same time following group relaxation exercises. Finally, two minutes after the jog/relaxation session, the students answered the same questions as before about their feelings of energy, and then they repeated the cognitive tests.

The students who went for a jog, but not the relaxation students, subsequently showed significant improvement on the version of the Trail Making Test that measures mental speed and attentional control (but not the other that taps memory and cognitive switching). Moreover, this improvement in cognition was fully mediated by their increased feelings of energy and vigour, implying – although not proving conclusively – that the jog boosted cognition through its effects on their subjective sense of having more energy (in contrast, the relaxation group actually felt dramatically less energetic).

Among the study limitations was the fact the relaxation session took place inside, while the jog was outside. Notwithstanding this issue and some others, and while recognising the need for more research, Legrand and his team said that their findings “add weight to recent suggestions that increased feelings of energy may mediate the relationship between aerobic exercise and some aspects of cognitive functioning.”

Brief aerobic exercise immediately enhances visual attentional control and perceptual speed. Testing the mediating role of feelings of energy

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

This is what happened to fathers’ hormone levels when they watched their kids play football

GettyImages-90647584.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

The effect of playing sport on men’s testosterone levels is well documented. Generally speaking, the winner enjoys a testosterone boost, while the loser experiences the opposite (though far less studied, competition unsurprisingly also affects women’s hormonal levels, though not in the same ways as men’s). The evolutionary-based explanation for the hormonal effects seen in men is that the winner’s testosterone rise acts to increase their aggression and the likelihood that they will seek out more contests, while the loser skulks off to lick their wounds. When it comes to vicarious effects of competition on men’s testosterone, however, the findings are more mixed. There’s some evidence that male sports fans show testosterone gains after seeing their teams win, but other studies have failed to replicate this finding.

A new, small study in Human Nature adds to this literature by examining the hormonal changes (testosterone and cortisol) in fathers watching their children play a football game – a situation in which you might particularly expect to see vicarious hormonal effects since it’s the men’s own kin who are involved.

Continue reading “This is what happened to fathers’ hormone levels when they watched their kids play football”

New study of trash talking in sport highlights that it is more than a physical contest

GettyImages-71403413-2.jpg
BERLIN – JULY 06: Zinedine Zidane (L) of France exchanges words with Andrea Pirlo of Italy, after headbutting Marco Materazzi of Italy in the chest during the FIFA World Cup Final in Germany. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

By Christian Jarrett

Alongside the physical jostle, thrust and tug of sport there is a parallel contest involving words. Although this trash talking between players before, during and after games is well known, it is surprisingly unstudied by psychologists. Yet these exchanges play a major role, arguably swinging the outcome of games. Consider an infamous example: the 2006 football world cup final in which Italy’s Marco Materazzi insulted the sister or mother (depending on whose account you believe) of France’s star player Zinadine Zidane, who in turn responded by head butting Materazzi. Zidane was then sent off, with Italy going on to win the game on penalties.

Is trash talking more prevalent in some sports than others? What does trash talk tend to be about? A new exploratory paper in Human Nature is among the first systematic investigations of trash talking in sport, and certainly the first to examine the phenomenon through an evolutionary lens.

Continue reading “New study of trash talking in sport highlights that it is more than a physical contest”