According to the World Health Organization (WHO), physical inactivity is the fourth-leading risk factor for global mortality, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths around the world annually. Readers of this blog need no convincing that it’s important to be active every day. But is spending more time on it enough to reduce the risk of early death? Not necessarily. How we perceive this activity turns out to be just as important. We learn of this from the authors of an intriguing study in Health Psychology devoted to physical activity and mortality.
Experienced sports players aren’t just highly skilled at executing their own actions, they also have what often seems like a supernatural ability to read the game, to watch other players and anticipate what’s going to happen next. A clever new study in Psychological Research offers insight into the brain basis of this aspect of sporting ability – the findings suggest that expert basketball players simulate in their minds the actions of other players in something akin to slow-motion, presumably giving them more time to interpret and read the actions.
Have you seen those people who come out of an exercise class with a spring in their step and self-satisfied smile on their face? They really pushed themselves this time and now they’re riding that endorphin high. To them, the ache and burn feels good. But it’s not so for everyone. Others find exercise unpleasant and unrewarding – the aches just, well, ache. Psychologists call this difference the “affective response to exercise” and in a paper in Psychology of Sport and Exercise researchers in the Netherlands report new evidence that it is to a significant degree genetically inherited.
It sounds like a paradox – the idea that participating in aggressive sport can make people less aggressive. Yet this belief forms a core basis of many martial arts dating back thousands of years, and many famous practitioners (real and fictional) have preached the importance of self control.
Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee once noted that “emotion can be the enemy. If you give into your emotion, you lose yourself”. Or as Mr Miyagi said in The Karate Kid the “lesson is not just karate only, the lesson is for whole life”.
Previous research has demonstrated that this may well be the case, as participating in martial arts helps improve concentration and self-awareness, self-esteem, emotional stability and self-regulation.
But is it really true that martial arts also reduces aggression outside the dojo? Can participating in traditionally violent sports prove cathartic, helping young people develop self-discipline and in turn be less violent away from the sport? Writing in the journal of Aggression and Violent Behaviour researchers from Israel and America report their findings from the first meta-analysis on the impact of martial arts on violent behaviours in children and teenagers.
A new analysis of elite tennis performance in the Journal of Economic Psychology is consistent with this account. Based on the outcome of thousands of games played across the four tennis Grand Slams in 2010, the researchers led by Danny Cohen-Zada at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, found that men were adversely affected by high pressure by about twice as much as women. Extrapolating to the world of work, Cohen-Zada and his colleagues said this casts doubt on the argument that the gender pay gap is due to women’s inability to compete under pressure, though they acknowledged there are caveats to this conclusion.
Pressure does interesting things to an athlete. For some, it leads to an increase in tension, nerves and anxiety. Others are able to channel this increased pressure into running faster, jumping higher and throwing further. What strategies do these “big game players” use to raise their game under heightened pressure – known as a “clutch performance”?
In the Journal of Sports Sciences, researchers from Australia and England recently reported the results of their interviews with sixteen athletes from around the world just a few days after they had delivered an excellent sporting performance in a competition when under pressure. The findings represent a step forward in our understanding of expert and skilled performances, showing how clutch performance is similar to, but distinct from, the related concept of “flow”.
“One 60-minute run can add 7 hours to your life” claimed The Times last week. The story was based on a new review in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases that concluded that runners live, on average, three years longer than non-runners and that running will do more for your longevity than any other form of exercise. But there’s more to running than its health-enhancing effects. Research published in recent years has shown that donning your trainers and pounding the hills or pavements changes your brain and mind in some intriguing ways, from increasing connectivity between key functional hubs, to helping you regulate your emotions. The precise effects sometimes vary according to whether you engage in intense sprints or long-distance running. Here, to coincide with a new feature article in The Psychologist – “Minds run free” – we provide a handy digest of the ways that running changes your mind and brain.
A tough interview or critical match can generate such anxiety that it ends up sabotaging our hopes and fulfilling our fears. People adopt different ploys to drive it away, from meditating to enjoying a cigarette. But it’s another tactic at the centre of new research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes: the power of ritual. Many top-level performers use ritual to prepare for their game or show, whether this be chewing on exactly two cookies or chanting Latin – and the new research suggests many of the rest of us do too, with around half of a surveyed sample of participants admitting to trying it at least once. But is there a point to it?
The research, led by Harvard Business School’s Alison Woods Brooks, suggests there is. In a pair of studies, 250 participants had to cope with the pressure of having to sing part of a song to a stranger, the Journey “classic” Don’t Stop Believing. Just before they put their voice on show, participants in one condition were asked to conduct a short ritual: draw a picture of their feelings, sprinkle salt on it, recite a countdown aloud before throwing the paper in the trash.
It’s that time of year when many of us are trying our best to begin a new exercise habit. One psychological factor affecting our chances is how we think we’ll feel during the exercise, and how that compares to the way we actually feel when we get going, and how we feel afterwards. A new study in Health Psychology has explored whether it’s possible to increase people’s adherence to a new exercise regime by making their expectations more positive. While the main intervention was a disappointment, there is an encouraging message in the results: moderate-to-vigorous exercise is likely to be more enjoyable than you think, and simply knowing this will probably help you enjoy your exercise even more.
Whether we’re testing our mettle on a video game, on the golf course, or at the bowling alley, it’s good to have a realistic sense of our ability, so we attempt things that are feasible – and don’t accept unwise bets. But how accurate are we at judging ourselves in this way? In a new study in Neuron, researchers from Oxford University have shown that our sense of our own ability is coloured by the other players around us. Specifically, their findings suggest that when we’re competing with a strong player, we tend to downgrade our own ability. Conversely, when that player is on our team, we see ourselves as better than we really are. Continue reading “A highly skilled opponent can lead you to underestimate yourself”→