Monday, May 20, 2013

Choking and Hand Squeezing

No surprise, neuroscientists are looking for ways to help individuals avoid the phenomenon of choking. According to new research published by the American Psychological Association, some athletes may improve their performance under pressure by using a simple technique to activate specific parts of the brain. For example, by squeezing a ball or clenching their left hand before competition. Because of lateral specialization of the two hemispheres, researchers theorized that squeezing a ball or clenching the left hand would activate the right hemisphere of the brain and reduce the likelihood of an athlete’s choking under pressure. In three experiments with experienced soccer players, judo experts and badminton players, researchers in Germany tested the athletes’ skills during practice and then in stressful competitions before a large crowd or video camera. Right-handed athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand before competing were less likely to choke under pressure than right-handed players who squeezed a ball in their right hand. (Studies have focused exclusively on right-handed athletes because some relationships between different parts of the brain aren’t as well understood for left-handed people, according to the authors. (Note: while this technique probably wouldn’t help athletes whose performance is based on strength or stamina, such as weightlifters or marathon runners, it could apply to athletes whose performance is based on accuracy and complex body movements, such as soccer players or golfers.) This research could have important implications outside athletics, as well. For example, elderly people who are afraid of falling often focus too much on their movements, so right-handed elderly people may be able to improve their balance by clenching their left hand before walking or climbing stairs.

No comments: