From the Journal of Experimental Psychology, a simple way to activate the part of your brain that lets you stop worrying and just be the ball.
PROBLEM: Thirty percent of penalty kicks in professional soccer are missed, as are 20-30 percent of NBA free throws, despite practice scenarios in which those numbers are notably lower. Studies have suggested that the reason is primarily psychological -- they fail not from lack of focus, but "because attention is directed toward the execution of the action" -- since most perform better at these rote but accuracy-dependent aspects of the game (which they've nearly perfected from a mechanical aspect with thousands of hours of practice) in low-pressure situations. So, like so many of us, they're always looking for ways to get out of their heads.
According to the researchers, freaking out is primarily associated with the left hemisphere of the brain, while the right hemisphere deals more with mechanical actions. Meanwhile the cortex of the right hemisphere controls movements of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body. So they figured that if you can purposely activate the right hemisphere -- in this case, by making a fist or squeezing a ball with your left hand -- it will improve physical performance and draw focus away from the ruminating left hemisphere.
- We're Safe to Tase Kids
- Babies Shun Altruism, Prefer Bouncing
- Marijuana Use Doubles Risk of Testicular Cancer
METHODOLOGY: In three experiments, German researchers had athletes perform their respective sports -- soccer (penalty kicks), tae kwon do, and badminton -- in casual environments. They then put them in front of large audiences or cameras to create "high-pressure environments" and measured the change in performance. Some of the athletes made fists with their left hand (or held a small ball in their left hand), and some made fists with their right.