Serious athletes looking for an edge now have a new competitive angle to worry about: whose emotions are best suited for maximizing athletic prowess. A recent study in Australian Psychologist, unearthed by blogger and Wired columnist Eric Barker, asked athletes to evaluate how different emotions affected their performance. They compare "positive" emotions like excitement and happiness to "negative" emotions like anger and anxiety. The verdict is that positive emotions require more concentration to maintain but ultimately produce better performance.
Excitement and happiness were more closely associated with concentration than anxiety, dejection, and anger. Although excitement demanded more attention than the negative emotions, the positive emotions were perceived as more likely to lead to a performance-relevant focus and automatic physical movements, both of which were beneficial for concentration and performance.
An interesting corollary to this, however, is that "Emotional intensity increased these effects." That is, experiencing strong emotions, regardless of whether they are positive or negative, will improve athletic performance. This may explain why we here at the Atlantic Wire run purely on rage and caffeine.
Barker muses, "Normally I recommend some good books on happiness when I post on the subject but I'm also curious about the other side of the debate." The "other side" here is the case that negative emotions can be good. "This is now on my list to check out: Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.