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Visual illusions may help boost sports performance

Washington, Wed, 14 Mar 2012 ANI

Washington, Mar 14 (ANI): One of the ways in which a player might be able to improve his chances at making a free throw during a basketball tournament could be by tricking himself into thinking that the basket is bigger than it really is, a new study has suggested.


Purdue University's psychological scientist Jessi Witt, who has played sports her whole life, started studying how perception relates to sports performance in graduate school.


"You hear about athletes making these comments like, oh, I was playing so well, everything seemed like it was moving in slow motion," she said.


Much of her research has examined this effect-how people who are doing well at a sport seem to see the world differently. Softball and tennis players who are hitting well think the balls look bigger, for example.


That's all very interesting, but everyone has the same question about her research, Witt said.


"When people interview me for all these sports things, they always want to know, 'How do I get better?' And I say, 'I don't know-I just study the perception.'"


So Witt and coauthors Sally A. Linkenauger of Max Planck Institute-Tubingen and Dennis R. Proffitt of the University of Virginia decided they should do a study on how to improve performance.


For the experiment, the researchers used a well-known optical illusion.


They set up a golf hole on a ramp and used a projector to shine a ring of circles around the hole. When they projected a ring of 11 small circles around the golf hole, it made the central circle look bigger by comparison.


When they put five large circles around the same golf hole, the hole looked smaller.


Thirty-six college students took 10 tries at each condition.


The putters sank more putts when the hole looked bigger-about 10 percent more.


"That's one stroke," Witt said.


"In a professional setting, that could make a huge difference."


It's still not clear how a player could make this happen, though-setting up projectors on the putting green isn't very practical.


These findings apply to college basketball as visual distractions likely make it harder for players to size up the basket.


The study has been published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. (ANI)


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