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Journal Article

Get Me Out of This Slump! Visual Illusions Improve Sports Performance


Linkenauger,  SA
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Witt, J., Linkenauger, S., & Proffitt, D. (2012). Get Me Out of This Slump! Visual Illusions Improve Sports Performance. Psychological Science, 23(4), 397-399. doi:10.1177/0956797611428810.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-B7D4-3
One of the reasons we (the authors) enjoy going to live college basketball games is to watch the antics of the student section. We love watching the students’ creativity in trying to pump up the home team and distract the visiting team, especially during free throws. Such escapades made us question whether manipulating what athletes see can influence their subsequent performance. Perception is clearly important for performance. For instance, when athletes look directly at a target without moving their eyes around—a pattern known as the quiet eye—they are more successful in making free throws, putting, and performing a variety of other tasks (e.g., Vickers, 1996, 2007). The quiet eye might lead to more successful performance by focusing attention on targets, and helping athletes to ignore distractors. Additionally, the quiet eye might change the way targets look. Targets presented in the fovea look bigger than those in the periphery (Newsome, 1972), so the quiet eye might lead athletes to perceive targets as bigger. Misperceiving a target as bigger could influence performance in one of three ways. It could disrupt performance because the observer might aim for a location that does not correspond with the target. In this case, the misperception would result in worse performance. However, actions and explicit perceptions may not be influenced by illusions to the same degree (Goodale Milner, 1992). That is, there may be dissociations between perceptions and visually guided actions such that illusions, which fool conscious perception, do not influence subsequent actions (e.g., Ganel, Tanzer, Goodale, 2008). In this case, misperceiving a target as bigger would not affect performance. A final alternative is that misperceiving a target as bigger could enhance performance. Bigger targets feel as if they should be easier to hit, so people may feel more confident when aiming for a bigger target. Given that increased confidence improves performance (e.g., Woodman Hardy, 2003), a perceptually bigger target may also lead to enhanced performance. Here, we report an experiment in which we tested these possibilities.