The Guardian newspaper recently reported on a study done by Charles Lee at the University of Virginia. He took 41 undergraduates who had previous golf experience and enthusiasm for the sport, and randomly split them into two groups. The first was the control; the second group were told that the putter they had been given had once been used by the professional golfer Ben Curtis. All of the participants were then shown a putting matt and asked to do two things: estimate the size of the golf hole on the matt and then use that putter to take 10 putts.
What happened? Well, those who believed they were using the professional golfer’s putter consistently perceived the golf hole to be larger than those in the other group. Furthermore, the belief seemed to improve their performance; in other words they sank more putts.
The researchers suggested that this might have happened because the belief they were using the professional golfers putter may have encouraged them to use positive mental imagery associated with his past successes. Maybe also there was some sort of placebo effect – a lucky club!
Now we can poke fun at this and say, “Silly people, it was just a normal club, you can’t get special powers from an inanimate object”. Or, we could ask the question….if this is how our brains work, can I tap into that somehow and improve my own performances?
I wonder what might happen if we believed that we were wearing Grandmaster Chang’s uniform. Can we somehow embody that feeling and therefore tap into the potential psychological boost?
Lee, C., et al. (2011). Putting Like a Pro: The Role of Positive Contagion in Golf Performance and Perception. PLoS ONE, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026016