Friday, August 13, 2010

On Being High Strung and Stupid

Yet another article, this time by Tom Perrotta in The Atlantic, analyzes Ana Ivanovic's inexplicable (or not-so-inexplicable) downfall from the top of women's tennis. It's a quick and engaging read, but one paragraph in particular stood out:
I asked Sian Beilock, a psychologist at the University of Chicago and the author of the forthcoming book Choke, how world-class athletes like Ivanovic, who have spent thousands of hours perfecting a skill, could flail so helplessly. Her answer was deceptively simple: they’re thinking too much. To hit a 120-mph serve, a player must allow the body to do what it has been trained to do. Thinking mid-serve causes “paralysis by analysis,” an attack on performance by the prefrontal cortex, which, in an attempt to control closely synchronized neural activities and muscle twitches, instead sabotages them. “We all know how to shuffle down the stairs,” Beilock told me. “But if I ask you to think about how your knee is bending while you do it, there’s a good chance you’ll fall on your face.”
This instantly reminded me of the ヘキサゴン episode that aired some time before the 26時間テレビ, in which a physicist (I believe) was called into the studio to explain how the オバカさん really might not be so stupid after all. That is, he too talked about how thinking and focusing could actually result in poorer (physical) performance. Essentially, overthinking the task at hand could divert brain "power," or resources, from the task itself. They demonstrated this by asking two ヘキサゴン members at a time to press a button in front of them as soon as a light lit up; they compared not only reaction times based on whether the member was acting "normal" or acting "stupid" (basically forcefully zoning out), but also reaction times between members. Sure enough, reaction times were faster when they were acting stupid, and amusingly, the オバカさん were much faster than the smarter members.

The fastest? 辻希美ちゃん, in the normal and "stupid" states (apparently it makes no difference), and 上地雄輔さん. LOL.

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