When people think about how scientists can help them be better at sports, they're probably thinking about what cocktail of steroids they can take that won't show up on a urine test. After all, what else can a bunch of four-eyed nerds tell you about sports? Well, if you can fight the urge to pull their underwear over their heads, those eggheads might just have some (legal) tips for you, such as ...
#7. Believing Positive Stereotypes Improves Performance (When Nobody Is Looking)
Sports are rife with harmful stereotypes -- just ask Jeremy Lin what it's like being a Chinese-American playing professional basketball. Unsurprisingly, negative stereotypes and the pressure that comes with them have been shown to hinder athletic performance. With that in mind, researchers decided to turn things around and see whether "positive" stereotypes had the opposite effect.
"Your ethnicity has traditionally been successful in the U.S.!"
In the experiment, white male basketball players watched one of three videos -- one depicting white players as the best free throwers in the NBA, one depicting black players as the best, and one that was completely neutral. The first was supposed to represent a positive stereotype to reinforce that apparently white men can jump after all.
Next, the players were asked to shoot some free throws, wherein half of them were videotaped and the other half were not. The results showed that the players who had been exposed to the positive stereotype performed better, but only if there wasn't any camera. So apparently, they only really believed in themselves as long as nobody was watching.
"OK, everyone turn around for a second."
So we guess the problem is, as interesting as the effect may be, working yourself up with positive stereotypes before the big game probably won't help you much unless you ask the entire audience to close their eyes the whole time.
#6. You Train Better Under Bright Lights
If you're the kind who wakes up before sunrise to train for that big game, new research shows that you may be going about things in entirely the wrong way. If you really want to give your body an athletic boost (and avoid vampire attacks during training), then you should shine some light on the situation.
It's not resisting arrest, it's cardio.
Researchers who wanted to investigate the effect of light on athletic performance exposed some test subjects to low light or bright light for 160 minutes. During the last 40 minutes of the exposure time, the students had to cycle as fast as they could while their pulse, oxygen consumption, and lactate value were monitored. The results revealed that the subjects who were exposed to bright light performed better than those who were exposed to dimmer light.
It turns out that the amount of light you're exposed to has all kinds of effects on your body that you don't notice; namely, it helps regulate your circadian rhythm -- your sleep cycle. No matter how many Red Bulls you slam down, it's the amount of light you're exposed to that tells your body it's time to wake up and start doing shit. When there's no light, it doesn't matter how many pushups you're tearing through -- as far as your body is concerned, it's time to go back to bed and put in a few more hours of shut-eye. This is why the best athletes spend 10 to 15 hours every day staring at the sun, and also why most blind people are terrible at basketball.
They are phenomenal marksmen, however.
#5. Clenching Your Left Hand Defuses Stressful Situations
No matter what game you're playing, chances are that the final moments are going to come down to some edge-of-your-seat high-pressure situation -- that deciding field goal, the crucial free throw in the last seconds of a basketball game, or, if you're desperate for entertainment, that teeth-clenching putt on the 18th hole. If you're an athlete, you know that this moment can be the difference between getting carried out of the stadium by adoring teammates and having spectators shower you with their own poop.
"Do you want me to go chimpanzee on your ass? With my ass?"
Science thinks that there's a simple way to decrease your risk of going home smelling like poop -- athletes can defuse a high-pressure situation just by clenching their left hand. And yes, oddly enough, it does have to be the left hand.
The study tested the skills of experienced athletes of three different sports -- soccer, judo, and badminton (you know, the three most popular ones). In pressure situations, the athletes were asked to squeeze a ball in one of their hands. The results were the same in all three experiments: Those who squeezed a ball in their left hand did just as well as, if not significantly better than, they had done during practice. But, bizarrely, those who squeezed their right hand tended to choke and mess up.
"Just got the call from upstairs. They said execute all the righties."
It's been theorized that this works because the clenching of the left hand might activate the right hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with "superior performance in automated behavior" -- basically, the clenching helps prevent the athlete from overthinking what he's doing, thus letting the action come naturally. Regardless of the outcome of the study, we like to think that the researchers just liked watching people fuck up.
#4. Watching Erotic Movies Boosts Your Potential
Hundreds of expensive, rigorous scientific studies across many decades have concluded that men like to watch a lot of porn. But in case you needed another excuse, studies have also shown that watching porn can improve your sports performance. And we don't just mean by working out the right bicep.
You should probably switch hands every so often.
In the study, a group of athletes were shown short video clips in five different categories -- sad, erotic, aggressive, training motivational, and humorous, which served as a control video. (We here in the Cracked offices can confirm that comedy is the opposite of sports.)
The researchers noted a significant improvement in the athletes' performances after they watched erotic, aggressive, or training films, with the opposite occurring after the funny and sad videos. It's believed that this has something to do with testosterone, which plays an important role in the growth of muscle mass and strength and increased bone density. Saliva samples taken from the athletes showed that watching the erotic or aggressive videos gave the participants' testosterone levels a short-term boost.
"It's the eyyyyyyyyyye of the tiger ..."
The only problem is that it's hard to take advantage of the effect -- after looking at porn, most people would rather look at more porn than go out and play football.