1. Study suggests testosterone levels increase when competing against rivals but not against friends

    May 24, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri press release via EurekAlert!:

    Sports FanSporting events can bring a community together, such as when the Louisville Cardinals won the NCAA championship and University of Louisville campus was filled with camaraderie. They also can fuel bitter rivalries, such as the long-standing animosity between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs.

    A new University of Missouri study has found that testosterone levels during group competition are modulated depending on the relationships among the competitors and may be related to the formation of alliances in warfare.

    “One interesting thing about humans is that we are the only animal that competes in teams,” said Mark Flinn, professor of anthropology at MU. “Our hormonal reactions while competing are part of how we evolved as a cooperative species. What we found in our study is that although male’s testosterone levels increase when men are victorious against strangers or rivals, levels of the hormone tend to stay the same when competing against friends.”

    Flinn and his research team studied males from varying age groups on the island of Dominica while they played dominoes or cricket. Flinn found that when males competed against a group outside of their community, their testosterone levels rose during and after competition if they won, but diminished following a defeat. However, when males competed with their friends, their testosterone levels did not change in response to victory or defeat.

    Competing in sport coalitions can raise testosterone levels in males, but males don’t have to be competing in order to see a rise in testosterone. Flinn says that when watching a favorite sport team the viewer is a part of a coalition of fans in the community and can also get a rise in testosterone levels while watching games.

    “For example, when MU plays the University of Kansas, males will probably have a huge increase of testosterone during the game and afterwards if their team is victorious,” Flinn said. “At the same time we can create a coalition of fans while attending the game and bond together during the event.”

    Flinn suggests that coalitions may have had important effects on the evolution of human social psychology.

    The fascinating thing about humans is that whether we are watching or playing the sport, we have the ability to put interactions among the whole team in our heads,” Flinn said. “That just shows how complex our social psychology is. For example, a hockey or basketball player can anticipate how his teammates are going to react when he passes to each one of them and predict the outcome. The ability for humans to be able to do that is pretty astonishing.”

    Members of Flinn’s research team include Davide Ponzi, now a postdoctorate at the University of Chicago, and Michael Muehlenbein, associate professor of anthropology at Indiana University.

     


  2. Study suggests emphasizing academic abilities may help fight stereotypes about jocks

    April 29, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    basketballCollege coaches who emphasize their players’ academic abilities may be the best defense against the effects of “dumb jock” stereotypes, a Michigan State University study suggests.

    Researchers found that student-athletes were significantly more likely to be confident in the classroom if they believed their coaches expected high academic performance, not just good enough grades to be eligible for sports.

    Coaches spend a lot of time with their players, and they can play such an important role to build academic confidence in student-athletes,” said lead author Deborah Feltz, University Distinguished Professor of kinesiology at MSU.

    Published in the Journal of College Student Development, the study focused on the concept of “stereotype threat.” The theory holds that stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies: They create anxiety in the stereotyped group, causing them to behave in the expected way.

    Feltz and her graduate students wanted to see what factors influence student-athletes’ susceptibility to the “dumb jock” stereotype.

    It’s well-documented in the literature that many student-athletes hear prejudicial remarks from professors who say things like, ‘This test is easy enough that even an athlete could pass it,’” Feltz said. “They’re kind of the last group of students who can be openly discriminated against.”

    The researchers surveyed more than 300 student-athletes representing men’s and women’s teams from small and large universities and a range of sports, from basketball and football to cross-country and rowing.

    They found the more strongly student-athletes identified themselves as athletes, the less confident they were with their academic skills, and the more keenly they felt that others expected them to do poorly in school. Players in high-profile sports were more likely to feel they were weak students.

    Feltz said the data suggest that coaches who put a premium on education may be in the best position to boost their players’ confidence in the classroom, but professors, academic advisers and classmates also have a part to play.

    “They don’t have to do much,” she said. “It may be enough to just remind players they are college students, which is a big deal, you know? A lot of these students are the first in their family to go to college.”

     

     


  3. Study suggests college athletes twice as likely to have depression than retired collegiate athletes

    April 7, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Georgetown University Medical Center press release via EurekAlert!:

    football diagramA survey of current and former college athletes finds depression levels significantly higher in current athletes, a result that upended the researchers’ hypothesis. The finding published in Sports Health suggests the need for more research to understand depression among college athletes.

    We expected to see a significant increase in depression once athletes graduated, but by comparison it appears the stress of intercollegiate athletics may be more significant than we and others anticipated,” says the study’s senior investigator Daniel Merenstein, MD, an associate professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and in the department of human science in the School of Nursing & Health Studies.

    While no research exists on depression in athletes who have recently graduated from college, the researchers hypothesized that the changes in lifestyle and loss of personal identity would put former college athletes at an increased risk for depression.

    College athletes often derive their personal identity from their sport, focusing a lot of their time on athletics in college,” the study authors write. “They are often surrounded by other athletes and frequently have an athletic identity from their peers who recognize them on campus as an athlete.”

    The authors also point out that after college athletics, there is a loss of social support from teammates, coaches and advisors, and that former athletes may not maintain peak physical condition — all possible factors for depression.

    To examine their hypothesis, the researchers sent surveys to 663 athletes; 163 former and 117 current athletes from nine different universities took part in the study. All had participated in Division I NCAA sponsored sports. Graduated athletes represented 15 different sports and current athletes represented 10.

    The analysis of the surveys revealed that nearly 17 percent of current college athletes had scores consistent with depression — double that of retired college athletes (eight percent).

    Merenstein, a family medicine physician, and his colleagues suggest that stressors experienced by college athletes such as overtraining, injury, pressure to perform, lack of free time or stress from schoolwork could contribute to increased susceptibility to depression.

    “College in general is a potentially stressful time for many students. The additional stress of playing high-level sports appears to add to that stress,” he says.

    Merenstein advises parents, friends and coaches to be aware of changes in behavior, weight and sleep of college athletes, and of all students.


  4. Study examines cognitive abilities of elite athletes

    March 19, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois press release:

    DSI Image of human BrainNew research suggests that elite athletes – Olympic medalists in volleyball, for example – perform better than the rest of us in yet another way. These athletes excel not only in their sport of choice but also in how fast their brains take in and respond to new information – cognitive abilities that are important on and off the court.

    The study, of 87 top-ranked Brazilian volleyball players (some of them medalists in the Beijing and London Olympics) and 67 of their nonathletic contemporaries, also found that being an athlete minimizes the performance differences that normally occur between women and men. Female athletes, the researchers found, were more like their male peers in the speed of their mental calculations and reaction times, while nonathletic females performed the same tasks more slowly than their male counterparts.

    The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

    “I think we have learned that athletes are different from us in some ways,” said University of Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer, who led the study with graduate student Heloisa Alves.

    We found that athletes were generally able to inhibit behavior, to stop quickly when they had to, which is very important in sport and in daily life, “ Kramer said. “They were also able to activate, to pick up information from a glance and to switch between tasks more quickly than nonathletes. I would say these were modest differences, but they were interesting differences nonetheless.”

    Overall, the athletes were faster at memory tests and tasks that required them to switch between tasks. They were quicker to notice things in their peripheral vision and to detect subtle changes in a scene. And in general, they were better able to accomplish tasks while ignoring confusing or irrelevant information.

    Perhaps the most interesting discovery was that female athletes had significant cognitive advantages over their nonathletic counterparts, Kramer said, advantages that minimized the subtle speed differences between them and the men. The female athletes were faster than their nonathletic peers at detecting changes in a scene and could more quickly pick out relevant details from a distracting background. Their performance on these and the other tasks was on par with the male athletes, whereas nonathletic males consistently outperformed their female peers.

    Nonathletes excelled at only one of the cognitive tests the researchers administered. In this test, called the stopping task, participants were asked to type a “Z” or “/” key as soon as they saw it on a computer screen – unless they heard a tone shortly after the character appeared, in which case they were told to refrain from responding. Nonathletes tended to be faster in cases where the tone never sounded, while athletes were better at inhibiting their responses after hearing a tone.

    The ability to inhibit a response is one marker of what brain researchers call “executive function,” the capacity to control, plan and regulate one’s behavior, Kramer said. While it has obvious advantages in sport, the ability to quickly inhibit an action also is useful in daily life, he said.

    One way to think about it is you’re in your car and you’re ready to start off at a light and you catch in your side vision a car or a bicyclist that you didn’t see a second ago,” he said. Being able to stop after having decided to go can be a lifesaver in that situation.

    “So both facilitating and inhibiting behavior is important,” he said.

    Kramer said the athletes’ slower performance on this one task might be the result of a strategic decision they had made to wait and see if the tone sounded before they committed to pressing a key.

    “My bet is that the athletes were just learning to read the task a little better,” he said. “So if I’m a little slower in going, I’ll be a little better at stopping if I need to.”

    All in all, the new findings add to the evidence that those who spend years training on specific physical tasks tend to also have enhanced cognitive abilities, Kramer said.

    “Our understanding is imperfect because we don’t know whether these abilities in the athletes were ‘born’ or ‘made,’ ” he said. “Perhaps people gravitate to these sports because they’re good at both. Or perhaps it’s the training that enhances their cognitive abilities as well as their physical ones. My intuition is that it’s a little bit of both.”

     


  5. Study suggests adding movement to mental rehearsal can improve performance

    February 28, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Biomed press release via ScienceDaily:

    athlete preparationAdding movement to mental rehearsal can improve performance, finds a study in BioMed Central’s open access journal Behavioral and Brain Functions. For high jumpers the study shows that dynamic imagery improves the number of successful attempts and the technical performance of jumps.

    The technique of mental rehearsal is used to consolidate performance in many disciplines including music and sport. Motor imagery and physical practice use overlapping neural networks in the brain and the two together can improve performance as well as promoting recovery from injury. Researchers from the Centre de Recherche et d’Innovation sur le Sport found that adding simple movements to mental rehearsal could further improve performance by a third.

    When they looked at the rates of ‘hit’ or ‘miss’ for high jumpers taught to use either internal visual imagery or external visual imagery (such as mimicking the arm movements during the jump), the researchers found that while mental rehearsal improved performance by 35%, mental rehearsal plus ‘dry run’ movements increased performance by 45%. Dynamic imagery scored the highest for all measured aspects of the jump including approach, curve, impulsion, and bar clearance. It also shortened the number of jumps required

    Prof Aymeric Guillot, who led the study, said, “Our study on high jumpers suggests that dynamic imagery may provide a training edge to professional and amateur athletes. This technique may also be of use to people in other disciplines where ‘dry run’ rehearsals are routinely used.”


  6. Study suggests health rivalry could boost sport, business performance

    February 26, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release via ScienceDaily:

    football playersNew research shows that people can recover from poor performance when rivals comment on their failures. The research, to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, shows that while criticism from team members sends individuals into downward performance spirals, external criticism can be a trigger that boosts performance as people try to prove the outsiders wrong.

    The research carried out by the University of Exeter, Amherst College and the University of Stirling offers a method of improving performance following setbacks and can be applied both in the workplace and in sport to avoid poor performance snowballing out of control.

    Lead author Dr Tim Rees of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter said: “Careful management of performance following failure is of key importance in a range of areas such as sport and business. The study shows that simple, low cost, measures that exploit the effects of intergroup dynamics can reverse downward performance spirals by encouraging a ‘them and us’ mentality.”

    During the study blindfolded participants threw darts at a dartboard and then received poor performance feedback either from a university-affiliated researcher or from an external researcher from a rival university. Participants who received this feedback from a university-affiliated researcher seemed to believe it and enact it: if it was discouraging, they failed at the next attempt, but if it was encouraging, they improved. Receiving encouragement from a member of an external team following poor performance did not help individuals improve at their next attempt. Yet those who received the poor performance feedback from an outsider were motivated to recover from the poor performance in an attempt to prove them wrong.

    “Downward performance spirals can be readily observed in every domain of human performance,” said co-author Jessica Salvatore of Amherst College. “Our research shows that the ‘us-versus-them’ mindset isn’t always a destructive force — sometimes it can be the key to re-motivating yourself and turning your performance around.”

    Co-author Pete Coffee from the University of Stirling said: “The research not only highlights ways to improve performance but also demonstrates the positive and negative impact that encouragement and criticism from fellow group members can have. This work points to the need for people like sports coaches and business leaders to think carefully about the way they deliver performance-related feedback.”


  7. Study suggests that in sports, the narrative is more compelling than who wins

    January 30, 2013 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    football diagramA new study has concluded that sports fans love to root for a hero and against a villain, but if the game is exciting, they’ll enjoy it no matter who wins.

    The research, recently published in the Journal of Media Psychology, examines emotional experiences, outcome satisfaction, and enjoyment of athletic events, particularly ones featuring individual athletes rather than team sports.

    Lead author Colleen Bee, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University, said the Olympics are a good example of an event where fans often cheer for little-known athletes competing in little-watched sports. The allure for these casual fans is not necessarily the sport itself. The spectacle and inherent drama associated with an athletic event is enough to make fans watch.

    Knowing something about the personal lives and personalities of these athletes gives the casual fan a reason to root for or against someone,” Bee said. “The stories matter here. It magnifies the experience of watching the game, and gives people a reason to watch.”

    In the study, Bee had participants watch speed skating competitions. She confirmed that none of the participants were familiar with the athletes before watching the event. Then she provided participants with one of two fictitious scenarios. In one scenario, an athlete was given heroic qualities such as working with ill children, a commitment to the cause of cancer prevention, dedicating his performance to his mother, and being gracious and considerate. In the second scenario, the athlete was imbued with unfavorable qualities, such as testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, being arrested for public intoxication, and being ungracious and inconsiderate.

    She found that viewers of the game rooted for the heroic athlete and of course hoped that the “villain” would lose. Yet, she found that all the study participants reported enjoying the game regardless of the moral qualities of the winning athlete.

    There are people who enjoy watching famous athletes compete even though they may not like them personally, or feel like they aren’t good people,” Bee said. “Yet, because they are exciting to watch, and in many cases because they have an exciting story, sports fans still enjoy watching them compete.”

    While the participants felt disappointed when the “villainous” athlete won, and similarly relieved when the heroic athlete won, they all reported enjoying the game despite the outcome.

    Casual sport fans often enjoy the experience of a highly competitive event even when the outcome is not desirable, due to the entertaining and exciting nature of suspense,” Bee said, pointing to her last study which found that winning or losing games did not matter so much as whether or not the game was close.

    Bee is an expert on sports marketing, particularly in the areas of sports and emotions and gender/consumer responses.

    Robert Madrigal, associate professor of marketing at the University of Oregon, is co-author of the study.

     


  8. Study identifies risk factors for prolonged sports concussion symptoms

    January 29, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release via EurekAlert!:

    football playersResearchers have found clear, identifiable factors that signal whether an athlete will experience concussive symptoms beyond one week. The researchers sought to identify risk factors for prolonged concussion symptoms by examining a large national database of high school athletes’ injuries.

    Previous concussion studies were limited in scope, focusing only on male football players. The information from this study applies to male and female athletes from a number of different sports.

    Researchers found that athletes who have four or more symptoms at initial injury were more likely to have persistent concussive symptoms. Drowsiness, concentration difficulties, nausea and sensitivity to light and noise were also associated with longer-lasting concussive symptoms. Because concussions tend to be a common occurrence in football, researchers compared data from football players to other sports, and found that risk factors were different for football and non-football-related concussion.

    The results of this study could change how long high school athletes are kept from returning to play after a concussion. Previously, athletes who lost consciousness were held out from playing longer than those who did not lose consciousness, but the study found little correlation between loss of consciousness and persistent symptoms.

    Dr. Sara P. D. Chrisman, an adolescent medicine fellow in the University of Washington Department of Pediatrics, headed the study. She said, “The medical community is becoming more aware that concussions may not be a minor injury and may result in prolonged symptoms. This is a step towards developing evidence-based return to play guidelines.”


  9. NFL study suggests sports concussions may increase depression risk with age

    January 26, 2013 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Neurology press release via EurekAlert!:

    football injuriesNational Football League (NFL) players may be at increased risk of depression as they age due to brain damage resulting from concussions, according to two studies released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting in San Diego, March 16 to 23, 2013.

    “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1.6 to 3.8 million sports concussions occur each year. While it is known that sports concussions can cause immediate disturbances in mood and thinking, few studies have investigated the long-term effects that may emerge later in life, especially those related to depression,” said study author Nyaz Didehbani, PhD, of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

    “Our study shows that athletes who have sustained concussions in early adulthood may be at a higher risk for developing depression as they age compared to the general population. It is important when a concussive experience occurs that medical professionals appropriately include depression screening in their follow-up assessment. Depression is a treatable condition if the proper and necessary steps are taken.”

    In the first study, researchers evaluated 34 retired NFL athletes with a history of concussion and 29 people of the same age from the general population with no concussion history. Participants were tested for depression. Concussions were retrospectively graded based on American Academy of Neurology guidelines. The researchers examined thinking skills, mood and the physical symptoms of depression.

    The study found that those athletes who exhibited greater symptoms on the Beck Depression Inventory scored significantly higher than the minimal range for depressive symptoms. The Beck Depression Inventory measures symptoms related to thinking, mood and the physical signs of depression. The retired athletes included in the study reported an average of four concussions, reinforcing the correlation between depression scores and the number of lifetime concussions.

    The second study included 26 retired NFL athletes. Of those, five had depression and 21 did not have depression. Diffusion tensor MRI brain scans were used to measure damage to white matter in the brain. White matter contains tissue and nerve fibers that help carry signals from one part of the brain to another. Damage to white matter occurs in traumatic brain injury and also has been seen in some people with depression.

    By looking at the amount of white matter damage in one area of the brain, researchers could predict which former players had depression with 100 percent sensitivity and 95 percent specificity. Sensitivity is the percentage of actual positives that are correctly identified as positive, and specificity is the percentage of negatives that are correctly identified. The severity of the depressive symptoms was also associated with the degree of white matter damage in a wide range of brain regions.

    Aside from providing important insights into the nature of depression as it relates to brain damage in retired NFL athletes who have been exposed to concussive and repetitive head injuries, this study also may help us to understand the similar behavioral symptoms seen in other sports-related head injuries and in combat-related blast injuries seen in armed service members,” said study author Kyle Womack, MD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

    Both studies were primarily supported by the the BrainHealth Institute for Athletes at the Center for BrainHealth, a research center at the University of Texas at Dallas. The second study also was supported by the National Institutes of Health.


  10. Study reconsiders wisdom of firing college football coach for poor team performance

    November 20, 2012 by Sue

    From the University of Colorado Boulder press release:

    footballFire the coach? Not so fast says a new study of elite college football teams.

    Professors from the University of Colorado and Loyola University Chicago studied what happened to the records of college football teams that replaced a head coach for performance reasons in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1-A) between 1997 and 2010. Over this period, an average of 10 percent of FBS teams fired their coach each year because of the team’s poor performance on the field.

    The authors used statistical methods to compare groups of teams that were similar except for the fact that one set of teams replaced their coach in an attempt to improve performance while the other set of teams did not. They assessed how coaching replacements affected team performance for the four years following a replacement. They found that, on average:

    • When a team had been performing particularly poorly, replacing the coach resulted in a small, but short-lived, improvement in performance after a change.

    • The records of mediocre teams — those that, on average, won about 50 percent of their games in the year prior to replacing a coach – became worse.

    The statistical findings “suggest that the relatively common decision to fire head college football coaches for poor team performance may be ill-advised,” write political science professors Scott Adler of CU-Boulder, Michael Berry of CU Denver and David Doherty of Loyola University Chicago. Their study was the result of several years of research starting in about 2008 and was published online last month in the journal Social Science Quarterly.

    Adler said, “For every team that does better following a change, there is another that sees a dip in performance.  Moreover, there is just as much volatility in win/loss records of teams that do and do not replace their coaches.”

    It is the first analysis of college football teams to track the effects of coaching replacement over several years. It also used unique statistical techniques to  “match” teams that replaced their coach to teams that had been performing similarly but did not replace their coach. This approach provided a way to separate the effects of the coaching replacement from other factors – most notably past performance – that may explain differences in performance between teams with a new coach and teams with an established coach.

    The statistical analysis doesn’t mean there are no exceptions, Adler said. Some teams that replace their coach do perform better – but the same can be said about teams that do not replace their coach. “What our findings demonstrate is that, on average, replacing a coach in an attempt to boost performance is not a winning proposition,” he said.

    “Our findings have important practical implications for the high-stakes environment that is contemporary college football,” the authors write. “When a college football team’s performance is disappointing, the first and often only remedy administrators, fans and sports writers turn to is firing the coach. This is usually an expensive approach to solving the problem.

    “Despite the fanfare that often accompanies the hiring of a new coach, our research demonstrates that at least with respect to on-field performance, coach replacement can be expected to be, at best, a break-even antidote.”

    For the complete study visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00929.x/full.