Catching A Win

Sitting in our armchairs, we are wise critics as we watch world-class athletes performing in their sports and shout our advice at the TV screen. But what if their sport is also our sport? Can we see so clearly why our performance isn’t anywhere near as good? Well, we don’t have as much time to practice and then we don’t have the optimal equipment, do we?

There is some evidence that that we may be able to raise our performance if we can borrow the big guy’s stuff. This is known in the business as positive contagion, but in the cold light of dawn, do we really believe it occurs? It’s time it was put to the test. Lee et al have done just that and published their findings in the current issue of the Public Library of Science (1).

They picked golf as their chosen sport and selected a group of undergrads who were about 19-years old. 38 were guys and 3 were women, all who claimed to be members of the golfing fraternity. They were asked to try putting on a training mat, but half of them were offered the identical putter to a successful PGA player (Ben Curtis) and were informed that it was actually his putter. The rest just had to accept the putter as a tool of the trade.

The results were amazing. The putters who thought that they were using the top professional’s putter sank more putts. Their average was 53%. The control group who thought that they were putting with a plain putter, puttered along with a mere 38%. It gets even better, though, when they were asked to estimate the size of the hole that they were aiming at. The lucky-putter group estimated that the hole was larger by about 10% than the control group.

So apparently positive contagion works. Even the task seems easier. That the big man is thought to have used the equipment produces a significant improvement. Sadly, there is one experiment missing. They should have also sneaked the actual master’s putter in and checked if there was real magic in addition to the perceived advantage that was only in their minds.


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