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Earth Science Technology

Study Finds That Athletes Perform Better When Reminded of Their Impending Death (arstechnica.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Basketball players that were grimly reminded of their own inevitable demise before playing took more shots and scored more points in a study published in an upcoming issue of Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. The researchers behind the experiments hypothesize that the pep-talk tactic fits with the established "terror management theory," which proposes that humans are motivated to seek self-esteem, meaning, and symbolic immortality -- in this case becoming a famous athlete -- in order to manage their fear of death. For the study, Helm and colleagues first recruited basketball players to play two back-to-back, one-on-one games with lead researcher Colin Zestcott, another psychologist at the University of Arizona. (The players didn't know that Zestcott was a researcher; they thought he was another study participant.) After the first game, half of the participants were randomly assigned to take a questionnaire on how they felt about basketball. The other half took one about their thoughts on their own death. Those that took the spooky survey saw a 40-percent boost in their individual performance during the second game as compared with their first. Those that took the non-macabre survey saw no change. In a second experiment, participants were given a basket-shooting challenge, which a researcher described to them in a 30-second tutorial. Based on a coin-toss, half the participants got the tutorial while the researcher was wearing a plain jacket. The other half saw the researcher in a T-shirt with a skull-shaped word-cloud made entirely of the word 'death.' The participants' performance on the shooting challenge was then scored by another researcher who didn't know which players saw the death shirt. In the end, players who did see the shirt took more shots, and outperformed by 30 percent, those that just saw the jacket. "We've known from many studies that reminders of death arouse a need for terror management and therefore increase self-esteem striving through performance on relatively simple laboratory tasks," Peter Helm, a study co-author and psychologist at the University of Arizona, said in a news release. "However, these experiments are the first to show that activating this motivation can influence performance on complex, real-world behaviors."
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Study Finds That Athletes Perform Better When Reminded of Their Impending Death

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2016 @09:39PM (#53203161)
    riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you're already dead!
  • Needed all that endorphin to sleep tight tonight.

  • Taking more shots doesn't mean you perform better. Neither does scoring more points.
    • Most published social science experiments are not reproducible, and I expect this is one of those. A basketball team is going to score 30% higher because they glimpsed a slogan on a t-shirt? I don't think so. This doesn't pass the smell test.

  • Or Death Race...or Logan's Run...

  • ...to the threat of mobsters breaking your kneecaps if you lose?

    Also, when are they going to run the experiment on programmers?

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Also, when are they going to run the experiment on programmers?

      I think the effect is entirely dependent on your motivation for it in the first place. Being reminded of your mortality usually leads to a short time desire to live in the moment and a long term desire to leave a legacy. If this is a dead end job your doing for the paycheck, you're demotivated. If you're an athlete and can choose between being the 100th best that nobody remembers or being the world champion it's a huge motivation boost. The opportunity is here and now and just commit to it completely, don't

    • Also, when are they going to run the experiment on programmers?

      I embrace death, so fuck you :)

  • "Death is the only wise adviser that we have."

    Carlos Castaneda's (fictional) sage in Journey to Ixtlan.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    One of the best samurai warlord, Uesugi Kenshin said this,
    "If you fight willing to die, you'll survive; if you fight trying to survive, you'll die. If you think you'll never go home again, you will; if you hope to make it back, you won't."

    • by PPH ( 736903 )
      Death smiles upon us all. All that man can do is smile back.
    • by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Wednesday November 02, 2016 @10:44PM (#53203421)

      A strong component of the psychological training that went into a samurai's upbringing , especially after the combination of zen buddhism with shintoism, was to actually consider the possibility of defeat, so that you could be better prepared. By refusing to acknowledge defeat, you did not factor in your own weaknesses, thus leaving yourself open.

      A major component of Ninja mental indoctrination was the concept of considering yourself already dead, so you had nothing to fear in that regard.

      • That sounds a bit like my attitude regarding being afraid of heights, and afraid of falling. I repeat a line I heard people say before me, that it isn't the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end. With that in mind, I don't fear falling when I am up on a roof or ledge. I hold on as needed, but I don't cling to the wall. Not being afraid of falling lets me walk and move fluidly.

        Usually when I explain this to people they think I'm full of shit, because falling still means dying. But I haven't fa

        • That sounds a bit like my attitude regarding being afraid of heights, and afraid of falling. I repeat a line I heard people say before me, that it isn't the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end. With that in mind, I don't fear falling when I am up on a roof or ledge. I hold on as needed, but I don't cling to the wall. Not being afraid of falling lets me walk and move fluidly.

          Usually when I explain this to people they think I'm full of shit, because falling still means dying. But I haven't fallen yet, so I consider it to be working.

          That just means you have a rational wariness about heights. It's the irrational fear of heights that causes problems.

      • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

        I should also point out the strong trait of stoicism or downright laughter in the face of death prevalent among cultures like the Norse or the Mongols. Like the old Norse saying goes, from the wife to her husband as he goes on a viking: Come home successful, on your shield, or not at all. And all the contemporary writings of the soft southern wankers seem to agree that the death-defying aspects of Norse or Mongol culture was a significant factor in their military success due to the effect on enemy troops.

        • Let's also keep in mind, we don't have a collection of the contemporary saying of Vikings or Genghis Khan-era Mongols. What we know about them is inferred through the historical records, or through the words of their enemies writing many years after the actual events - enemies who themselves could not communicate with Vikings or Mongols, had little understanding of their ways, and had an interest in depicting them as barely human.

        • by rossdee ( 243626 )

          ". Like the old Norse saying goes, from the wife to her husband as he goes on a viking: Come home successful, on your shield, or not at all."

          THe Romans said something like that 5 centuries before the Vikings

    • One of the best samurai warlord, Uesugi Kenshin said this, "If you fight willing to die, you'll survive; if you fight trying to survive, you'll die. If you think you'll never go home again, you will; if you hope to make it back, you won't."

      Useful advice when you're cornered, naked and weaponless, surrounded by ten thousand homicidal maniacs with chainsaws.

  • "Win or we'll kill you."
  • Well Duh! Why else do you think I keep yelling "I'm gonna kill you soon!" at Lebron from my court-side seats?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.

  • "Impending" death? Is this a story about the mafia fixing matches?

  • by kuzb ( 724081 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @12:25AM (#53203769)
    It's bordering on pseudoscience now thanks to people publishing shit paper after shit paper with results that can't be reproduced in order to keep the funding flowing.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Psychology has proven very effective in the treatment of various mental health problems, especially depression. To say that it's pseudoscience is just wrong. The issue of reproducability is mostly just a red herring - clearly it's impossible to reproduce mental states exactly and people live in the uncontrolled real world, which is why rather than trying to reverse time psychologists concentrate on understanding results and then applying them experimentally on a scale that makes individual circumstances les

      • by kuzb ( 724081 )
        is that so? [nature.com] I'm sure some psychology is science, but the fact is that a lot of it isn't.
      • "The issue of reproducability is mostly just a red herring - clearly it's impossible to reproduce mental states exactly..."

        This is not what reproducibility means. Do you work in psychology?

  • by ItsJustAPseudonym ( 1259172 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @12:26AM (#53203771)
    "Good night, Wesley. Sleep tight. I'll most likely kill you in the morning."
    --The Dread Pirate Roberts
  • Didn't really work out too well.

    https://www.theguardian.com/wo... [theguardian.com]

  • by hackertourist ( 2202674 ) on Thursday November 03, 2016 @05:10AM (#53204323)

    Omet'iklan: I am First Omet'iklan, and I am dead. As of this moment, we are all dead. We go into battle to reclaim our lives. This we do gladly, for we are Jem'Hadar. Remember: victory is life.

    Jem'Hadar: Victory is life!

    [the Jem'Hadar march out]

    Weyoun: Such a delightful people.

    [O'Brien turns to face the assembled Federation officers]

    O'Brien: I am Chief Miles Edward O'Brien. I am very much alive, and I intend to stay that way.

    Sisko: Amen! Let's get it done!

    • "Thus the Superior Man sets his phaser to stun and listens on all hailing frequencies.

      It will be advantageous to engage Warp Factor Five
  • If you keep doing this to athletes for decades, do you still have an improvement?

  • Remember this - You are going to die. Life is fleeting and has but one conclusion. We are all temporary, we will all be forgotten.
  • I have a memory of an Ancient Greece Olympic Games wrestler who immediately after achieving the winning fall (submission, whatever) deliberately let his opponent choke him to death so that he (the dead wrestler) would achieve immortality as an undefeated champion. Or something like that.

    My memory may be fallible, because I can't find a citation. But this is close:
    Arrhichion [wikipedia.org] won the Pankration [wikipedia.org], an empty-hand submission sport blending boxing and wrestling with scarcely any rules, at the 52nd and 53rd Oly
  • Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!

  • Nobel laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman has called on priming researchers to check the robustness of their findings in an open letter to the community, claiming that priming has become a "poster child for doubts about the integrity of psychological research." Other critics have asserted that priming studies suffer from major publication bias, experimenter effect and that criticism of the field is not dealt with constructively.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priming_%28psychology%29#Criticism [wikipedia.org]

  • Impending means 'near at hand,' not 'inevitable.' If I were dying soon, I don't think I'd care about winning a game or not.
  • Better than motivational posters!

  • Somehow I read this as how well North Korea athletes do at the Olympics knowing that if they don't...

  • That's why Goth, Death Metal and Industrial music sounds better than other styles. I tell ya.
  • Want to bet this appears on next year's igNobel awards?

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI

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