Friday, August 29, 2008

Cerebral Matter

Each week, “Cerebral Matter” highlights articles, anecdotes, and analyses related to the psychological aspects of performance.

  • To a reporter who asked for her motto when she was on the “brink of mental defeat,” (Dara) Torres coolly replied, “You know, I’ve been doing this for so long that I don’t get on the brink of mental defeat.” (NYT)
  • Silver medalists at the Olympics seem to perform what we call an upward comparison — they compare themselves against someone better off than them. Bronze medalists seem to perform downward comparison — they tend to compare themselves with people who did worse. (PT)
  • While (Candace) Parker admits to some physical and mental fatigue, she is attempting to use these Olympics to do more than help the United States win its fourth consecutive gold medal in women’s basketball.

    With her resplendent smile and transcendent game, Parker is close to becoming the first international icon in her sport…

    …With her ability to dunk with flair, Parker has changed the women’s game. Gail Goestenkors, the coach at Texas and an assistant with the national team, said that while recruiting in July, she noticed that many high school prospects were dunking, a mental barrier she said Parker helped break. (NYT)
  • The Twins demoted (Francisco Liriano) after Oakland pounded him for six runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning in an 11-2 drubbing.

    So when Liriano’s mechanics appeared out of whack last Wednesday, Redmond said he suspected why.

    “This is the team that he blew his arm out on,” Redmond said. “I think that might have been something to do with it. It might be a little mental thing for him to get over. But he made it.” (NYT)
  • Their coach has been known to sing to them — Bob Dylan, no less — and ask them questions, to shake up their thinking. And sometimes she drops her Socratic ways and tells them to control the ball better.

    Either way, it worked Thursday night for Pia Sundhage of Sweden, one of the great hires by any American sports federation. Under Sundhage’s tutelage, the American women displayed mental resilience, outlasting their own dangerous lethargy, as they won their second straight gold medal in the Olympic soccer tournament with a 1-0 victory over Brazil. (NYT)
  • This morning’s (August 21, 2008) New York Times shows Usain Bolt’s new world record, relative to the 250 greatest 200-meter sprints ever. Not only does this not look like a normal distribution, it doesn’t even look like the tail of any standard distribution (Justin Wolfers) has ever seen... (Freakonomics NYT Blog)
  • “There is a huge amount of social and psychological forces keeping people from quitting,” Ori Brafman said. He gave an example of an experiment by a Harvard professor who auctioned off a $20 bill. The catch was that while the winner got the $20, the bidder who came in second had to pay the amount of his bid, but got nothing in return.

    The experiment was done repeatedly with a variety of participants, and most bidders dropped out at about $12, usually leaving two to fight it out, Mr. Brafman said.

    “They didn’t want to be a sucker, paying $12 for nothing,” he said. The record? A bid of $204 for a $20 bill.

    “Rather than thinking about winning, they’re playing not to lose,” he said…

    … “It is as important to teach someone how to quit as staying committed,” he said. “Lots of times people just stop showing up, and that’s wrong.” Rather, he suggested, say something like “ ‘I tried to work it out, and this not a good match for me.’ Do it in a responsible manner.”

    The truth is, it sometimes shows more courage to leave than to stay. (NYT)


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