Friday, September 12, 2008

Cerebral Matter

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

Mets pitcher Brian Stokes understands the importance of the mental game:

As much as last season tested him, Stokes said he never grew discouraged. He returned home to California and spent some of the off-season performing exercises to improve his mental toughness.

“It wasn’t physical, I knew, because I had gotten to the major leagues,” Stokes said. “But I learned that you work on your physical side your whole career and neglect the mental side sometimes.”

Pay attention to the excuses you make because that may make a difference in performance:
Self-handicapping is essentially excuse-making, but that which occurs before a performance begins. By conjuring these barriers to success, we attempt to establish a no-lose situation. After all, how can someone expect you to succeed with all of those obstacles in your way? And if you should succeed, then how amazing is it that you overcame so much adversity?

Want to work on your memory? Listen to music:
The overwhelmingly positive nature of these findings brings to question the connection between music, memory, and emotion and what the relationship ultimately means. For example, music and positive feelings have been linked with the increase in dopamine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that is associated with the pleasure system in the brain. And as Morrison explains, musical prompts may help not so much in storage, but in memory retrieval, perhaps acting as aids for recall when memory fails us as we age.

How is your cognitive closure?
The amount of time that someone spends making a choice affects what kind of information that they use to make that choice. Research on these individual differences suggests that people who try to make decisions quickly use easily available aspects of the environment to make a choice. Imagine for example, an advertisement that shows Tiger Woods advertising a watch. The ad might also have information about the watch that tells you something about its function. Someone low in Need for Cognition will be swayed by the celebrity endorsement. Someone high in Need for Cognition will pay more attention to the qualities of the watch.

Are you brave or afraid, or both?
My point isn't that the fear-mongers have nothing to fear. Maybe they do; maybe they don't. Rather it's that there's something weirdly dogmatic about the simple assertion that because they're anxious they're brave. They want this association to stand without regard to the fear-worthiness of any specific thing they say they fear.


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