When your girlfriend invites you to play tennis at the weekend, you might initially say no because you don’t think you’re any good. However, this self-doubt could be stopping you from releasing your inner Serena Williams, according to a new study.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that our expectations and how athletic we think we are has a major influence on how difficult we think a sport is.
The study, which tested 78 men and women aged between 18 and 32, had individuals ride a stationary bicycle-ergometer for 30 minutes. They were initially asked how athletic they thought they were and then asked to wear a compression shirt produced by a well-known sporting goods manufacturer.
The participants were split into different groups and shown one of several different short films. Some stressed the positive effects of the cycling activity, others dampened the expectations. A few of the films praised the compression shirts as an aid to cycling while others disagree.
Every five minutes, the participants were asked which level of strenuousness they were experiencing. The study showed that, a positive attitude, when paired with strong self-belief in athleticism, resulted in less strenuous exercise.
However, for those who felt they were less athletic, optimism didn’t help improve the ease of the training unit.
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Interestingly, the compression shirts had an effect on the participants who didn’t think they were good at sport.
“Merely the belief that they shirt would help, did help the ‘unsporty’ subjects to have a lower perception of strenuousness during the exercise,” says Psychologist Hendrik Mothes of the Department of Sport Science at the University of Freiburg.
These findings are further evidence of the placebo effect and how it works during sport.
“Not least, the findings impressively show for all those who don’t consider themselves to be great sportsmen and – women – the right product really can make sport more pleasant, if ‘only’ you believe in it.”
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