The Subliminal Power of Positive Cheering

Posted on June 2, 2015

Professor Samuele Marcora, Director of Research at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Kent wondered if subliminal messages shown to athletes could help block some of the fatigue signaling by communicating with the brain at a subconscious level. He and his team gathered 13 healthy adults to undergo a wonderful sounding athletic test, the “time to exhaustion trials.” Just as it sounds, the volunteers first set a baseline of their fitness by pedaling a stationary bike at an ever increasing difficulty level until they simply could not go any further, either quitting or pedalling slower than 60 RPM. There were asked for their Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) on a scale of 1-10 of their perception of the activity’s difficulty.

On their second visit to the lab, they watched a video screen in front of them as they cycled. For a slight 16 milliseconds (0.02 seconds), either a series of happy faces or a sad faces was flashed on the screen. At this speed, the human eye is not able to consciously recognize an image, even though it does register with the subconscious brain.

For the group that saw the happy faces, they were able to pedal three minutes longer than the group that saw sad faces. RPEs were also lower for the “happy” group. The research has been published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Marcora sees possibilities to help endurance athletes before and during races with positive subliminal messaging delivered by intelligent eyewear. Imagine a cross-country runner or a triathlete receiving ongoing positive reinforcement directly to his or her subconscious mind. For parents, we could send all of those well-intentioned, motivational phrases to our young athletes with a lot less yelling.


Category(s):Sports Psychology

Source material from Sports Are 80 Percent Mental


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