The series of tests designed by Professor Vincent Walsh (Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of London) showed that elite athletes are able to remain calm when under pressure and perform significantly better than non-athletes .
The study also revealed that athletes' brains were 10% faster than non-athletes, and their memory accuracy actually improved 20% compared to non-athletes in response to challenging and emotionally intense situations.
The tests were conducted to test the hypothesis that elite athletes are able to handle strong emotions better than non-athletes, and maintain control in high-risk situations.
The athletes who took the tests were John McGuiness, multiple winner of the Isle of Man TT; surfer Andrew Cotton; Colin Turkington, two-time British Touring Car Champion (BTCC); British skate champion Peter Connolly; the prestigious climber Louis Parkinson and the Le Mans driver Oliver Webb.
“These elite athletes take actions that many of us find unachievable, but what is fascinating is the way they think when they tackle these challenges. When some decisions can make the difference between success and failure, it may not seem so striking that the study highlights that athletes react several seconds faster when taking tests. Those seconds of difference are apparently not crucial, but for any athlete they can make the difference between winning or losing, "said Vincent Walsh, professor at the University of London.
The scientific test carried out to measure the behavior of athletes was the International Affective Image System (IAPS). The IAPS is a database of images that cannot be found on the Internet, from everyday objects and scenes to extremely peculiar images, which have been shown to cause different effects on the brain and can be used to create stress on purpose.
“In general, athletes were more accurate in memory tests after exposure to negative stimuli, while non-athletes were distracted by those stimuli. In some cases, non-athletes' performance declined in terms of memory speed when faced with adversity and emotionally intense situations. In contrast, the responses of the athletes were improving. This makes sense, particularly in the case of rock climbing or motorcycle racing, where athletes must avoid dangers and need to make alternative decisions, ”concluded Professor Walsh.
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