It seems that in every intense tennis match, a loud grunt accompanies the player’s stroke.
Interestingly, there seems to be a psychological advantage in projecting these grunts, as they appear to hinder the opponent’s ability to accurately perceive and respond to the ball, say researchers involved in a new study.
Scott Sinnett, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and Alan Kingstone, psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, are the first to examine the effects of noise on shot perception during a tennis match.
For the study, UBC undergraduate students watched videos of a tennis player hitting a ball to either side of a tennis court in a laboratory setting. Half of the shots were accompanied with a quick 60-decibel noise at the same time as contact, equivalent in degree to the grunts of such tennis stars as Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal.
Participants were asked to specify the direction of the shot in each video clip on a keyboard as quickly and accurately as possible. According to the findings, the loud grunts resulted in notably slower response times and more mistakes of accuracy and decision in participants.
“Conservatively, our findings suggest that a tennis ball struck along with a loud grunt can travel an extra two feet in the air before the opponent is able to respond,” says Sinnett, adding that some professional tennis players’ grunts are as loud as 100 decibels.
“This could increase the likelihood that opponents are wrong-footed, or out of position, and make returning the ball more difficult.”
If the lab results translate onto the tennis court, Sinnett says the grunt effect would be even stronger on faster surfaces, such as the grass courts of Wimbledon or hard courts of the Australian and U.S. Open.
“This phenomenon of grunting in tennis is a perfect real-world scenario to explore the larger question of sound and its relationship to our ability to perceive the world,” says Sinnett, who worked on the study as a postdoctoral fellow at UBC.
“The study raises a number of interesting questions for tennis. For example, if Rafael Nadal is grunting and Roger Federer is not, is that fair? Are there strategies players can use to limit the negative effects of these sounds?”
Sinnett, a Vancouver native, is now studying whether top tennis players have developed personal strategies to diminish the effects of opponents’ grunting.
The findings are published in an online issue of Public Library of Science ONE.
Source: University of British Columbia