Athletes who excel at sports seem to see the world differently, according to a Purdue University researcher.
“You hear about athletes making comments like, ‘oh, I was playing so well, everything seemed like it was moving in slow motion,” said Jessi Witt, Ph.D., a psychological scientist who has played sports most of her life. She also notes that softball and tennis players who are hitting well often say they think the balls look bigger.
To study these perceptions and find ways to help athletes improve their performances, Witt and her colleagues used an optical illusion, setting up a golf hole on a ramp and using a projector to shine a ring of circles around the hole.
When they projected a ring of 11 small circles around the golf hole, it made the central circle look bigger by comparison. When they put five large circles around the same golf hole, the hole looked smaller. Then, 36 college students took 10 tries at each optical illusion.
What they found was that the putters sank more putts when the hole looked bigger — about 10 percent more.
“That’s one stroke,” Witt says. “In a professional setting, that could make a huge difference.”
It’s still not clear how a player could make this happen —setting up projectors on the putting green isn’t very practical. But in other sports, such as basketball, players could visualize the hoop as bigger, which could help improve performance, she notes.