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Placebo Effect May Work in Sports Performance

Placebo Effect May Work in Sports Performance

European sports psychologists have discovered that one’s own expectations have a major influence on just how strenuous one perceives a sport activity.

Researchers determined that how a person doing the sport feels about himself or herself plays a big role in the perception of work strain.

Investigators also discovered a self-fulfilling prophecy component when it comes to sports equipment — that is, if a person believes a sports garment will help performance, then it may do so.

Psychologist Hendrik Mothes of the Department of Sport Science at the University of Freiburg and his team invited 78 men and women between 18 and 32 into a sports laboratory. Participants then rode a stationary bicycle-ergometer for 30 minutes.

Beforehand, they were asked to say how athletic they thought they were. And they were asked to put on a compression shirt produced by a well-known sporting goods manufacturer.

During their exercise, they were asked every five minutes what level of strenuousness they were experiencing.

Shortly before the exercise, the participants were assigned to different groups and shown a brief film that either stressed the positive health effects of the coming cycling activity, or dampened the expectations.

And the compression shirts were mentioned: In some of the films, the shirts were praised as an additional help in cycling, while other films indicated that they would make the test persons’ sweating comparable.

“What the participants did not know was that we used these film clips with the aim of influencing their expectations of the coming cycling session,” Mothes said.

The results showed, as expected, a self-fulfilling prophecy that the training unit was less strenuous for the test persons when they started out with a positive attitude.

The more athletic the participants perceived themselves to be, the stronger this effect was.

However, positive expectations did not help participants who considered themselves not very athletic. They found the training unit strenuous anyway.

The researchers also found that believing in the compression shirt helped. To the subjects who considered themselves athletic, it made no difference; but for those who said they weren’t much good at sports, there was quite an effect.

“Merely the belief that the shirt would help did help the ‘unsporty’ subjects to have a lower perception of strenuousness during the exercise,” Mothes said.

These findings are further evidence that the placebo effect works in sports as well. And they show that is it does make a difference what you think about sport and its effects.

“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.”

Source: University of Freiburg

Placebo Effect May Work in Sports Performance

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Placebo Effect May Work in Sports Performance. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 3 Jul 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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