Countdown to the greatest psychological show on earth

Today (18 April) marks the 100-day countdown to the London Olympic Games.  Over the next few months, as London gets ready to host this great sporting event, the British Psychological Society's Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology (DSEP) aims to show the part psychology plays in making the Olympics and Paralympics the greatest psychological shows on earth.


Professor David Lavallee, co-ordinator of this project said: “We aim to build an information resource for those interested in sport, and psychology, to explain some of the ways psychology informs sport and exercise performance and how it helps.


“As well as news, information and videos about sport and exercise psychology, visitors to the portal can participate in an online experiment devised by Chartered Psychologist Dr Iain Greenlees. We want to include a wide base of participation in this experiment, so please tell your friends and colleagues”.


Sporting folklore is littered with examples of competitors who have claimed that the time before a sporting encounter starts can be decisive in determining the result of the competition.



In many sports, competitors actively attempt to intimidate and ‘psychout’ their opponents in order to achieve an advantage once the competition is underway. This, it is argued, is because the early impressions we form of the people we interact with, and compete against, have the power to influence our emotions, our cognitions and, ultimately, our behaviours. If this is the case then it may be important for sport psychologists to understand how people form impressions of their opponents and the sources of information that they use.



This is the aim of a research project inspired by the Division of Sport & Exercise Psychology and co-ordinated by the Universities of Chichester, Staffordshire and Stirling.



The research project contains an online mass participation experiment. Participants are asked to walk in the shoes of a judo player preparing for a bout and to see the world from their eyes. Each participant will view a series of videos of a judo pre-bout scene and another clip of a player preparing to compete against them. Their task will be to provide their impressions of these opponents (for example, how nervous, intimidating and capable they look) and to rate how confident they would be of defeating their opponent in a judo bout.


Dr Iain Greenlees CPsychol, from the University of Chichester says: “Increasingly, sport psychology research is showing that initial impressions can influence the behaviour of coaches, officials and performers. We hope that this experiment, by sampling a wide pool of sporting performers and sports enthusiasts, will add to our knowledge of how we form impressions in sport.”



This project has been put together by the DSEP through the Society’s Public Engagement Grants scheme. The results of the online study, as well as a full explanation of the research project and the sources of impressions revealed by respondents, will be published on the Society’s website shortly before the Olympics close.  


Dr Greenlees notes: “For me, one of the great things about events like the Olympics is that they are a natural environment in which we can readily observe many of the concepts, performing under pressure, social interactions, group dynamics, aggression that psychologists of any discipline are interested in. With this study and the Division’s public engagement activities, we hope to highlight some of these concepts in action.”



Get involved in the online experiment, visit the sport and exercise psychology resource and find out more about the greatest psychological show on earth.