PET Image of the Brain by Jens Langner
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In the interview, Dr. David Eagleman debunks the popular belief that time slows down during times of heightened stress. According to Eagleman, time does not in fact slow down; instead, the brain's attention to detail increases, which leads to very detailed memories of the stressful event. Because our normal perception of daily life does not produce such detailed memories, the detailed memories resulting from a stressful event make individuals believe that their perception of time must have been moving slower during the event.
In my opinion, this phenomenon might be related to what occurs when individuals or teams demonstrate focus and seem to be one step ahead of their competitors. Specifically, during a period of intense focus, a player's ability to observe and process detail increases and the player is able to make faster and more effective decisions than his opponents.
One example of how this phenomenon might have been demonstrated in the annals of history is the story of the 1950 City College of New York Beavers. The 1950 Beavers are the only college basketball team in history to win both the NIT and NCAA tournaments during the same season, and they achieved this feat while shaving points to earn money on the side. We'll discuss the subsequent college point shaving scandals in the next TBCB Spotlight, but for the moment let's focus on the potential impact of the stress associated with their achievement.
The members of the CCNY team who were shaving points must have been under incredible pressure. They didn't want to let their teammates down by losing games, but they also wanted to ensure that they won by a small enough margin that they didn't cover the point spread. While this blog doesn't support the actions that led to the scandal, it's possible that the act of point shaving generated enough stress to heighten the focus of the players involved and contributed to their eventual success.
Since focus can be practiced, I believe that teams and players who actively cultivate focus are more effectively able to exploit the focusing benefits of a stressful playoff situation. The most notable recent example of teams that actively practice improving their focus and awareness are Phil Jackson's Bulls and Lakers. Most basketball fans aware of Jackson's affinity for meditation, which improves the ability to focus attention and block out distractions. Perhaps one reason why Jackson was the most successful NBA coach in history was his advocacy for cultivating focus through meditation. Meditative practices plus the stress associated with the playoffs, might have been enough to give Jackson's teams the mental edge needed to succeed on such a consistent basis. A more recent example of actively cultivating focus is Lebron James' focused effort to block out all distractions during the 2012 NBA playoffs.
On a somewhat related note, Wages of Wins recently noted that the debate over the "hot hand" phenomenon is still ongoing. One concept that future researchers might consider in evaluating the hot hand is the impact of increased attention to detail in pressure-packed situations (verses more typical game situations). Also, given the above discussion of focus, it seems plausible that certain players might have a better ability to achieve a hot hand depending on how well they have prepared for stressful situations. Wages of Wins notes that some research might indicate that bowling and archery show stronger evidence of the "hot hand," so this is definitely something that merits continued attention.
Stay tuned for more on the 1950's point shaving scandal soon. We'll also continue to explore and refine the 7 Factors of Championship Teams as time marches on.