Golfers looking to improve their putting may find an advantage in visualizing the hole as bigger, according to a new study from Purdue University.
"People in our study made more successful putts in a smaller hole when a visual illusion helped them perceive it as larger," said Jessica K. Witt, an assistant professor of psychological science who studies perception in sports. "We know that how people perceive the environment affects their ability to act in it, such as scoring as basket or hitting a baseball, and now we know that seeing a target as larger leads to improved performance.
"More work is needed to better understand this effect, but we think the perceived increase in target size will boost confidence in one's abilities."
For the first time, Witt looked at how manipulating what athletes see could influence their immediate performance. Her findings are published in the April issue of Psychological Science.
Witt's previous work has shown how perception and performance work together in softball, tennis and football. For example, softball players who hit the ball better saw it as bigger, and people successfully kicking a football through the goal posts saw the target as larger.
In this golf study, 36 participants putted to two different-sized holes while a projector displayed a ring of smaller and larger circles around each hole to create an optical illusion. The smaller circles around the hole made it look bigger. Before putting, the person's perception of each hole was measured by having them draw the estimated size of the hole. Their perception was correlated with their scores, and those who saw the smaller hole, which was 5.08 centimeters in diameter, as bigger putted about 10 percent more successfully.
"A future goal is to develop techniques to help athletes see their target differently," Witt said. "Effects of these visual illusions will then lead to improvements in performance."
This work was supported by funds from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Witt collaborated on the study with Sally A. Linkenauger, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and Dennis R. Proffitt, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.
Get Me Out of This Slump! Visual Illusions Improve Sports Performance. Jessica K. Witt, Sally A. Linkenauger, and Dennis R. Proffitt. Psychological Science 0956797611428810, March 5, 2012 as doi:10.1177/0956797611428810