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How Believers Perform Better but Don’t Believe It

A sports psychology study shows the profound effects of belief, brands, and the complications of detecting them.

Researchers gave Nike brand putters to two groups of health club members and had them make various puts. Group one was told that they had Nike-brand putters, but group two received information that they had starter-brand putters. Again, all participants had the same putter. Amazingly, people who knew they had Nike putters needed 20% fewer strokes to sink their golf balls.

The results were most profound among non-golfers. The more experienced the golfer, the less the placebo effect manifested. Another interesting detail was that the players who demonstrated the greatest placebo benefit were more likely to say the make of the putter made no difference. Researchers measured less performance anxiety, and the subjects attributed the results to their individual performance. Of course, the converse could have been true. Being told that the putter was bad could have heightened performance anxiety.

Either way, it may be safe to say that getting equipment in which you believe could make a 20% difference in performance, especially when getting started with a sport. This may apply to shoes, compression garments, bicycles, etc. For optimal sports performance, believe in belief.  

Side note: More than a million Australians play golf, and the sport has grown more than 21% here in the past year.

Source: Garvey AM, Germann F, Bolton LE. Performance brand placebos: How brands improve performance and consumers take the credit. Journal of Consumer Research. 2016 Apr 1;42(6):931-51.

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