Sunday, April 01, 2012

Sports psychology and neuroscience

This week's Autosport contains a purported explanation from sports psychologist Don Macpherson, of why Sauber's cautionary radio call cost Sergio Perez victory in Malaysia:

"Racing drivers must drive with their subconscious, the right hemisphere of the brain. The [voice in your head] lives in the left hemisphere (conscious) - for words, numbers and technical stuff.

In Malaysia, Sergio Perez was driving with his right-side brain - automatically, instinctively - when he was closing on Fernando Alonso."

This is only wrong in two respects: there is no reason to believe in the simple lateralization of brain function, and the distinction between conscious and subconscious processes is not correlated with the left and right sides of the brain.

On the general issue of brain lateralization, the current state of neuroscientific knowledge is nicely summarised on Wikipedia:

"Broad generalizations are often made in popular psychology about one side or the other having characteristic labels such as 'logical' or 'creative'. These labels need to be treated carefully; although a lateral dominance is measurable, these characteristics are in fact existent in both sides, and experimental evidence provides little support for correlating the structural differences between the sides with functional differences."

Secondly, the conscious mind is generally associated with the cortex, while the unconscious mind is associated with the cerebellum, hypothalamus and brain stem. In other words, the distinction between conscious and unconscious has nothing to do with brain lateralization.

It seems that an ability to grasp fundamental concepts and absorb simple facts is superfluous to the role of sports psychologist.

No comments: