Feb 282010
Authors: David Martinez

While performing at their peak, Olympic athletes experience the world around them in slow motion, an experience that two CSU researchers now say all people share.

Assistant psychology professors Matthew Rhodes and David McCabe recently published research suggesting time slows not only for top-level athletes, but also for students performing relatively menial tasks.

“We know that time seems to slow down from athlete anecdotes,” Rhodes said in a press release. “But we believe this is the first study that actually addresses individual differences in time perception as a function of expertise.”

In the experiment, Rhodes and McCabe tested the reactions of psychology students to 80 words that flashed randomly across a computer screen. Of the 80 words, 20 related directly to football (pigskin, touchdown), 20 indirectly related (huddle, interception) and 40 had no relation to the sport.

Students saw the words appear on the screen and were asked to judge the length of time the words appear. Researchers then measured how much information the students knew about football by issuing them a questionnaire.

The study found that students with the most knowledge of football said the football words stayed on the screen longer than the students who knew less about football.

“Based on what we knew from the literature … we thought this was the pattern we were gonna get,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes compared the experience to learning to drive. When people first learn how to drive, he said, they panic because the cars and people around them seem to move so quickly.

As people gain more time and practice, driving becomes less of a hectic experience, as their brains learn how to quickly process information and distinguish necessary details from unnecessary ones.

Rhodes and McCabe used eight undergraduate research assistants, and they tested 144 psychology students in the spring of 2008.

“It was fairly cheap because we used undergraduate students as subjects and research assistants and equipment we already had,” McCabe said.

In the future, Rhodes hopes to study how professional athletes perceive time during game play.

Staff Writer David Martinez can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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