This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Biology 202
2001 Second Web Report
On Serendip

Using Your Minds Eye for Optimal Athletic Performance

PaShawnda Briley

You are in the First Union Stadium playing in the championship basketball game in front of a sold out, wildly cheering crowd, with hints of soft pretzels, buttered popcorn, and sweat in the air. Theres one minute left to play and you are agitated, exhausted, and have cottonmouth from the stimulation of this once in a life time opportunity to own and flaunt a championship ring. The scoreboard announces that the numbers are tied at 101 and its your ball. Theres enough time to set up the much rehearsed play, with yourself as the go to player to sink the winning three. After taunting the defense by passing on the perimeter, its time to make a deep v-cut, run off the double screen, and set up on the three point line by the baseline for the winning shot. The crisp pass is headed directly for your open hands, such that the rough, rubber grips on the basketball depicts a perfect rotation and arc as it spins through the air just as the buzzer bleats and an awestricken hush resounds in the stadium. Come game day, you will be relaxed and confident so that this scenario will happen.

Visualization is a type of mind- body therapy used in athletics to enhance, relax, and control athletes behavior or control physiological responses (1). The main goal of visualization or guided imagery is to have the imagined and desired outcome occur (1). Using repetitive visualization exercises, much like the above, is an example of how vivid and sensually explicit imagery can influence behavior. The generalized imaginary technique begins with the visualizer taking an active role- first in generalized relaxation and then producing vivid and detailed images of specific movements or broad scenes (2). The visualizer should repeatedly practice picturing the desired set of detailed events accurately and vividly, utilizing as many senses as possible (1),(2). The visualizer should also incorporate their desired emotions at the time of their desired effects so that the brain creates a relationship between the desired emotions and events (4). Emotions have been documented as affecting the endocrine and immune systems, such that a regulated amount of the hormone endorphin is released as part of the imagery.

Visualization has been used for centuries without an adequate amount of weight in the medical field, due to the separation and derogatory view of the art of healthcare(1). But around 1970, visualization gained more clout in the medical field, because the technique was used with cancer patients imagining their T-cells defending their body against the attacking carcinogenic cells, something the majority of the medical field viewed as more concrete and substantially positive than a feeling or essence (1), (2). The Simonton Method of visualization showed evidence of a positive effect in cancer patients visualizing their immune system destroying the target cancer cells, increasing the demand for the new positively viewed technique (2).

Guided imagery assumes that the mind affects the functions of the body- whether muscular or respiratory or any other biological system (2). Visualization is used not only for those who wish to improve their performance, but with patients with diseases, recovering addicts, fears, stress, and basically anyone who wishes to change a feature in their life (4). Visualization is found to be an effective form of therapy for The University of Pittsburghs baseball coach Mark Jackson reporting, We do visualization, which is a form of self- hypnosis, every day. You have to be able to make pictures in your head that are detailed and vivid. We found that visualization works, because in certain states of consciousness the brain doesnt discern between an event imagined vividly and a real event. During visualization, the information entered in the visual system is processed and stored for later retrieval, indicating the possible influence of memory over the desired effects (4). If memory is the cause of visualizations success, it infers that everyones memory is of a high capacity and can hold a great amount of detail from the vivid perceptions. Pitts mens swimming coach Chuck Knoles is an advocate of visualization because he feels it induces a calming effect to the anxiety of sports competitions, so the player is not without adequate decision-making skills nor concentration (3).

There is still a debate over whether the visualizer develops the picture in their head subconsciously or consciously or with or without the I function (4). We already know that the brain can warp what it perceives by examining the visual system. The brain makes up what it can not get information from in the blind spot of the eye and completely develops a color system. One theory as to why visualization works is because neurons in the brain interpret reality as equivalent to a vividly, detailed imagery, confirmed by brain scans (2), (4). This would be concurrent with our idea of the continuity of our visual input regardless of the blind spot on the eye, because our I functions were not aware of the made up parts of the world, until someone told them. Therefore, the brain responded identically to the self- generated part of the visual system as to the reality part of the visual system. Also, the brain is in a perpetual state of evaluation of the surrounding world and itself, but in a sports competition, this is not necessary nor helpful- visualization helps the person go through the perfected motions without analyzing the situation first (3).

The picture we generate in our minds is difficult to pinpoint. Visual images are not localized, but rather diffused throughout a cascade of neuronal spaces. Visual images can be created without actually looking at them, which is the definition of imagery, supported by neuronal activity in the occipital lobe (5). Humans do this all the time when we think about and describe future or past events. And sometimes our visual perception is not as rich as the actual picture, but neurons continue to fire at the same intensity (5). Some of these excited neurons discriminate in their firing intensities against reality and imagery, but most of the neurons had the same type of selectivity (5). The electrical activity of 276 neurons of 9 patients with epilepsy showed evidence of altered firing rates in the hippocampus, amygdala, entrorhinal cortex, and parahippocampal gyrus (5). These results suggest visual information and recall operate in a similar manner (5). There is evidence from new technology called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation or rTMS, where the pictures in our heads are like a videotape playing in the back of the head, which is stored in the temporal lobes in a compressed form, almost like magnetic pulses on a videotape (7).

Dynamogenesis is the decision to act, the point in which the person makes a conscious decision to act (9). This is relevant to the idea that visualization will impact the biological functions of the body, but there still must be a conscious decision to act out what is deemed desirable from the imagery (8). Therefore, the I function is at least active when the visualization is ready to confront reality. Therefore, when some of the brains neurons produce hormones, the body can be directly influenced, but according to dynamogenesis, the I function is the origin of the action (9). This neuroendocrinal transduction or transformation of neuronal signals to hormones and eventually muscular movement is an example that the mind- body communication is necessary for visualization to have any effect in a persons life (9). Selyes theory on stress conduction from the mind to the body proposed that there are pathways, channels, and routes, in which information is transmitted from the mind to the autonomic, endocrine, and immune systems, correlating the cascade of events as a major mind- body information transducer (9). The limbic- hypothalamic-pituitary system is the major translator between the languages of the mind (9). Bridging the gap between the mind and the body is resolved between the two fundamental processes: state dependent memory and the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary system (9).

Visualization helps the athlete just do it and do it with confidence, poise, and perfection. With repetition and concentration guided imagery can be the athletes best asset towards winning any competition. Performing at ones optimal level, according to the humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, holds these characteristics: feeling free of obstructions, inhibitions, cautions, fears, doubts, controls, reservations, self criticisms, and brakes (3). Visualization gives an athlete the mental edge (3).

WWW Sources

1)Mind/ Body Medicine, from the PubMed web site

2)Guided Imagery, from the PubMed web site

3)Just Do It, by Larry Eldridge, Jr.

4)The Mysterious Medication of Meditation, by Jeanie Davis WebMD Medical News May 2000

5)Visualization: A Powerful Tool, by Susan Pilgrim, Ph.D. Canada

6)Study Sheds New Light on How the Minds Eye Works, by Roxanne Moster, U. of CA Nov, 2000.

7)Minds Eye Recreates Visual Memories, by William J. Cromie April 1999

8)Fooling the Minds Eye, from the Daily InScight July 1998 American Association for Advancement of Science

9)Mind- Body Therapy: Methods of Ideodynamic Healing in Hypnosis, by Ernest L. Rossi David B. Check WW Norton & Co., pg. 163-164 May 1995




| Course Home Page | Forum | Brain and Behavior | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Monday, 07-Jan-2002 14:30:32 EST