Athletes always talk about how they are able to enter a “zone” where concentration is enhanced along with performance. The zone, of course, is hard to describe and anecdotal. A bit like describing exactly how one feels when something is indescribable. Well, a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B has confirmed that the zone exists; that athletes can slow down time, not during a performance (like hitting a baseball) but in preparation to do so.
Researchers at the University College of London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience set up an experiment with 56 participants, in which they were asked to touch a screen or press a button depending on specific visual stimuli. The time that the participants felt they had to carry out the action was perceived to be longer. And the more time participants spent preparing for an action, the more time seemed to slow.
“Our experiments showed that the more people prepare for an action, the more dramatically time seems to slow down for them just before they actually begin the action,” said leader researcher Dr. Nobuhiro Hagura. ”This expansion of time may boost visual parts of the brain, by allowing more processing cycles, generating more information about the situation.”
“In a game like tennis or baseball you have to coordinate your actions with quick and unpredictable changes in the flight of the ball,” added Hagura. “Our brain is tuned for action; when you know you are getting ready to hit the ball it seems that your brain gives you a bit more time to analyse the visual world.”
As a former competitive baseball player who could have played college ball and who once faced the Chicago White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd, I can speak to the existence of “the zone.” When facing average to just above average pitchers, I was able to enter a mental groove (most of the time) where everything just seemed to recede and all I saw was the pitcher. Floyd, like the best MLB prospects, though, totally disrupted this mechanism because his fastball, at 17 years old, clocked in at 92 mph and his curve ball looked like it was going to hit me in the head. That is what separates the men from the boys, folks.
Now I enter the zone or slow time down when writing, in which the only real sense of danger can be found in tripping over a laptop power supply.
This research makes one think about whether the preparation in other activities slows time down as well. Does preparing one’s room before masturbation slow time down? What about the preparation before drinking—does it make one a better drinker? Or perhaps preparing to roll a joint slows time down. Nah… that would be the marijuana making time creep along.
EDIT: As my buddy, a former college ballplayer, noted in his reply to the article, there is a downside to “the zone.”
He states: “Time slows down even more when bad hitters have to walk back to the dugout after swinging through a 1-2 breaking ball in the dirt. Makes that 10 second walk seem like 10 minutes.”