A new study has revealed how an instinctive part of the brain performs 82% faster in some people under intense pressure.
A gruelling series of physical and mental tests commissioned by Dunlop Tyres in partnership with UCLs Professor Vincent Walsh, showed that extreme sportspeople performed substantially better than members of the public in tests requiring the Parietal Cortex, one of the key areas of the brain that controls how fast your reactions are.
Dunlop designed the study to find out how important mental performance is when coping with high-pressure conditions, whether they are everyday challenges or dangerous adrenaline fuelled situations.
The study had five professional extreme athletes and five members of the public performing a series of tasks under a variety of external mental and physical pressures.
The professional group included multiple Isle of Man TT winner John McGuinness, world famous free climber Leo Houlding, motorsports driver Sam Bird, wing suit athlete Alexander Polli and skeleton bob gold medalist Amy Williams. These athletes need to have skills that help them perform under immense pressures, but similar traits can exist in people from all walks of life.
The study revealed an exceptional advantage for the extreme sportspeople. In a timed visual task that required the participants to react quickly to identify a series of shapes and patterns after being placed under physical pressure, they were 82% quicker than the members of the public. This can often mean the difference between success and failure in high-risk situations.
In one example, motorcycle racer John McGuinness, functioned faster under physical
pressure than under no pressure and made no errors during the test. He was unaffected and even benefitted from the stress.
UCL’s Professor Vincent Walsh commented: “What often sets some people apart from the rest is not how good they are in the practice arena, but how good they are under pressure.
We wanted to test these guys to see if we could probe what sets them apart. In some of the participants’ fields, split second decision-making can result in the ultimate difference.
“These skills can definitely be improved. It’s a case of exposing yourself to these conditions and challenges on a regular basis to get better. We might not be able to become a John or a Leo, but all these areas of the brain can make connections in later life so we can enhance ourselves.”
Four tests in total defined the results. The first two examined performance under physical pressure. This showed a remarkable advantage for the high-risk sportspeople, with their individual performances actually improving by 10% after fatigue, whilst the members of the public crumbled and their results got 60% worse in relation to their baseline scores.
The next two tests exposed how participants held up under mental pressure or distractions including when they had to assess risk. The tests required areas of the cortex to operate in harmony to prevent performance breakdown. These tests showed the extreme athletes performed three times better than the members of the public. A star performance came from Leo Houlding, who regularly has to assess the odds under dangerous conditions when free climbing.
Dunlop Tyres has made the same test available for people to take as our study participants, to see how well they perform under pressure. Participants can apply for the test that is co-ordinated by University College London’s Professor Vincent Walsh, who works with the Great Britain Olympic team by visiting the Dunlop Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dunlop.uk
Dunlop Tyres Consumer and Brand PR Manager, Kate Rock, said: “We are proud to have commissioned this fascinating piece of work to understand how performance holds up under pressure in that one moment that decides everything.
Performance is more than about cars and motorsports to us, it’s a mindset. These
high-risk sportspeople, who perform under pressure and constantly seek the next challenge, share the Dunlop mindset and there may be many other people out there who also possess it.
Ever wondered if you have the mindset to perform under the greatest pressure? Go to the Dunlop Facebook page to take the online test: