John F. Kennedy University College of Psychology’s Dr. Gily Meir and Dr. Kimberly Shaffer, along with a team of fellow researchers, recently published the results of a pivotal study in performance enhancement in the prestigious Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perceptions and Performance. The article, “Ironic Overcompensating Processes Under Avoidance Instructions in Motor Tasks: An Attention Imbalance Model with Golf-Putting Evidence,” advances theoretical knowledge in a vital area of sport psychology.

Imagine you are someone who is learning to golf. Every time you go to take a swing, you need to really focus. But what do you focus on? Before you take your swing, what can your trainer say to you that will have an optimum effect on your performance? If the trainer simply reminds you to not putt the ball short, this reminder could actually lead to at least two types of disadvantageous outcomes. You may ironically proceed to putt the ball short. Or, you may overcompensate to heed the trainer’s direction, and overshoot. The literature on which of these outcomes is more likely to occur has heretofore been quite mixed.

Enter Dr. Gily Meir and Dr. Kimberly A. Shaffer, both faculty members in the JFKU Sport Psychology department, and a team of fellow researchers. Instead of thinking about it in either-or terms, the team’s study investigates the coexistence of both the ironic and overcompensating processes induced by avoidance goals (the intention to not putt the ball short) in motor tasks. To conceptualize such a coexistence, the team proposed an attention imbalance model (AIM). Their work has formed a crucial step toward a better understanding of how to manipulate a psychological process to enhance performance.

“At this day and age you look for any advantage to enhance and optimize performance,” says Dr. Meir. “This study is a great example of how you take general findings from psychology and try to transfer them to the very complex world of performance.”

Working on this study has taught the team something about endurance and the benefits of working in a group. One reason the study went on for so long was that the team kept getting results that were not as they had originally anticipated. This led to much discussion and further hypotheses that were tested in a total of four consecutive studies. “There was a lot of arguing between us about what they meant,” explains Dr. Meir. “We really saw the benefit of working with a bigger team and having different perspectives and interpretations of the data we were seeing.”

In addition to publishing their findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, members of the team have presented them in many prestigious settings including the International Society of Sport Psychology conferences and the European Federation of Sport Psychology (FEPSAC). The study was also funded by a research grant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). Congratulations to Dr. Meir, Dr. Shaffer, and the team!