Elite athletes’ memories are 20% better than average

  • Athletes’ memories performed 20% better than non-athletes in study that tested mental performance under pressure
  • Study revealed that elite athletes’ brains were 10% faster in the face of intense mental stress
  • New Dunlop Tyres cognitive test developed with University College London demonstrated how athletes perform under pressure

Elite athletes’ memories perform 20% better than average under intense psychological pressure. The study commissioned by Dunlop Tyres in conjunction with University College London revealed that the athletes’ superior memory allowed them to stay in control even during tests which artificially invoked stress and anxiety within the brain.

The series of tests devised by Professor Vincent Walsh (University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience), showed that elite athletes were largely unphased when put under stressful situations, and performed significantly better when compared with non-athletes.

The study also showed that athletes’ brains were 10% quicker than non-athletes and actually improved their memory accuracy by 20% more than the non-athletes in a response to challenging and intense emotions.

The tests were conducted to test the hypothesis that the mindset of elite athletes are able to handle intense situations and emotions better than non-athletes and stay in control in high risk situations.

The athletes tested included multiple Isle of Man TT winner John McGuiness, big wave surfer Andrew Cotton, two-time British Touring Car Champion Colin Turkington, British Champion downhill skater Peter Connolly, experienced climber Louis Parkinson and Le Mans racing driver Oliver Webb.

University College London’s Professor Vincent Walsh commented: “These elite athletes perform tasks that many of us could never comprehend but what is fascinating is their mind-set when tackling such challenges. When some decisions can be the difference between success and failure, it is perhaps unsurprising that the study showed that athletes were consistently several seconds faster when performing their tasks. A few seconds or a few percent may not sound much but this is a long time in sport and is the difference between winning and losing.

The scientific test used to measure the athlete’s performance was the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). The IAPS is database of pictures which can’t be found on the Internet, ranging from everyday objects and scenes, to extremely rare images, which have been proven to have different effects on the brain and can be used to artificially invoke feelings of stress.

“The athletes were more accurate overall in their memory tasks following exposure to negative stimuli whereas the non-athletes were disturbed by the stimuli. In some cases, the non-athletes’ performance fell apart in terms of speed of memory when put in difficult and intense situations. Conversely, the athlete’s responses often improved. A lot of this makes sense, in particular in the case of rock-climbing or motor racing, where the athletes are conditioned to negate dangerous situations and need to make split second decisions,” stated Professor Walsh.

Dunlop Tyres PR & Corporate Communications Manager, Kate Rock, said: “Understanding how athletes perform when the stakes are so high and under so much pressure was incredibly fascinating. From rock climbing, car racing, big wave surfing or motorcycle racing, these athletes often have to stay in control of their natural fears to achieve their goals. This is as much about a mindset as well as their physical attributes and this is what the Dunlop Mindset is all about.”

People can challenge their own mental performance through one of the cognitive tests developed by Dunlop and UCL here: www.facebook.com/dunlop.uk.