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The Loop

According to new study, we can train our brains to become better putters

December 09, 2015

The Atlantic published this really cool piece about precision skills and why some people seem to be better at them than others.

They used the example of free-throw shooters, and how we usually look at someone who makes a ton of free throws and chalk it up to that person being really coordinated or really athletic. But new research shows it's more complex than that.

The research discusses a theory called "quiet eye", and it explains success at precision skills through what’s going on mentally, not athletically.

Scientists used eye-tracking technology (I have no idea how you get your hands on that, but it sounds awesome) to see what people are looking at right before, during, and after they performed their task – like shooting a free throw, or stroking a putt.

The simplified version boils down to: If you’re looking at the right part of the cup, for the right amount of time, you’re going to be a better putter – because you’re giving your brain the correct info to successfully conduct the task at hand.

“When your eyes provide the data, your motor system just knows what to do,” Joan Vickers, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Calgary who helped champion the quiet-eye theory, told the Atlantic. “Your brain is like a GPS system. It detects target, speed, intensity, and distance.”

I want to believe in this research 100%, forever. Because at first glance, it’s saying that my bad putting isn’t me, it’s my millennial attention span. And I can be taught how to fix it! Magic!

But alas, it’s not that simple.

In the study, researchers found that even though people thought they were looking at one thing, they often were not. People who are successful at precision tasks, meanwhile, usually hold their attention on a subject longer than those less successful.

While elusive, quiet eye is something that can be taught. Sam Vine, a psychologist at the University of Exeter, works with a number of athletes, including professional golfers.

So, it’s a little more complicated than it sounds, but we’re all teachable, right?

Full article can be found here.