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Category: Psychology

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The psychology of football rivalries

Why does supporting one club mean you have to hate another?By Paul Hyland for The BlizzardEveryone reading this probably has a favourite football team. I’d also be willing to bet that all of you have at least one football club that you hate. Maybe it’s…

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Transatlantic tales of Morris Minors | Brief letters

Graham Kelly on football psychology | A Minor marriage | Morris Minus | Jeremy Hunt | PuffinsAlthough a respected sports scientist accompanied England manager Bobby Robson to Italia 90, the Football Association was not so attuned then to the psychology…

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How the psychology of the England football team could change your life

England players seem happier and more grounded – and much of the credit goes to psychologist Pippa Grange. What can the team’s approach teach us all about facing fear and failure?This week, the England midfielder Dele Alli was asked if he was nervous a…

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Individual athletes more prone to depression, researchers find

Study by German sports psychologists finds individual athletes score higher on depression scale than those in team sportsAthletes in individual sports are more prone to depression than those in team games, according to German research to be presented a…

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Elite football referees predict where a foul will happen, research shows

Scientists in UK and Belgium find less experienced referees are more easily distracted and focus less on contact zonesThe proficiency of elite football referees could be down to their eagle eyes, say researchers.A study of elite and sub-elite referees …

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What does a sports psychologist do? The man who works for Eddie Jones explains

Sports psychologist Jeremy Snape helped prepare the England rugby union team before their 3-0 win against Australia. But what does he actually do?

By Richard Foster for The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Guardian Sport Network

Eddie Jones has transformed the England rugby union team since their inglorious failure at the Rugby World Cup last year. Under his leadership the team has won their first grand slam at a Six Nations for 13 years and whitewashed Australia 3-0. Among the changes Jones made when he took over was the appointment of former England cricketer and qualified psychologist Jeremy Snape, who flew out to Australia before the three-match series to help the team prepare.

Related: England’s sweeping statement: from grand slam to whitewash to beach party | Eddie Butler

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John Muranka hopes to give Bradford City a psychological edge over Reading

Valley Parade side have been playing mind games with the help of a sports psychologist as they prepare for their quarter-final match on Saturday
BT Sport to show Bradford FA Cup quarter-final free to air

Bradford City’s players sometimes call him “the lifeguard” but to Reading John Muranka represents a hidden enemy. For the past five years the west Yorkshire-based psychologist-cum-life coach has been working with assorted Bradford players, doing his bit to help the team reach the 2013 League Cup final, win promotion to League One and, most recently, giant-kill their way to the FA Cup quarter-finals.

During a run in which Phil Parkinson’s side have bundled Chelsea and Sunderland out of a competition which on Saturday sees them host Reading, Muranka has been working closely with two of City’s leading scorers, James Hanson and Billy Clarke. “With goal-scorers it’s about relaxing,” says Muranka. “There’s a lot of pressure on strikers and when they feel pressure they tighten up and can start snatching at shots. So we do relaxation exercises.” These have proved so effective that Bradford players often record his instructions on their mobiles and listen to them in the dressing room before games.

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John Muranka hopes to give Bradford City a psychological edge over Reading

Valley Parade side have been playing mind games with the help of a sports psychologist as they prepare for their quarter-final match on Saturday
BT Sport to show Bradford FA Cup quarter-final free to air

Bradford City’s players sometimes call him “the lifeguard” but to Reading John Muranka represents a hidden enemy. For the past five years the west Yorkshire-based psychologist-cum-life coach has been working with assorted Bradford players, doing his bit to help the team reach the 2013 League Cup final, win promotion to League One and, most recently, giant-kill their way to the FA Cup quarter-finals.

During a run in which Phil Parkinson’s side have bundled Chelsea and Sunderland out of a competition which on Saturday sees them host Reading, Muranka has been working closely with two of City’s leading scorers, James Hanson and Billy Clarke. “With goal-scorers it’s about relaxing,” says Muranka. “There’s a lot of pressure on strikers and when they feel pressure they tighten up and can start snatching at shots. So we do relaxation exercises.” These have proved so effective that Bradford players often record his instructions on their mobiles and listen to them in the dressing room before games.

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Why sports psychologists couldn’t save Brazil’s World Cup hopes

They were supposed to be key to the success of their campaign. So why did the team fall apart so dramatically against Germany? Is it because there is too much emphasis on staying relaxed, and not enough on hardening players to the extreme pressure?

Before Germany buried Brazil in their semi-final, Brazilian captain Thiago Silva was confident his team would hold up under pressure because they had top sports psychologist Regina Brandão helping them relax. Brandão has a degree in sports psychology, as well as a PhD in sports science, from Unicamp in São Paulo. The important thing, said Silva repeatedly, was to put the players at ease. “If we are not at ease, things won’t happen the way we want them to.” Even star player Neymar had expressed his confidence in Brandão and felt her methods would benefit the rest of us. “It is not only us in football who are surrounded by emotion every day and need psychologists. I think it could do every person good, to make one more relaxed.”

Each player was apparently given a battery of psychological tests to evaluate their emotional reactions in different situations. They were presented with different stimuli, such as smiley faces or frowns, and their reactions were analysed and manipulated. The aim was to harmonise their responses, to put them “at ease on the pitch”.

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Brazil World Cup team calls in psychologist after Chile match tears

Luiz Felipe Scolari uses counselling before quarter-final against Colombia amid widespread criticism of emotional displayBrazil’s manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has called on a psychologist to bolster the national football team after a near emotional melt…

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Luis Suárez ‘exhibits behaviour of a frustrated child’ by biting

Emotion rather than reason triggers infantile biting say psychologists, who are urging the striker to seek help Continue reading…

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Readers recommend: songs about narcissism

Selfishness, self-interest or self-absorption, let’s reflect on and name songs on inward-looking attitudes and the me, me, me Continue reading…

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England’s new psychologist will not help us score goals, says Roy Hodgson

England coach Roy Hodgson says the team’s new psychologist can help with mental preparation

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The Sochi stray dog dilemma: does the world care more about Russia’s animals than humans? | Heather Long

Out of the many problems with the Olympics, the global outcry and outpouring of resources seems loudest to aid the dogs

It’s hard to know where to start with the problems at the Sochi Olympics, but the one that appears to have attracted the widest worldwide outrage is the killing of stray dogs.

Even in Russia, where they have chastised western media for being on a witch hunt for bad stories, it was a Russian billionaire who stepped forward with a donation to save Sochi’s dogs. Oleg Deripaska heads up several energy and commodities businesses. He’s about as pro-Putin Russia as you can get, yet he didn’t want to see the dogs “culled” either. Some question whether his funding for animal shelters in Sochi will extend beyond the length of the games, but it’s still a big gesture that can only be read one way: one of Russia’s most powerful men thinks the dog killing policy is wrong.

When news broke last week that thousands of dogs were going to be eliminated in one way or another, the Humane Society and numerous other animal rights groups mobilized their networks and offered help. There are even websites up already with detailed instructions for people around the world who want to adopt a Sochi dog.

Western media has given a lot of coverage to Russia’s anti-gay policies, among other human rights abuses. There have been protests and social media campaigns calling for LGBTQ tolerance and rights. But the dog stories – with their adorable photos –stirred a level of outrage that seemed to cross greater political and geographical boundaries. And they certainly achieved faster results. It raises a quandary: do we care more about what happens to animals than other humans?

What we’re seeing with Russia isn’t new or unique. CNN war correspondent Michael Holmes lamented in 2008 that he could write about death, disease and suffering in Iraq (among other places), but if he included something about an animal being mistreated, the story would elicit more passionate response. He summed it up thus:

Of all the stories I have covered during my frequent trips to Iraq, most of the viewer feedback I received asked about the animal victims of war rather than the human ones. I make no judgment on that – it is just an observation.

Online, people like and support causes and charities having to do with animals almost 2 to 1 over causes having to do with just about anything else, according to a study that came out last summer. As Holmes says, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it’s notable.

Last year, researchers at Northeastern University conducted an interesting investigation to test if humans have more empathy for animals. They wrote a fake news story about a beating and then made four versions of it. The articles varied only in the type of victim that was hurt: a one-year-old child, an adult in his 30s, a puppy, or a 6-year-old dog. Participants in the study received one version and then rated their sympathy for the victim. The sympathy rankings were far higher for the dogs than adult humans (it was more even between animals and children).

I saw this tendency play out when I spent several years as an opinions editor of a newspaper in Pennsylvania. One of my tasks was to read letters to the editor submissions. Four topics stand out for generating vast and intensely worded outrage. The first was the Penn State University/Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. The second was the debate leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The third and fourth both dealt with dogs. A person left their dog in a car on a hot summer day for several hours. Someone called the police, which is how local media learned about it. The dog was taken to a local shelter, and the ex-owner received hate mail and death threats for weeks. The letters came to the newspaper, too. People couldn’t wait to publicly shame the person and declare them a monster. Another time a lifestyle columnist wrote a piece about buying a dog with her kids. It was supposed to be a feel good column, but readers immediately assumed the dog was from a “puppy mill” since it came from a pet store. Again, an avalanche of outrage and death threats.

Helping animals is the right thing to do. The Northeastern researchers concluded that many people view animals as innocent and helpless, similar to children. How we treat the weakest in our society is a reflection of who we are.

I also think that aiding animals like the Sochi dogs is, in many ways, an easier problem to solve than many of the world’s largest human tragedies: war, poverty, child abuse, trafficking, disease, etc. While there are some cultural differences in how we treat certain animals (note the recent dolphin culling by Japan that drew criticism from US ambassador Caroline Kennedy), we don’t have to deal with as many geo-political and legal issues to help animals. To put it another way, it was pretty easy to take the dog away from the person who left it in the hot car and find it a new home. It’s not as simple to remove a child from the parents or a child bride from a spouse.

Frankly, I don’t want us to have any less sympathy for animals. The outpouring of support for the Sochi strays is wonderful. It’s exactly the “spirit” and global mobilization we want at the Olympics. But alongside that, I wish we could raise our sympathy levels and support for other causes. We have to be careful that we aren’t numbing ourselves to human tragedy.

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The cheerleader effect: how you can look good in a group

People apparently look more attractive when seen with others than when viewed as individuals, so get yourself a band

A study published last week by scientists at the University of California, San Diego suggests that people look more attractive when seen in the presence of others than when viewed as individuals, a phenomenon known as the “cheerleader effect”. But why does it happen? And what can we do with it?

Well, human beings tend to form groups. Whether it’s boy bands or battalions, we gravitate towards the company of others, whatever the situation. There are exceptions of course, but by and large people are social creatures.

The California study argues that the cheerleader effect is caused by our tendency to perceive faces in a group as an amalgamated average, rather than separate individual objects, and the fact this “average group face” is more attractive to us than the faces that make it up. (Group influence also affects our perception of how attractive someone is. Studies have shown that if others think someone is attractive, we are more likely to find them attractive too, regardless of how they look.)

The effect has been noticed in pop culture: in the US sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris’s character points out a group of girls in a bar who collectively appear attractive, but on closer inspection display serious physical flaws. Likewise, the cheerleaders the effect is named for would look less appealing (and significantly weirder) if they were cheering solo, and a quick glance at any manufactured girl or boy band reveals how the enhanced attractiveness of an ensemble can be used for commercial gain.

Arguably, we could all use the effect to our advantage. If you want people to find you more attractive for some reason (if, for example, you need a good photo for an online dating profile), you may wish to become friends and be seen with people whose physical characteristics complement or “compensate for” your own. That said, it would be difficult to form lasting friendships on such shallow, self-serving grounds.

But human attention tends to focus on differences, so you wouldn’t want to be too different from the group; that would only make things worse.

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