Professor Andy Lane
We are experiencing some remarkable performances at the London Olympics.
The consistent performer across all events is the supportiveness of the crowd.
The British are notorious for good fans; our soccer fans travel across the world supporting country and clubs; the cricket barmy army, and so on.
What we have seen at London 2012 is how loud and supportive they can be when we achieve success.
But what’s the process behind this effect?
Arguments in the scientific literature are complex and findings inconsistent.
Comments from athletes at London are also consistent with this idea; on one hand, gold medal winning athletes thank the crowd; athletes achieving less than a gold, silver in some cases, apologise.
We have seen athletes provide sincere and heart wrenching apologies for not achieving gold. Why? We don’t know exactly but can speculate some reasons.
One possible reason is that the crowd emphasise the importance of the event; if there was any doubt, the volume of crowd noise acts as a reminder to soul search for extra effort to get more out of yourself; in short, an athlete’s self-worth could be tied exclusively to performance in the games.
When self-belief is so polarised, winning will lead to exhilaration, and defeat to desolation.
The second possible reason is that athletes feel that winning a gold medal is akin to delivering a Christmas present for your child, and in a way, the athlete feels he or she has let the child down.
I think we can expect more highly energised performance; athletes are giving their all and as a consequence, we can expect to see extreme emotions depending on the result