July 2008

The Chinese Whispers Effect and the Importance of Checking your Source of Information


Following my last blog, on visualization as a means of improving your acquisition of skills by providing a way of to lock in the mind body connection and neural pathways, I set on a quest to source the original research paper for this study.
I carried out a reference search for the "Basketball Experiment", at the University of Chicago, and used the Blaslotto name as author. I was perplexed to find that my searches, using these terms, failed to turn up any results.
My search did turn up a title “Effects of Self-administered Visuo- Motor Behavioural Rehearsal on the Sports Performance of Collegiate Athletes" by Lohr and Scogin, carried out by a group at the University of South Alabama, 1998.
This study looked at improvements in performance of several sporting disciplines with one group utilizing a Visuo motor behavioural rehearsal training procedure provided in manual and videotape form. The second, control, group did not receive this training. The authors noted that the study was carried out towards the end of the competitive season when pressure was higher. What was observed was that the group that used the visuo-motor rehearsal procedure had a 5.79% improvement in performance. This compared with control group, that did not receive the training, which actually suffered a -4.93% performance drop.
I continued to search for the origins of the "Basketball Experiment", which has become a very popular a often quoted example of the efficacy of the visual imagery for improved performance. With the help of a colleague we tracked down a book on creative visualisation that claimed an Australian psychologist, Alan Richardson, was the researcher responsible for carrying out this experiment, which, according to the reference in the publication, was at the University of Western Australia.
Upon searching for and obtaining the research papers by Alan Richardson I was once a gained surprised to find that he was not the original researcher. The papers published by Richardson were reviews. However, upon studying the papers I found what appeared to be the source of the original "Basketball Experiment". The study was carried out at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan by one L. Verdelle Clark.
I sourced the original paper by Clark and was pleased to find that that this appears to be a report of the original "Basketball Experiment". What was even more surprising and also exciting was that the original percentage increases in performance by the visual imagery group quoted in the popular literature as 23% compared to 24% in the practice group were open to question.
It is reported in the study that the visual imagery group from one of the subject schools were subject to a continuous degree of ridicule, of the methods feasibility, from their coach. When the data for this group is removed from the study data which comprised 4 schools, the average percentage of improvement in the visual imagery regroup went from 23% to 38% in the junior varsity group.
This suggests and reinforces the view that visual imagery training can certainly improve performance in martial arts and provide us with a useful technique to obtain repetition when actual physical practice is difficult. It must be noted that the groups indicating these increases in performance were experienced athletes who had undergone training in the particular techniques. We must ensure that we actually experience the particular moves, techniques or information that we wish to improve.
When I reflect on my investigation it brings home the importance of researching and checking the sources of information that we are given. Often, and particularly with the Internet and popular magazines a lot of information is related and rewritten with out a full and thoroughly researched background. The effect of “Chinese whispers” takes over and someone else uses an already deficient report as reference for another publication and so it goes on with the original material ultimately losing its’ intended meaning.
This effect not only occurs in the literature but in any transfer of information. It is therefore in our interest to ensure that we obtain the best information from accurate sources and question anything that is vague and poorly supported. It is also in our interest to ensure that when we communicate information we endeavour to be as accurate as possible so that the recipient has the best possible comprehension of what we're imparting.
Always when teaching or communicating, not only in martial arts but in any exchange of information, be ensure to provide instruction with the essential details researched and included in clear easily digestible chunks that are readily understood. In addition, use language that is clearly understood and can best describe an accurate description of what is meant and when teaching be sure and ask for any questions and whether the recipient understands.
For those who wish to check out the original paper of the "Basketball Experiment" I have reference to below.
Reference: Clark, L.V. Effect of mental practice on the development of a certain motor skill. Research Quarterly. 31: pp 560-69, 1960.
Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)