The Checkup: Feeling Stressed? Make a Fist to Perform Well Under Pressure

New research looks at a simple way to help your brain focus in stressful situations.

• Straightforward studies are the best if you ask me. It’s like, well, duh, of course that works—why didn’t I think of that? In this case, researchers wanted to know why athletes, like soccer players and basketball players, often choke under pressure, missing shots like penalty kicks and free throws that they spent hours and hours (and hours and hours) perfecting in practice. If it’s not a form or mechanical issue, it must have something to do with the situation, the environment—the fact that game-time free throws and penalty kicks are performed in front of thousands of spectators, and how the players deal with that pressure in their heads. Researchers wanted to see if they could coax a person to get out of his or her head under pressure, to see if it would help alleviate stress and result in better performance. And since they knew that the left side of the brain is responsible for your freaking out under pressure, while the right side controls mechanical movements, and that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice-versa, they wanted to see if purposely activating the right side of the brain—say, by making a fist with the left hand—could help people calm down. And so they ran an experiment in which they had people make fists either with their left or right hand while they were performing an activity under pressure. Interestingly, reports The Atlantic, “Athletes who made a fist with their left hand did better under pressure than when they made a fist with their right hand—and often as well as in the low-pressure practice scenarios.” The research team concludes that this kind of “hemisphere-specific priming” may help a person not to overthink in stressful situations, making a huge difference in how they perform. Now, if only someone would pass this study along to the Eagles …

• Because I know you’ve always wanted to take a peep at Albert Einstein’s brain, now there’s an app for that. No, really—someone made an iPad app of slides of the genius’s brain tissue.

• Yikes. Obese kids as young as six already show changes in their heart muscles, which could lead to major cardiac problems down the road. Even worse, reports ABC News, “some obese kids had elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar at age 5.”

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