Embodying a sport teams wave of enthusiasm and effort #StrengthInNumbers #EmbodiedSimulation #PositivePsychology #EmotionalContagion #MirrorNeurons #Oxytocin
The neuroscientific underpinnings of embodying the wave of enthusiasm among sport team members, watching a strong team effort, belief in strength-in-numbers and a felt sense of collective winning.
Watching a great sports team perform elicits our mirror neurons and activates embodied simulation. A team’s collective positive energy and group “juju” provides an emotional contagion that can be felt.
Oxytocin is a hypothalamic hormone stored in the posterior pituitary at the base of the brain. Oxytocin is directly related to the biopsychological process of developing emotions between people that this extends to sports team members. Integral to a sports team is building trust, cohesion, cooperation, and social motivation among the players.
Observing or participating is sport team activities creates a shared intersubjective experience, a way to identify socially. Vittorio Gallese, M.D., of University of Parma, states that “Social identification incorporates the domains of action, sensations, affect, and emotions and is underpinned by the activation of shared neural circuits”. He describes the function of these neural mechanisms involved as “embodied simulation”. This mechanism “mediates our capacity to share the meaning of actions, intentions, feelings, and emotions with others”. This shared meaning creates a connectedness to others. A feeling of “we-ness”, p. 520.
Observing a team whose belief is strength-in-numbers allows us to embody this belief. We feel a part of them, we identify socially with this idea. It becomes a shared experience.
Mirror neurons are activated when we observe an action being performed by someone else. When we watch a team sports event, our mirror neurons allow us to mirror their performance and to understand the actions being performed. “Watching someone grasping a cup of coffee, biting an apple, or kicking a football activates the same neurons of our brain that would fire if we were doing the same”, p. 522.Gellese states that “…mirror neurons by mapping observed, implied, or heard goal-directed motor acts on their motor neural substrate in the observer’s motor system allow a direct form of action understanding, through a mechanism of embodied simulation (Gallese, 2005 a,b, 2006; Gallese et al., 2009)”, p. 521.
Mirror neurons also allow us to understand the emotions of others. “When we perceive others expressing a given basic emotion such as disgust, the same brain areas are activated as when we subjectively experience the same emotion…”, p. 523. When we observe a team pull together in the face of obstacles, we can imagine ourselves performing the same way, we mirror these actions.
“The mirroring mechanism for actions in humans is somatotopically organized; the same regions within premotor and posterior parietal cortices normally active when we execute mouth-, hand-, and foot-related acts are also activated when we observe the same motor acts executed by others (Buccinoetal.,2001). Watching someone grasping a cup of coffee, biting an apple, or kicking a football activates the same neurons of our brain that would fire if we were doing the same”, p. 522.
Feeling inspired watching a team collaborate and generate a collective winning attitude creates an emotional contagion. This felt sense impacts all members of a group, either positively or negatively. Researcher’s Dezecache, Conty, Chadwick, Philip, Soussignan, Sperber, & Grèzes (2013) examined emotional contagions within a group. Emotional states are spread throughout people spontaneously!
People are inherently perceptive of what other’s emotional expressions produce. In their research Dezecache, Conty, Chadwick, Philip, Soussignan, Sperber, & Grèzes (2013) demonstrate that emotions like joy and fear are instantly transmitted throughout a group setting. They show that people are neurologically programmed to respond and react to the emotional signals of others, which in turn produces emotional states. This hard-wired function is a survival mechanism.
When we see our team members smile and engage with confidence, we instantly match them. When we see out team members struggle to overcome an obstacle, we struggle with them.
Sports team members share experiences and emotions, creating a group cohesion and collaborative effort with a common goal. Research findings illuminate a positive correlation between players who engage in encouraging and supportive behaviors with greater performance and achievements. Their research indicates that “positive social interactions” and “prosocial celebratory behaviors” are linked to the bonding experience of Oxytocin.
Expressions of social emotions communicate cooperation and strategies among sports team members. Research also shows that positive emotions “have profound influences on a number of processes, including attentional control, cognition, and interpersonal functioning “. The beneficial subcomponents of sharing positive emotions are linked to performance, perception, attention, memory, decision-making and judgment. “The expression of an emotional state in one person leads to the experience of similar emotions in a person observing the expression…emotions influence other's people's emotions, feelings, and behaviors, leading to the convergence of emotions and moods”, (Pepping & Timmermans, 2012, p. 2). These findings give support to the importance of all team members and how well they interact.
“Oxytocin has effects on cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, mind reading, positive and negative social emotion’s…cause convergence of positive emotions and moods between people and make it possible that athletes can respond to the emotional behavior from their fellow players and opponents”, (Pepping & Timmermans, 2012, p. 16).
Dezecache, G., Conty, L., Chadwick, M., Philip, L., Soussignan, R., Sperber, D., & Grèzes, J. (2013). Evidence for unintentional emotional contagion beyond dyads. PloS one. Volume 8:6, e67371. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0067371.
Gallese, V. (2009). Mirror neurons, embodied simulation, and the neural basis of social identification. Psychoanalytic Dialogues. Volume 19(5), pp: 519-536. DOI: 10.1080/10481880903231910.
Pepping, G. & Timmermans, E. (2012). Oxytocin and the Biopsychology of Performance in Team Sports. Scientific World Journal. Volume 2012; 2012: 567363. Doi: 10.1100/2012/567363. PMCID: PMC3444846. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22997498.
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