The Dangers of Altered States
Psychologists say that high arousal often brings about altered states as the mind-body prepares itself to deal with a threat. Psyched-up athletes have reported strange sensations such as a form of tachypsychia, in which plays seem to happen in slow motion as the mind-body speeds up its metabolism and sometimes absorbs more detail to give the athlete more time to respond to a situation.
But this and other experiences can distort an athlete’s perception to things going on around him or her. During high stress, an athlete may experience (provided by Massad Ayoob):
• T unnel Vision: Visual focus can zoom in as a baseball infielder desperately tries to catch a T exas League blooper and block out images of a teammate barreling in to catch the same fly. Crunch.
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• Distance Distortion: Using the same baseball scenario, with the concentrated image of a ball filling the frame in the intense player’s mind, the mind can create a very real optical illusion of a larger ball image. Sometimes the ratio reaches a 3 to 1 margin, and the distances around the ball can become distorted.
• Auditory Exclusion: This is tunnel vision of the ears. What the cortex of the brain deems irrelevant may be ignored. A player intensely focused on a play may not hear teammates or coaches.
• Cognitive Dissonance: A series of events in a controversial play may be remembered out of sequence. Trivial happenings during a match may assume exaggerated importance in a player’s memory while some major aspects may be blotted out.
• Denial Response: An athlete may not realize he committed a serious mistake or violation in the heat of battle.