Thoughts of Death May Result in Better Performance


Athletes today are more determined and gritty in their efforts to win.  They are going all out to get the extra stretch in whichever game they are participating. A couple of researches done by the University of Arizona came up with amazing results about how fear thoughts influence the minds of the players and gives a boost to their self-confidence.   The university did a random study with questionnaires to a few basketball players related to mortality and death.

Players are determined to perform better as they are keen to boost their self-esteem rather than think and fear of death. The researchers conducted two studies. The results suggest that the players are able to offer much enhanced performance due to psychology’s “terror management theory”. Thinking of death inspired many to improve their game capabilities.

In the first study one of the investigators played two one-to-one basketball games with the students and in between the two games posted a few questions, for seven minutes, to each of them arbitrarily.   The study was conducted on 31 college boys   who were totally involved and interested in playing basketball, but were not part of the official college team.

The questions were indirectly prompted towards death like

  1. “Please briefly describe the emotions that the thought of your own death arouses in you” and
  2. “Jot down, as specifically as you can, what you think will happen to you physically die and once you are physically dead”.

Some were asked similar questions but the word death was replaced by basketball. The researchers gave the players sufficient time for the questions to drive into their minds.

The investigators came to the conclusion that the players who were asked about death showed an improvement of up to 40% in their second game   while there was not much of enhancement in the game of players that were asked about basketball. Players who thought of death also bettered their performance by about 20% than in the other group.

The second study was centered around death again in a more refined way with some basket-shooting challenges. The players were brought on to the court one at a time with the investigator briefing them about the task. It will be appropriate to mention that the T-shirt that the investigator wore a sported the figure of a white skull in black background and the word “death” printed on it. Scoring pattern was

  • 1 point was given for a lay-up,
  • 2 points for a free throw line and
  • 3 points from three-point.

The players had to keep moving. Here too it was found that players who saw the shirt worn by the researcher performed better by about 30% than those who could not see the T-shirt worn by the investigator. They could shoot better, were faster in their movement and took more shots at the basket.

The investigators find that terror management theory peps up the player’s mind to put in an extra effort to give their best and they can become illustrious in history for their team.   The researches feel that this finding are not restricted to basketball. It can be applied in any sport.


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