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Surprising Science

Run Faster By Focusing on an Object in the Distance

Researchers have found a way to make running and walking seem less long and tiresome. People who narrow their attention and focus on a specific object in the distance can motivate themselves to push on.

Those of us who’ve made fitness part of our New Year’s resolution may find their focus waining. The winter ritual of hopping on a treadmill and just running is boring, even having a go around the block can be a daunting exercise regardless of the cold. But Olga Khazan of The Atlantic writes that researchers have found a way to make the task seem less long and tiresome, claiming people who narrow their attention and focus on a specific object in the distance—keeping your eye on the prize as the old adage goes—can motivate themselves to push on.

One of the study’s co-authors, Emily Balcetis an Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University, explained in a press release:

“People are less interested in exercise if physical activity seems daunting, which can happen when distances to be walked appear quite long. These findings indicate that narrowly focusing visual attention on a specific target, like a building a few blocks ahead, rather than looking around your surroundings, makes that distance appear shorter, helps you walk faster, and also makes exercising seem easier.”

The findings, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, were based on two studies. The first involved 66 adult participants that were taken to a New York City park in the summer and asked to walk. From the starting line, an open cooler with cold beverages stood just 12 feet away. The participants were split into two groups. One was asked to focus on the cooler as they walked, while the other was told to walk naturally.

Researchers then asked participants to estimate the distance between the cooler and the starting line. Those who were asked to focus on the cooler perceived the distance as shorter than the other group.

In the second experiment, researchers took 73 participants to a gymnasium and timed them as they walked 20 feet while wearing ankle bracelets, adding 15 percent to their body weight. Similar to the first experiment one group was told to focus on a point in the distance (a cone), while the other group was told to look around and look at the cone.

Participants in the focused group perceived the cone to be 28 percent closer and walked 23 percent faster than the other group. What’s more, the focused group found the exercise less physically exhausting than the other group.

The researchers weren’t sure what caused the focused participants skewed perception and faster speeds. However, they offered a suggestion:

“When people see goals as within reach, it may mobilize action, producing bursts of energy that result in quicker walking times and an experience of ease.”

Read more at The Atlantic

Photo Credit: Tuncay/Flickr


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