While laying out “how winning is done,” Rocky Balboa shrewdly noted that “the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.” A new study suggests that point is dead on.
Basketball players that were grimly reminded of their own inevitable demise before playing took more shots and scored more points in a study published in an upcoming issue of Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. The researchers behind the experiments hypothesize that the pep-talk tactic fits with the established “terror management theory,” which proposes that humans are motivated to seek self-esteem, meaning, and symbolic immortality—in this case becoming a famous athlete—in order to manage their fear of death.
"We've known from many studies that reminders of death arouse a need for terror management and therefore increase self-esteem striving though performance on relatively simple laboratory tasks,” Peter Helm, a study co-author and psychologist at the University of Arizona, said in a news release. “However, these experiments are the first to show that activating this motivation can influence performance on complex, real-world behaviors.”