Behaviour is contagious. If you see someone yawning or smiling, it’s often a matter of seconds before you are doing the same yourself. This copying behaviour also turns out to work on the football field. ‘The more convincingly someone celebrates his success with his teammates, the greater the chances are that that team will win’, according to Gert-Jan Pepping, university lecturer in Movement Sciences at the University of Groningen.
From an evolutionary point of view, this ‘contagious’ behaviour is easy to explain.The ability to copy certain behaviours is important to survive in social groups. Pepping: ‘A good example is the behaviour of a school of fish, such as herring or sardines. Only by synchronizing with each other, doing exactly the same thing as much as possible, are they able to survive.’ In addition, copying behaviour has another function: learning from each other. These two functions imply that we communicate goals via movement behaviour.
Emotions are often understood and explained in the context of what has just happened.However, emotions can also influence the future, Pepping’s research has revealed. He investigated whether the way footballers express their delight at a successful penalty influences the final result of a penalty shootout. Pepping: ‘What’s nice about a penalty shootout is that the individual aim is directly related to the group aim.’
Pepping and his research group studied a large number of penalty shootouts during important football matches, but only as long as the score was still equal.After every shot at goal, the player was assessed on the degree to which he expressed happiness and pride after scoring. This revealed that the players who expressed this clearly, for example by throwing their arms up into the air, usually belonged to the winning team. ‘That enthusiastic behaviour infected the team with a positive attitude. Also important, the opposition team was made to feel that little bit more insecure.’
What’s very important is that the scored goal is celebrated with the people you want to infect. Pepping: ‘If you cheer facing the supporters after you’ve scored a penalty, the supporters will get wildly enthusiastic. That’s all very fine, but they’re not the ones who have to perform at that moment. Your team members on the pitch are. It’s very important to celebrate together – that’s what makes scoring contagious.’
The same principle is easy to project onto situations outside the sports field, according to Pepping.Even in an office situation you can motivate each other by dwelling on a good group performance and celebrating it with each other. That means that the whole team will share the feelings of pride and confidence, which raises performance levels. However, you should be careful not to exaggerate by taking the expressions of happiness or pride out of context, thinks Pepping.
In the Netherlands we tend to react to success in a less heated way than in, for example, the US.‘Many people seem to have forgotten how to react exuberantly.’ According to Pepping, if you want to increase your chances of success, both on the sports field and in daily life, it’s important to take the brakes off. It’s natural to cheer exuberantly in reaction to a victory. What’s more, as revealed by the research, when individual and group interests coincide it’s also a very functional reaction. More cheers mean more success.
Gert-Jan Pepping (Amsterdam, 1967) studied Movement Sciences at VU University Amsterdam and gained his PhD at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences of the University of Birmingham, UK.He is a university lecturer at the Centre for Movement Sciences of the University of Groningen. Previously, Pepping spent four years as a sport sciences lecturer at the Moray House School of Education of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and senior researcher and research coordinator for the University Centre for Sport, Movement and Health (UCSBG) of the UMCG and the University of Groningen.
More information: Gert-Jan Pepping
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