Emotions Transmit Information and Provide Clues to Future Behavior – in Baseball, Too

The expression of emotions serves as a source of information and provides clues about what is likely to happen in social situations in general, and in baseball in particular. This is the finding of a joint study by researchers from the University of Haifa and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

“Other peoples’ emotions provide information. The expression of emotions can mark for us what the person is thinking and what they are about to do,” explains Dr. Arik Cheshin of the University of Haifa, who undertook the study. “If we read others’ emotions well, we will be better able to anticipate their behavior and to adapt our behavior to that of others,”

Emotions influence the human environment. When people express emotions, others can identify how that person feels according to facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and so forth. Past studies have proved the interpersonal impacts of emotions. An emotion can be contagious, can pass from one person to another, and, therefore, can influence group performance. An expression of anger during negotiations may be strategic, symbolizing threat and implying that the other side should move toward the angry person.

In the current study, undertaken by a team of researchers from the University of Amsterdam and led by Dr. Arik Cheshin of the Department of Human Services at the University of Haifa, the researchers sought to examine the interpersonal ramifications of emotions in the context of baseball. Do the gaze and body language a second before the pitch influence the batter? “The players stand opposite each other in one of the two most famous duels in sport. The two sportspeople look each other in the eye; one makes a move, and the other responds to it. We wanted to see whether the expression of emotion offers a clue about this move – and we found that it does,” Dr. Cheshin noted.

In the present study, three games that determined the identity of the World Series champion from two different seasons were chosen. 92 instances were selected from these games in which it was possible to see the pitcher before the throw. The clips were edited so that it was only possible to see the pitcher’s preparations before the pitch, and the picture was frozen once the ball left the pitcher’s hand. The video clip did not show the outcome of the game nor provide any additional information about it. The length of each edited clip was approximately two seconds.

In the next stage, 213 participants were asked to evaluate the pitcher’s emotions. The participants reached agreement regarding three key emotions shown in the clips: anger, happiness, and worry. The 30 clips with the highest level of agreement regarding the expressed emotions were chosen, and another group of 34 respondents was then asked to predict the outcome of the pitch concerning – speed, accuracy, level of difficulty, and whether or not the batter would attempt to hit the ball. None of the Dutch participants identified the baseball players shown in the clips, or the teams, so that the external influence on the participants was very limited.

The results of the study show that expression of emotions serves as a source of information and provides clues about what is about to happen in the baseball game, thus identifying an additional social situation in which emotions convey critical information that influences preparations and reactions.

The participants used the pitchers’ emotions as a source of information. “The participants predicted various properties of the pitches according to the pitcher’s emotion. When the pitcher showed anger, this led to the prediction of faster and more difficult pitches. The expression of happiness led to predictions of more precise pitches and a higher probability that the batter would attempt to hit the ball. The expression of worry led to predictions of imprecise pitches and fewer attempts to hit the ball,” Dr. Cheshin summarizes.

The results were less unequivocal when the researchers examined whether emotions influenced the actual outcomes of the games, and whether the subjects’ predictions came true. “In baseball, the distance between the pitcher and the batter is 18 meters. And we are dealing with an emotion that is expressed for just a few seconds, during a period of movement, with a cap covering part of the face and a large glove on one hand. So the conditions for identifying emotions are far from ideal. It’s reasonable to assume that the expression of emotions when people are closer together, without accessories or items concealing the face, will yield stronger findings,” Dr. Cheshin suggests.Baseball player expression - 4-7-16

Interestingly, the one result that was found to be related to actual outcomes was regarding the pitcher displaying happiness. It was found that the chances of the batter trying to attempt to hit the ball were greater when the pitcher was identified as happier. The researchers suggest that this is an important finding, since the expectation in baseball is that if the pitcher is happy just before and during pitching, he is liable to execute some kind of scheme or trick. “It is possible that the batter’s reaction is not conscious but evolutionary. There is a lot of pressure and tumult around the batter, and accordingly the batter sees the pitcher’s expression of happiness as a positive sign that encourages him to try to hit the ball,” Dr. Cheshin says.

“Whether this is an authentic emotion or a strategy,” he adds, “the expression of emotions has a social impact in sports as in other areas. Controlling the expression of emotions and the ability to read emotions in order to predict behavior can make the difference between a strike and a home run.”

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