Strange but True: Thinking too much can slow reflexes

BILL SONES AND RICH SONES, PH.D. Published: July 3, 2012

Strange but True

Overthinking can slow reflexes

Q. Who's that secret sidekick helping baseball batters hit a 100 mph fastball?

A. Their subconscious mind, which can react faster than their more laborious, sequential thought processes, says neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain,” in Discover magazine. Do the math and a 100.9 mph fastball — as recorded by “The Guinness Book of Records” for Nolan Ryan in a 1974 California Angels-Detroit Tigers game — goes from pitcher's mound to home plate 60 feet, 6 inches away in about .4 seconds, too little time to consciously trigger and steer the bat.

Actually, most of what we do in life happens with less than full awareness, which is essential for flawless muscular performance, Eagleman argues. Even just changing lanes with a car involves complexities that defy description. “The best way to mess up your piano piece is to concentrate on your fingers; the best way to get out of breath is to think about your breathing; the best way to miss the golf ball is to analyze your swing.”

To some degree, even kids are aware of this idea, as seen in the poem “The Puzzled Centipede:”

A centipede was happy quite

Until a frog in fun

Said, “Pray tell which leg comes after which?”

This raised her mind to such a pitch,

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