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Tachypsychia

It’s widely known that athletes and other people who challenge themselves in pressure situations have a chance at improving their mental skills and even sometimes reaching states like tachypsychia, some researchers say. Exercise improves brainpower, concentration, creativity, and problem solving, said Thaddeus Kostrubala, author of The Joy of Running. During running, when the heart is pumping hard, that blood flow is increased and that changes the biochemistry of the brain, he said. There’s an increase in oxygen.

Tachypsychia, Greek for speed of the mind, slows an athlete’s perception to action, an effect created by the mind-body as it speeds up its metabolism to deal with an emergency (or a perceived emergency), releasing dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, DHEA, and endorphin at breakneck speeds, according to Massad Ayoob, a police captain in New Hampshire who has interviewed athletes. It’s an illusion, like a video camera on fast forward, Ayoob says.

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The more the danger, the more pronounced the slowdown. Factors large and minute are recorded as the brain throws all its vast capability into fight or flight, and because we are not used to that much detail being recorded by the mind in a short time frame, we remember it as if it had taken much longer. (It also illustrates how poorly most of us concentrate at times of low arousal, but more on that later.) There is more slowdown when the person sees the threat coming and often not as much when someone is taken by surprise, Ayoob said. And that goes for football players as well as cops or a Wall Street tycoon faced with a crucial deadline.

Science (never mind athletics) has virtually ignored tachypsychia, and no rigorous studies have been done, says Jaylan Turkkan. Scientists say,Yeah, I have heard of it, but it is hard to pin down and study. The biology behind such phenomena is difficult to trace, says Calgary endocrinologist Alun Edwards. There are hormones present in the brain we have not even identified yet. During these very human experiences, there are changes in the brain function, but we can’t take the brain apart to investigate.

Sports researcher Dan Landers of Arizona State University confirms the existence of tachypsychia, not only in sports but in his personal life. In the 1960s, during his college days in California, Landers was a passenger in a car. He was not wearing a seat belt and went flying when the car slammed at 50 mph into the back of another car in fog. It seemed to take an eternity for the crash. It seemed like I was given a lot of time to reach out and brace myself from crashing through the windshield, yet it all happened within a split second. I was able to escape with only a scratch.

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