I find this explanation of psychological momentum fairly convincing, not least of all because it is consistent with the brain-centered model of exercise performance. Indeed, advanced brain-imaging techniques might one day be able to trace the causal chain of psychological momentumthat is, to show precisely how better-than-expected outcomes stimulate areas of the brain whose heightened activity during the performance of sports actions is associated with better performance.
To date, however, there has been little research on how psychological momentum works in endurance sports or even if it worksthat is, that psychological momentum is performance enhancing. But there is one interesting study involving cycling that was performed by Stephane Perreault at the University of Montreal.2 Perreault had subjects perform a simulated bike race on stationary bikes outfitted with graphical displays showing representations of the racers and their opponents.
Unbeknown to the test subjects, the races were rigged so that the subjectsactual power output, which was measured throughout the race, had no bearing on whether they passed other riders or other riders passed them. Perreault found that the subjectspower output tended to increase both in moments when they passed other riders (by sheer luck) and in moments when other riders passed them. The power-increasing effect of passing other riders appears to be a performance-enhancing result of psychological momentum mediated through increased motivation. In Post 5 we will explore how motivation operates on the neurological level to enhance exercise performance.