Aug. 8, 2011 (Washington, D.C.) -- Being in love may enhance your athletic prowess, a survey of about 400 competitive athletes suggests.
"Based on our findings, being in a loving relationship is helpful to athletic performance, particularly if it's a long-term committed relationship," says study head Kelly Campbell, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at California State University in San Bernardino.
The research doesn't prove that love will help you perform better or win a competition. "But on some intuitive level, it makes sense," says Temple University sports psychologist Michael L. Sachs, PhD.
"If you’re in love, life is generally better and you feel more energized," he tells WebMD. Sachs was not involved with the work.
Still, it could be that athletes in a loving, committed relationship share some other factor that explains their improved performance, Sachs says.
"Maybe they don't have to put dinner on the table or take care of the kids, giving them more time to focus on their sport," he says.
Love, Competition Light Up Same Brain Region
Campbell tells WebMD that studies in which MRI scans showed that people in love have increased activity in the reward and motivation region of the brain gave her the idea for the research.
"These are the same systems that are activated in people intensely focused on a rewarding outcome, such as winning a competition," she says.
An ideal study would have been to compare brain images of athletes in love with those of athletes not in love, Campbell says. But as a preliminary step, the researchers simply asked athletes whether they thought being in love helps or hinders their performance.
The study involved 265 female and 133 male competitive athletes, aged 16 to 38, willing to participate in a 10- to 20-minute interview. About 85% were colleges athletes, 8% were professional athletes, and 7% were Olympic athletes.
Among the results, presented here at the American Psychological Association meeting:
- A total of 55% said that being in love enhanced their athletic performance.
- As far as the factors that make love work, commitment was rated as more important to athletic performance than either intimacy or passion.
- Men were more likely than women to indicate that being in love boosted their performance.
- Athletes involved in individual sports such as boxing and snowboarding were more likely to indicate that being in love enhanced their performance.
- Athletes involved in team sports such as basketball and hockey were more likely to report that being in love hindered their performance, or that they were unsure of the effects of love on their performance.
- Individuals who reported having jealous partners and/or partners who required a lot of time and maintenance said that being in love detracted from their athletic performance.
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.