Basketball team and psych class partner for gametime experiment

Margaret Ekblom, Senior Writer

Students from Professor Aaron Mitchel’s class, Psychology 252: Sensation and Perception, conducted an experiment at the men’s basketball game against Boston University on Feb. 21 to visually distract the opposing team while taking foul shots.

This was the third consecutive year that Mitchel partnered with the men’s basketball program for the class. The team that boasted the biggest decrease in Boston University’s foul shot percentages was also promised extra credit. 

Students were divided into groups and were given two weeks to formulate an idea and develop an experiment. Their objective: to use the principles of perception, abstraction, and color and apply them to real-world experiences.

Then, two days before the basketball game, the groups tested their experiments on volunteers from the men’s basketball team. The team that was most successful in decreasing the players’ foul shot percentages had the opportunity to conduct their experiment a second time during the game against Boston.

Mitchel believes it is important for his students to apply the materials from class to actual situations. As an avid basketball fan, he thought it was only fitting to apply his concepts from class to the game itself.

“Doing something outside of class helped me learn how to apply things in class to a real-world situation. It gave me better understanding of sensation and perception,” PSYC 252 student and member of the men’s basketball team Stephen Brown ’18 said.

The winning group’s strategy was to focus on global motion and how people perceive objects. Group members attempted to distract the basketball player from making the shot by distorting his view when he looked into the audience, for example.

The group fully integrated color, motion, and sound by painting large arrows on brightly-colored crepe paper and moving the posters back and forth, while occasionally shouting at the players. Even though the Terriers were able to hold their own at the game despite the distractions, the experiment itself was a clever idea.

“From my perspective, since I was in the game, it seemed to have more of an effect in the second half as people became more involved,” Brown said.

Mitchel said that the winning experiment worked because the team did not go overboard with elaborate plans and instead kept it simple.

“Illusions work best when everyone is fully engaged and active. Our distraction worked through the use of bright colors and motion. It seemed to work quite well in the second half of the game. It was interesting to be a part of a class that takes the knowledge learned and applies it to real life,” Madeline Melch ’18 said.

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