Heading up a big meeting and need a way to convey to people who’s in charge? The first day as the big boss and you don’t know what to do? Try taking a cue from pro athletes and develop a “game face.”
The game face, a nonverbal communication technique, is hard to define. Swimmer Michael Phelps is famous for his, which can best be defined as an intense glare info the middle distance.
But does having a game face actually affect well your game? According to a new study published in Stress and Health by experimental psychology researchers at the University of Tennessee, it just might.
“Game face may not only improve performance in cognitive tasks, but it could also lead to better recovery from stress,” said Richesin, lead author of the study, in a release. The study was co-authored with Associate Professor of Psychology Debora Baldwin, Michael Oliver, a postdoctoral fellow in the UT Graduate School of Medicine, and fellow graduate student Lahai Wicks.
“There’s anecdotal evidence of game face having an impact based on its common use among athletes,” Richesin said. “But we wanted to see if it would help on physical and mental challenges from a scientific perspective.”
The researchers conducted two experiments with more than 60 participants.
In the first, participants submerged their dominant hands into ice water for several minutes. Half of the participants to make a game face. The other half weren’t told anything in particular – but researchers said many of them pulled a game face anyway.
“Their reactions were spontaneous,” Richesin said of the second group. “The facial expressions were the same as those commonly associated with effort, pain, and competition.”
In the second experiment, participants worked on a difficult puzzle. On average, half of the group told to show game face performed 20% better and also recovered from stress better than the other group that wasn’t given any specific instructions.
Richesin hopes to conduct future research on the game face in a variety of settings. (The boardroom, here we come).
“If making a game face has the potential to improve performance, we may find this concept can have application outside of the traditional venue of sports,” he said. Like the office and the C-suite.
Lisa Deshaun Leslie, the head coach for Triplets in the BIG3 professional basketball league, wrote about taking her game face from sports to business in her book “From the Court to the Boardroom.” You’re not really in the game unless you have a few different game faces – and know how to use them, she wrote. “…Sometimes you’re going to need an absolutely thoughtful demeanor, sometimes your voice and expression need to express empathy, and sometimes a growl is going to be most effective.”