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Memories trip up gymnastics scores.

Memories trip up gymnastics scores

Two Canadian psychologists offer some advice to ambitious gymnasts: In athletic meets, perform your warm-ups as flawlessly as possible to avoid taking a scoring tumble in actual competition. The reason: Gymnastics judges display unconscious scoring biases in favor of gymnasts who perform warm-ups with no slip-ups, report Diane M. Ste.-Marie and Timothy D. Lee of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

In sports such as gymnastics and figure skating, judges typically watch not only competitive performances, but also same-day warm-ups and training in the days before an event. Judges should watch only actual competition to improve the objectivity of their scores, the researchers argue in the just-released January JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY: LEARNING, MEMORY AND COGNITION. Political biases still sway judges' decisions at international meets, they add.

Ste.-Marie and Lee recruited 24 female gymnastics judges with one to 19 years' experience. Judges viewed videotapes on which four accomplished female gymnasts performed 48 moves from the four events in the women's competition -- vault, uneven bars, balance beamand floor exercise. Half the moves represented perfect performances; each of the rest included an error, such as legs bent or toes unpointed. Judges rated each move as either perfect or flawed.

Participants then rated moves on a second videotape with 16 "same" moves (for example, a specific move performed error-free following its perfect performance on the first videotape), 16 "different" moves (such as a marred move following its flawless performance on the first videotape) and 16 new moves not shown on the initial screening.

Both novice and experienced judges rated same moves most accurately, followed by new moves and then different moves. Two further studies, including one in which experiments told judges to guard against the biasing effects of the initial viewing, still resulted in overall scores of 76 percent accuracy for same moves, 72 percent accuracy for new moves and 68 percent accuracy for different moves.

Thus, judges' unintentional memories for warm-up moves cut two ways. If a warm-up proceeds perfectly, a duplicated performance in competition gets an optimal score and a flawed performance gets a better score than it deserves, the pyschologists assert. However, if a warm-up contains a flub, a flawed competitive performance receives a minimal score and an error-free routine scores undeservedly low.

While the 8-percent contrast in accuracy between judges' ratings for same and different moves appears relatively small, it could easily affect competition standings, the researchers add. For instance, in the 1988 Olympics, the womns' gymnastics gold medalist scored 79.675 out of 80 and the 10th-place finisher scored 78.550, a difference of less than 2 percent.
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Title Annotation:gymnastics judges biassed in favor of gymnasts who performed warm-ups flawlessly
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 9, 1991
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