Men run slower and women run faster in competitive sports without an audience, according to research published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise (2021; 55 , 101943). The lack of audiences for competitive sports during the pandemic offered a chance to study the impact on performance.
A large body of research from “social facilitation theory” shows that a person’s performance is impacted when others watch. In general, this theory states that audience presence boosts simple task performance and diminishes complex task achievement. Researchers in Germany tested this theory with elite male and female biathletes over 117 events prior to and during the pandemic with or without an audience.
Data analysis showed a clear gender distinction. “The men’s results were as expected: They ran faster with an audience present, but performed more poorly in shooting,” said lead study author Amelie Heinrich, PhD candidate, Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg, in Halle Germany. “Interestingly, it was the other way around for women.” When competing in front of spectators, women ran slower but took an entire second less when making a shot. “Our study raises questions about the generalisability of the social facilitation theory and indicates there might be a previously unknown difference between men and women.” Researchers note that gender should be taken into account when drawing conclusions about psychological factors.
See also: Music for Running Performance