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Is hitting actually contagious?

In the world of baseball and softball the belief that “Hitting is contagious” is pretty common. It is the belief that once one player gets a hit, it trickles down the line up, and soon enough you have a rally going. But can one hit from one player truly have an effect on the next batter? I found a study entitled, “Hitting is Contagious” and it investigates just that!

Past studies have been completed that insinuate this contagious phenomenon as definitely possibly, but never proven.  Research has shown that we as humans experience “action inductions”. The tendency to perform an action related to one that we have just been observed.  The best example of this is yawning; when you see someone yawn it’s almost inevitable that you are going to yawn yourself. Other  studies that have confirmed the theory of action induction were only studied on a bivariate degree, with simple motor movements. For example, subjects would watch a finger point up or down, and the subject had to replicate the motion. They only consisted of one direction in the prompt, and one possible successful outcome to be performed.

However, there has never been a study done with multiple prompt directions and multiple possible successful outcomes.  In other words: Does action induction occur if the stimulus is only one example of a successful outcome? It is also unknown if a delay between observing the prompt and performing it compromise action induction? And lastly, Does skill level have an affect on action induction?

The purpose of this particular study was to investigate the multiple aspects of action induction in baseball players of varying skill levels.

The participants of this study consisted of 24 baseball players. 12 were considered more experienced, and 12 were considered less experienced. The more experienced players were from U.S. JCs and had a mean age of 20, and 10 years of playing experience. The less experienced players were from recreational travel leagues and had a mean age 22, and 5.9 years of playing experience.

To ensure validity and reliable, the study was performed in a lab using a simulation baseball machine. The apparatus they used to simulate a baseball at bat has been used in multiple studies previous to this one. It accurately simulates an actual baseball at bat, except every pitch is thrown in the strike zone of each particular batter.

This is how the at-bats were done.

Before each at bat, the batter would see one of four visual stimuli; action outcome, verbal, or no stimulus.

  1. The Action stimulus displayed a video of a ball traveling from home plate to right, center, or left field.
  2. The Outcome stimulus showed a ball sitting in right, center, or left field.
  3. The Verbal stimulus projected one of three words on the screen; “right” “center” or “left”
  4. None- batters viewed an empty field before the pitch.

Each stimuli was show for 10 seconds.

After the pitch was thrown, a verbal message would play telling the batter what the outcome of the pitch was; strike, single, homerun or out. The batters first got to practice on 25 pitches, and then they participated in 30 at bats each off the machine

They recorded data by placing sensors on the bat, the pitch location, and the front foot of the hitter. This allowed researchers to plot the coordinates in an x,y, z plane to confirm contact with the pitch. They also kept track of numbers of pitchers per at bat required to achieve a hit, and number of hits in total.

The data was then analyzed using fancy statistical analysis equations like, 2×4 mixed factor analysis of variance using ANOVA. What this basically means, its they took both experience level and the 4 prompt types and cross analyzed them against each other to determine how many pitches it took batters to achieve a hit after observing the various prompts. They also used the Azimuth angle equation to calculate the direction of the ball for a successful hit. They then used more ANOVA analysis to to determine how the hits corresponded to the direction of the ball shown in the prompt.

The results of the study show:

  1. more experienced and less experienced players both required fewer pitches to achieve a hit after observing the action stimulus. Which again was the stimulus where the batters watch a video of a ball being hit into the field.
  2. More experienced players showed a significant relationship between stimulus direction and hit direction for both the action and outcome prompts. Meaning that for experienced players, if they watched a ball be hit to left field, or saw a ball laying in left field, they tended to hit the ball to left field.
  3. Less experienced players only showed a significant relationship between hit direction and prompt direction after viewing the action prompt.  In other words, for less experienced players the only prompt that dictated the direction of the batters hit was the video prompt. Although, the effect was significantly smaller than the effect on more experienced players.
  4. The effect of the stimulus decreased as delay increased. With experienced players the effect was completely eliminated after 4 pitches, the equivalent to about 80s. For less experienced players the effect was eliminated after 2 pitches, roughly 40s. Meaning:  the stimuli’s effect on the direction of the hit was lowered as each pitch was thrown. 

This article didn’t discuss too many cautions; however they were worried that players might have seen the direction of the prompt as an instruction on where to hit the ball. They actually recreated this study, only using experienced players and the same prompts, but asked the batters to try and hit the ball over second base every time. Despite the change in direction, the results of this second study were significant and consistent with the results of the first study, so they were able to eliminate this caution.    

In conclusion: Hitting IS contagious! The results of the study show that action induction does occur in a baseball setting, and is more significant, and decays slower in experienced players.

I loved this study because it directly relates to my future profession and current job as a softball coach, and past experiences as a player. It’s more knowledge I have for my own personal coaching tool kit, and more knowledge to give to my players. It provides me with more evidence to strategies I already stress as a coach. Like looking to hit the first pitch, and with my new knowledge, especially after a successful at bat! Also calling time out to take a second to breathe when errors are being made, can eliminate the action induction affect and hopefully help my players positively.

On the other hand, there is one concern I have with this study. In the discussion section of the article they mentioned hurrying players between at bats to induce action induction after successful at bats. But in my mind: if you look at a real time baseball game, as an on deck batter. You see the hit, watch the defense field it, throw it in, then you have to walk to the plate, take a sign from the third base coach, and wait for the pitch delivery. That itself usually takes close to 80s, and in the article they stated that the effect of action induction is eliminated after that amount of time. This makes it seem hard to generalize these results to a real life baseball game, which they did in their discussion section.

With that said, I can still definitely utilize this information for teaching techniques, using more video, or demonstrations to promote successful performances. It also provides support to using imagery through out games and practice, which is one of my favorite strategies to use with my players.  

This was a little more technical, but I hope you enjoyed it!

Quote of the day:

“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game” – Babe Ruth 


About smarcia12

I am a special education teacher who also holds a MA in Sport Psychology.

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  1. Pingback: Is Hitting Actually Contagious?

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