A study conducted by Gert-Jan Pepping, professor of the Center for Human Movement Sciences at the University of Groningen, Netherlands shows that oxytocin, a brain peptide commonly known as the “love hormone” plays a great role in competitive sports.
Scientists suggest that the emotional bond between sportsmen can act as an enhancer or a decreaser for their sportive performances.
“Being part of a team involves emotions, as for instance when a team scores, and these emotions are associated with brain chemicals,” explains Dr. Pepping, as cited by The New York Times
Taking football as a study case, researchers observed that a goal intensely celebrated by the shooter's colleagues is more likely to be followed by another, than in the case when the performance passes fairly unnoticed.
Dr. Pepping and his colleagues explain this fact through the “transfer of emotions” occurring among teammates. The celebration moment is claimed to be the equivalent of an oxytocin explosion.
However, it is believed that, beyond the emotional involvement implied by a successful moment within a competition, which brings an increase of positive feelings, the physical activity itself acts as an oxytocin catalyst.
Oxytocin is largely known as a hormone that promotes positive feelings, playing a big role in the inter-human relationships, especially those involving a higher degree of affection and intimacy.
Considering this, it is believed that the oxytocine released as a sport consequence could “facilitate social bonding,” according to William Kenke, professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
“In any social setting that requires some form of social interaction, be it cooperation, trust or competition, we require social information to guide our behavior and a nervous system and associated brain chemicals that are sensitive to this social information,” declares Dr. Pepping in a larger explanation of the existing bond between emotional and physical activity in competitive sports.
“Performance is not simply a matter of physique and strength,” he concluded.
“It is important to start taking social emotions seriously, and in particular those linked to positive emotional experiences.”