Choked by the Foam Hand
The “We’re No. 1!” foam hand was invented by high school teacher Geral Fauss in 1978, and originally came as a wooden sign that was too heavy (and too dangerous) to be practical.
Cast today in polyurethane foam, the “No. 1” hand is one of the most popular ways for sports fans to demand the best from their teams.
But maybe sports audiences should set their expectations a little lower. Jennifer L. Butler and Roy F. Baumeister, psychologists at Case Western Reserve University, found that people often performed unexpectedly worse in front of supportive audiences than they did in front of neutral ones. (We think of it as choking under pressure.) In Butler and Baumeister’s experiments, the higher audience expectations got, the worse their performers did.
Dubner has blogged about how cheering crowds can psych out athletes, causing them to fail by focusing on not failing rather than on succeeding.
Maybe the next line of foam hands should read: “Don’t mind us.”