Too much exercise may affect our ability to make decisions

A physical training overload leads to a significant drop in physical performance as athletes experience an overwhelming sense of fatigue. The researchers wanted to test whether overtraining syndrome arises in part from neural fatigue in the brain, as well as from muscle tiredness. They were also interested in whether the overtraining affected the same portion of the brain as excessive intellectual work. The group recruited 37 competitive male endurance athletes with an average age of 35 years. The participants either continued with their regular exercise regimen or increased their training by 40% per session over 3 weeks.

Too much exercise may affect our ability to make decisions

The athletes participated in cycling exercises on their rest days so that the researchers could monitor their physical performance. They also completed questionnaires that asked them about their subjective experience of fatigue. The study, showed that over 3 weeks, physical training overload led to the athletes feeling more fatigued and also behaving differently. In today’s busy world consumers get a huge amount of product information all day long. Quite often a big part of that information is irrelevant for the decisions that they have to make. Filtering out irrelevant product information is becoming an increasingly desirable skill for consumers who want to make good product choices.

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In a series of studies we tested whether regular exercisers are less prone to show the dilution effect in product judgments. We gave our participants a number of different products which they had to evaluate on an important product dimension (e.g., processing speed of a computer). The experiment had two conditions:

  • In the control condition participants only saw relevant product information (e.g., very power processor).
  • In the dilution condition people saw the same relevant product information but they additionally received irrelevant information (e.g., the company sponsors the NYC marathon).

The same set of product stimuli had been used in previous studies and tested extensively to make sure that the irrelevant information was perceived as clearly uninformative by consumers. After the product evaluations, we asked people in detail about their physical activity habits, and we measured various other control variables that might explain differences between exercisers and sedentary people (such as educational level, mood, self-control, Big 5 personality traits, amongst others).

In two studies we found that regular physical activity seems to be beneficial for consumer decision making. Individuals who were physically active – especially in their leisure time, managed to ignore the irrelevant information and judged the products only based on the information that was useful and informative. Their product judgments in the control condition and dilution condition did not differ significantly from each other. Participants who were not exercising regularly on the other hand showed the classic dilution effect.

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