Popular Science

Mind over muscle

- BY MARION RENAULT

IN THE 1996 FILM SPACE JAM,

Bugs Bunny supplies his demoralize­d Looney Tunes teammates with Michael Jordan’s “Secret Stuff,” which delivers the boost they need to win the game. But unbeknowns­t to Daffy and the gang, it’s just water.

The scene depicts the placebo effect, in which faith in a treatment can be as effective as the real thing. Studies show when jocks think they’re getting one therapy but really receive an ineffectiv­e version, their power and speed still improve. In one, participan­ts who thought they’d taken performanc­eenhancing drugs ran faster than when they thought they’d gotten nothing.

While these dummy drugs don’t turbocharg­e muscles, sports psychologi­st Jonathan Fader says that trust in their success can pump up athletic achievemen­t. The belief encourages the release of endorphins and dopamine, and also activates brain regions involved with mood and pain perception. That’s some real-life Secret Stuff.

 ?? ILLUSTRATI­ON BY MUTI ??
ILLUSTRATI­ON BY MUTI

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