Patient B rated the colonoscopy better than Patient A even though he experienced more overall pain.

The Peak-End Rule

I always like to end my training with a good throw. I used to think of this tendancy as a superstition, but recently I have begun to think that it may actually have a real positive affect on my training, both psychological and perhaps also physical.

I’ve had this habit since I started playing other sports as a kid. In basketball, for instance, I inherited my father’s insistence of not leaving the court until I made my last shot. That’s a habit I continue today in pick-up games with friends and have carried into hammer throwing. This habit served a few purposes: it encouraged me to focus on technique if I wanted to ever leave the court and it also left me leaving with a more positive reflection on the game or practice. The same can be said with hammer throwing.

In April I read the New York Times bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow, by the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman is a psychologist whose research has focused on topics like the psychology of judgment and decision-making. In particular, he has identified many biases and heuristics that impact the way we think. One such heuristic is the Peak-End Rule. The rule states that how we judge experiences is largely based on how they were at their peak and at their end. For example, how we judge a practice will be affected by how far our furthest throw was and how well it ended. Numerous studies have shown this heuristic affects and will cause people to rate more painful incidents better than less painful ones.

Patient B rated the colonoscopy better than Patient A even though he experienced more overall pain.

Patient B rated the colonoscopy better than Patient A even though he experienced a longer procedure and more overall pain.

Kahneman’s book provides examples of the rule from various experiments. The most clear is one study on pain that required subject to submerge their hand in extremely cold water. First the subject would put their hand in the cold water for 60 seconds. Next, they would repeat this, and then the water temperature would be raised slightly (although remain painful) for an extra 30 seconds. The second case involved the more overall pain; it had the same amount of painful water exposure plus additional pain that was slightly less uncomfortable. However nearly every participant preferred to undergo the second case when asked which they would prefer to do again. They opted for more pain rather than less pain. Similar studies have shown procedures like colonoscopies are affected not just by how they end, but also the peaks of pain reached within it as shown in the diagram to the right.

Unfortunately I cannot find any research on this rule and its applicability to sports or training. However I think it clearly is applicable and should have us trying to end training with a good throw. First and foremost, by ensuring a good last throw, there is a higher likelyhood that the reflection of the training as a whole is better. Confidence and a positive mental state have many benefits. One is that it reduces mental stress and other worries about training; if you think everything is going well there is less to worry about. While mental stress might just seem psychological, it isn’t. I wrote last year about how stress has a measureable and strong impact on training and the body’s adaptation process. A good throw at the end of training will not give a positive outlook to a terrible training. But it could make a bad training seem just mediocre, or a mediocre training actually seem good. Even a small reduction of stress can only help.

I also wonder if a good throw at the end of training could have a deeper physical impact on training. Each training session leaves an imprint on the body, both physical and mental. From that imprint, the body adapts and makes changes that can be either beneficial or harmful to the athlete’s physical state or technique. This imprint is not just put there by each exercise, but it is also shaped by what happens before and after each exercise. There is no question that what you do at the start of practice can affect what happens at the end. For example, if you use up all your energy in the warm up, your throwing will not go well. But the exercises at the end of practice can also affect the imprint of what was done before them. As Bondarchuk outlined in his Transfer of Training in Sports, Volume II, strength training after throwing could affect the technical training as the brain devotes some of its limited energy to the excitation of the part of the central nervous system relating to strength training rather than technique. This thereby dampens the imprint of the technical training. It does not require a big logical leap to suggest that ending on a good throw (or throws) could dampen the impact that poor throws had on the nervous system earlier in training and therefore leave a better training imprint. Granted, this point is purely speculative, but what is there to lose? Nothing is harmed from trying to end on a good throw.

2 replies

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] and what areas need to be looked into next. Finally, an area of interest to me is the effect of ending training on with a good throw, which was confirmed to me at a conference I attended in […]

  2. […] of my favorite books of last year was Thinking, Fast and Slow, which I discussed here. In the book Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman talked about research regarding the psychology of […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *