Using the Placebo Effect to Isolate Control Mechanisms of Athletic Performance: A Research Protocol

Ellen K. Broelz , Paul Enck*, Andreas M. Niess , Patrick Schneeweiß and Katja Weimer

Using the Placebo Effect to Isolate Control Mechanisms of Athletic Performance: A Research Protocol.

The most commonly considered factors, which determine physical performance, are of peripheral nature: muscle strength and cardio-respiratory capacity. These are influenced largely by genetic factors and by specific training. However, it is unlikely that these factors alone decide the outcome of a sporting competition with often only milliseconds or one point between a first and a second place. The determinants of athletic performance are complex and thus must involve top down control mechanisms regulating motor performance.

For decades the brain was not considered to play an important role in determining athletic performance. The original model of factors limiting human exercise performance was proposed by Hill in 1924 suggesting that performance declines when oxygen requirements of the exercising muscles exceed cardiac output capabilities and therefore have to function anaerobically, producing excess lactic acid, which in turn impairs muscle contractions. This model states, that a disruption of homoeostasis is the cause of exercise termination. Although a decrease in voluntary muscular contractility plays a role in sports performance, this point is rarely reached during intense training
and even competition, especially in the endurance domain.

EEG is a scientifically well-grounded method based on recording voltage fluctuations from multiple electrodes placed on the scalp (non-invasive). These voltage differences represent neural brain activity with millisecond precision. This high temporal resolution allows precise tracking of parameters such as attention, emotional engagement or wakefulness. Decades of EEG research provide a solid base of knowledge about the implications of the measured data. However, only few studies so far have used EEG to look at difference in neural processing between placebo and real treatments.

Sport Exerc Med Open J. 2015; 1(2): 54-63. doi: 10.17140/SEMOJ-1-109