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I have heard the following story many times:

A study conducted by Dr. Blaslotto at the University of Chicago was done where he split people into three groups and tested each group on how many free throws they could make.

After this, he had the first group practice free throws every day for an hour.

The second group just visualized themselves making free throws.

The third group did nothing.

After 30 days, he tested them again.

The first group improved by 24%.

The second group improved by 23% without touching a basketball!!!!

I find it hard to believe that real practice provides only a 1% greater improvement over visualisation. Is visualisation really that effective?

  • Are you wondering whether the study took place, or whether the conclusions reached were correct? – Andrew Grimm Mar 21 '12 at 12:03
  • @AndrewGrimm: Mainly the conclusions – Casebash Mar 21 '12 at 12:05
  • Keep in mind that not everyone can visualise, as surprising as that might sound to someone who can. – RomanSt Mar 26 '12 at 18:17
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The University of Chicago's librarians, when the topic came up, could find no trace of a "Dr Blaslotto".

From the outset the Suggestions Office thought this story a little fishy. (A U of C faculty member who's also a world-class powerlifter?) Indeed, trolling through PubMed, Web of Science, and WorldCat revealed no articles or books by Dr. Blaslotto -- leaving us doubtful he even existed.

(another variation of this story adds the claim that he's a world-class powerlifter)

Peculiarly for a world-class powerlifter or a researcher, there seems to be no mention of a Dr Blaslotto on Google except in this story. There are no results for Judd Blaslotto or Dr. Blaslotto on Google Scholar. It does appear that Dr Blaslotto and his study are about as real as the hoops that his second group dunked.

On the other hand, the University of Chicago's librarians do point out another study, from 1960, which does exist, with similar results:

The effect of mental practice was compared with that of physical practice in the development of a motor skill, the Pacific Coast 1-hand foul shot. 144 high school boys were equated into physical and mental practice groups on the basis of arm strength; intelligence; and varsity, junior varsity, or novice experience. Mental practice was found to be nearly as effective as physical practice under the conditions of the experiment.

A 1994 meta-analysis of 35 studies found that mental practise was effective, but not as good as physical practise:

First, the results of this analysis indicate that mental practice is an effective means for enhancing performance. However, the data also indicate that mental practice is less effective than overt, physical practice.

And also dropped off faster: Effect of Retention Interval on Magnitude of Effect

A 1995 study found that adding mental practise into firearm training for police recruits was effective:

The treatment group mean marksmanship gain score was 32.86 points above the control group's score.

Interestingly enough, they also found that recruits who believed that mental practise would help benefited the most from it (possibly because the worked harder at it).

So, it looks like mental practise does improve performance, though not as much as physical practise. However, it can be combined with physical practise (this may be of particular benefit where resources for physical practise are limited). However, the study cited in the original post appears to have been invented.

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    Might it be just a typo issue? I've found several references to Dr. Judd Biasiotto (please notice the different spelling) as a lecturer, teacher, record breaking athlete, and as an author including Amazon goodreads.com/author/show/104325.Judd_Biasiotto Pictures of him and an interview: albanyherald.com/honoring-dr-judd/… strongfirst.com/author/dr-judd I didn't find any mention of the University of Chicago, anyway. – Giuseppe Romanazzi Nov 21 '18 at 8:57
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    @GiuseppeRomanazzi That's a very interesting find! I certainly find it plausible that somewhere along the way "i" got changed to "l". Has Dr. Biasiotto published any research on this topic? – Kamil Drakari Nov 21 '18 at 16:10
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    @KamilDrakari Biasiotto is a powerlifter (hearkening back to the librarians' reference to a powerlifter) whose books advocate mental techniques to improve strength. So it looks like this Biasiotto is the "Blaslotto" mentioned in the OP. He may not have been associated with Chicago or done the study himself, though perhaps he's referenced such a study in one of his books and that's how it's got mixed up with him? – Joel Rein Nov 21 '18 at 23:18
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Looks like it was Australian psychologist Alan Richardson confirmed the reality of the phenomenon. See below.

Richardson chose three groups of students at random. None had ever practiced visualization. The first group practiced free throws every day for twentieth days. The second made free throws on the first day and the twentieth day, as did the third group. But members of the third group spent 20 minutes every day visualizing free throws. If they "missed," they "practiced" getting the next shot right.

On the twentieth day Richardson measured the percentage of improvement in each group. The group that practiced daily improved 24 percent. The second group, unsurprisingly, improved not at all. The third group, which had physically practiced no more than the second, did twenty-three percent better—almost as well as the first group!

In his paper on the experiment, published in Research Quarterly, Richardson wrote that the most effective visualization occurs when the visualizer feels and sees what he is doing. In other words, the visualizers in the basketball experiment "felt" the ball in their hands and "heard" it bounce, in addition to "seeing" it go through the hoop.

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    Welcome to Skeptics.SE. You have quoted from an external source without providing a reference to where you got it from. Please add a link. Then, you should go to the primary source and cite the actual paper, rather than rely on a secondary source. – Oddthinking Aug 23 '13 at 1:48
  • The quote can be found on pages 36 and 37 of Creative Visualization by Keith Randolph. – ChrisW Aug 23 '13 at 7:36
  • @Oddthinking, ChrisW - I'm not sure how reliable (or easy to find!) a source Richardson will be. I did find a record on PsycNET, but it is for an article published in 1967. – rjzii Aug 23 '13 at 13:25
  • @rob: Good find. Surprisingly enough it is online, but behind a paywall: tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10671188.1967.10613388#preview - perhaps one of our readers has access? – Oddthinking Aug 23 '13 at 13:54
  • @rob The quoted text has been copied onto lots of web sites; when I posted the link above as a comment, I randomly chose/preferred a published book instead of a web site. The book says, in the sentence before the quoted text, "A related study by Australian psychologist Alan Richardson confirmed the reality of the phenomenon." (so, at least you probably found the right Richardson). – ChrisW Aug 23 '13 at 13:55

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