The League

Dr. Matthew Prowler
Resident Psychiatrist

Dr. Matthew Prowler

Resident Psychiatrist at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

Shock value


The stage was set on Sunday night in the Superdome. And the NFC Championship game did not fail to deliver high drama - turnovers on routine plays; Favre being punished, unsure whether he could go into the 4th quarter (let alone his 20th season); the unlikely overtime finish; and the first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history for the New Orleans Saints.

It may not have been a pretty game. But it was amazing to watch.

Why? Well, the storylines were there. The effort and emotion on the field were palpable. And, maybe most importantly, because the game was utterly unpredictable.

What is it about surprises? Whether it's a mystery end to a movie, an accident on the highway or an up-and-down NFL game, the most unexpected events often become the most memorable. And scientists have been studying this very phenomenon for several years.

Researchers from Emory and Baylor found that when subjects were exposed to an unpredictable sequence of pleasurable stimuli (compared to a predictable sequence of the same stimuli) the "reward pathways" in the brain, specifically the nucleus accumbens, responded more actively on functional MRI.

These pathways are largely modulated by dopamine, and are also responsible for the pleasurable effects of 'high-reward' stimuli, such as drugs, sex and gambling.

But the surprise doesn't have to be pleasurable for the stimulus to be "exciting" from a neurological standpoint. Just unpredictable. This has been replicated in work with anxious and feared stimuli -- it seems we respond more strongly when we don't know when it's coming, whatever it is. And these responses affect our learning and memory.

This serves a protective function. If it's a bad surprise, we want to avoid it. But if it's NFL action, it keeps us on the edge of our seats. So what will the Super Bowl bring? I guess we'll just have to watch.

By Dr. Matthew Prowler  |  January 25, 2010; 11:03 PM ET  | Category:  Dr. Matthew Prowler , Indianapolis Colts , NFL , New Orleans Saints Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

if this is how i should feel then why dont we just watch games for quality because are brains will explode right?
you may be right i am really not sure for sure I don't know but GO COLTS. My heart bleeds for Katrina and Haiti but football.

Posted by: henry78 | January 26, 2010 12:14 AM


Posted by: henry78 | January 26, 2010 12:15 AM

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