Baseball and psychology go together better than you might think. So says Nathan Rubin ’12 (Venice, Fla.), a psychology major and an outfielder for Mac’s baseball team. “Baseball is such a mental game,” he explains. “When you’re hitting, you can fail 7 out of 10 times and still be batting .300, which is a good average. Maintaining an even keel is imperative.”
“I came at this with the hypothesis that a person’s belief in his ability to perform would improve the actual performance."
Given his insider knowledge of the importance of staying confident, Rubin is understandably fascinated by research into how self-efficacy impacts performance. So that’s what he decided to write his senior thesis on, directed by psychology professor Darcy Burgund. The performance in question? An old-fashioned video game. “I came at this with the hypothesis that a person’s belief in his ability to perform would improve the actual performance,” says Rubin. After reviewing the literature on the subject, which is mixed, he decided to add another component: goal setting. “I wanted to see if giving the subjects a goal would affect their performance,” says Rubin. “Turns out it didn’t—regardless of whether they had a low or high goal, all the subjects who believed in themselves did as well as they could.”
Although Rubin advertised for subjects, he didn’t end up with all—or even mostly—video game fanatics. Instead, he attracted a range of Introduction to Psychology students, all of whom need to participate in an experiment to fulfill course requirements. Previous skill in video games made no difference in performance, nor did gender have any influence on the outcome. Instead, says Rubin, “Their own belief in their ability was all that mattered.”
Completing this study has fueled Rubin’s own self-confidence in his future goals: to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology. As of early March he had applied to eight programs and was waiting to hear which ones he’d been accepted into.
His ultimate career focus is to run a therapy practice specializing in sports and performance psychology, an area he believes he’ll be optimally qualified to work in given his own long history as an athlete.