This is for our tennis-playing readers out there (or our stuck-watching-tennis-on-TV-because-the-remote-is-too-far-away readers).
A new study has shown that the animal-like grunts emitted by top-level tennis players may actually be improving their game. Research at the University of Hawaii looked at the effect of sound on players’ depth and shot perception, and found that the jarring grunting noise slows down opponents’ reaction time.
The study involved video clips of a tennis player hitting a ball to the left or right of the participants, who then had to quickly determine which way it was going to go. Each time, the clip was either accompanied with silence or an emphatic “unh” noise.
“When an additional sound occurs at the same time as when the ball is struck, participants are significantly slower and make significantly more decision errors,” said Scott Sinnet, one of the study’s co-authors. “A grunt doesn’t allow you to place all your attention on what’s happening. It blocks the ability to pay attention to a multi-sensory event.”
This may come as welcome proof for players who have been calling out grunting opponents for cheating. “The grunting has reached an unacceptable level,” said tennis legend Martina Navratilova last year. “It is cheating, pure and simple. It is time for something to be done.”
Grunting made news at the 2009 Wimbledon Championship when officials announced that noisy players could be fined for distracting their opponents. Regardless, this research is expected to have a lasting effect on the relative volume of tennis matches.