Reflection on performance plays an important role in athletic development and adherence to training programmes. Therefore our reflection needs to be accurate and informative for athletes, coaches and sport psychologists. Franks and Miller (1991) highlighted that coaches can accurately remember only 40% of performance. This statistic may shock some coaches, and this is not unique to coaches.

Why can we not remember accurately? Well, research by Daniel Kahneman and colleagues could provide an answer to this question, as they have highlighted that we are all prone two phenomenon; ‘duration neglect’ and ‘peak end rule’. For this work Kahneman was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science and recently published a book titled ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ in 2012 which provides more insight into his work.

OK, so what is this ‘duration neglect’ and ‘peak end rule’? Well, duration neglect refers to the memory of an experience which doesn’t reflect the duration of that experience (Fredrickson & Kahneman, 1993). This is in part due to retrospective evaluations focusing on ‘snapshots’ of peak or end experiences, otherwise known as the ‘peak end rule’ (Fredrickson, 2000). Most people are unaware of their own duration neglect or that peak end rule experiences directly affect their evaluations.

The human memory has developed this way, in part due to evolution; where remembering a bad experience can help us prevent it from happening again and in early evolution help us to survive. Therefore we neglect the duration of the experience and focus on the ‘snapshot’ of the peak or end. However in the modern world and especially in sports coaching, this type of memory is not always effective. In fact, Kahneman (1994) highlights that future decisions are based on these inaccurate evaluations of the past. Therefore the following research is important to athletes, if you are to reflect effectively on performance and training sessions.

Duration neglect and peak end rule have both been shown in pain research. This research  has revealed that if the end pain of a medical procedure is high then the patient will remember this ‘snapshot’ and neglect the duration, regardless of how low the pain may have been (Kahneman et al, 1993; Redelmeier & Kahneman, 1996; Liersch & McKenzie, 2009).

Recently sports science researchers have looked at the duration neglect and peak end rule within exercise programmes. Hargreaves and Stych (2013) revealed that up to 58% of our memory is affect by the peak end rule when reflecting on exercise programmes. Further to this, adherence to exercise programmes has also been shown to increase when the end experience of an exercise programme is positive (Soundarapandian, 2009). Therefore the peak end rule and duration neglect can play a role in reflection of sporting experiences.

An example of how duration neglect and peak end rule could affect our reflection:

In training and competition it is important to use solid information to base our reflections on. Often at half time we see the peak end rule playing a factor in reflection of that halves performance. This is especially common if the opposition score/ take the lead in the last minutes of that half. Peak end rule would suggest that the reflection of that halves performance would be affected by this end experience and subsequently change the reflection we experience. If this takes place we have fallen for the duration neglect as we have failed to take into account the duration of good performance prior to the last minutes.

This is example shows how quickly our memory of an event can change. This is not to say that it happens every time, but as Franks and Miller (1991) highlighted our memory is not accurate. This supports the use of performance analysis statistics at competition and even in training (where possible), as the statistics produced are more objective. This is in comparison to the human memory which as previous research has shown is likely to fall for duration neglect and peak end rule.

  • So, how can athlete’s duration neglect or peak end rule?
  • Base your judgements after viewing the statistics that are important to successful performance.
  • Use a performance log to catalogue what happens during training as well as competition.
  • Reflection on the duration of the good performance.
  • Try and finish training sessions in a positive manner (if possible) this plays on the peak end rule as previously shown and may help you to have a positive memory of the session.
  • Avoid focusing on ‘snapshots’ too much.

I hope by highlighting the duration neglect and peak end rule we can all be aware of this and how it affects our reflections on performance.  Furthermore that coaches can now help athletes minimise the effects of these on their athletes.