Today we are living in a digital era, and the advancements being made in technology are continuing to grow at extortionate rates. Since the invention of gadgets such as the iPod Nike +, GPS watches such as the Garmin runner, coupled with the explosion of social media, we upload more and more about our sporting success on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and share the music we listen to on our ‘running playlist’ on internet sites such as Spotify. In addition to this, the use of motivational words, and ‘quotes’, has also become a popular theme in social media, in our own home interiors, and in particular corporate gyms and training grounds. In sports science literature these quotes, or a certain motivational stimuli, is known as priming. But to what extent does the personal iPods’ ‘gym playlist’ and unconscious glances at a motivational quote on our iPhone, or gymnasium wall actually bare an impact on our mental state, and in turn, our performance?

In many respects, music and sport are seen to be quite disparate. Yet, on close inspection of their two worlds, it is evident that they share a great deal in common. One certain stimulus that has been widely reported to bear an influence on people’s motivation and psychological states in the domain of sport and physical activity, is music (e.g., Blood et al., 2013; Fritz et al., 2013; Sanchez, Moss, Twist & Karageorghis, 2014). The use of music has become extremely prevalent, from group exercise classes, gymnasiums, sports stadiums blearing music in the warm-up and half-time breaks, and the solo exerciser plugging into their iPod, music is now almost inescapable in almost any sport and exercise setting.

It is now apparent that even professional athletes routinely use music to enhance both motivational states and performance (e.g., Bishop et al., 2007; Harwood et al., 2011). However, despite the fact that athletes often report positive effects of music during training and competition (e.g., Bishop et al., 2007; Laukka & Quick, 2013), scientific evidence to support such effects remains limited. Almost any sport and exercise setting can incorporate music in four main ways; pre-task, synchronous, asynchronous, and recuperative. Pre-task music is applied immediately before a physical task or event, as a tool to arouse, relax or regulate mood (Terry & Karageorghis, 2011, p. 316). For example, In 2012, such deliberate use of music as a pre-performance strategy could be witnessed not only in the swimming pool (e.g., Eleanor Simmonds), but also on the athletics track (Tahmina Kohistani), in the white water centre (Jasmin Schornberg), and in the velodrome (Chris Hoy). Music is clearly valued as a preparatory tool by Olympic athletes, including gold medallists – and this seems to parallel young people’s daily use of music to manage their moods (Saarikallio & Erkkilä, 2007).

Karageorghis & Priest (2012a, 2012b), have discovered 4 influencing factors that music has on physical activity. These were: (a) encourage the movement pattern to synchronise with the beat of the music, (b) reduced perceived effort used to complete the task by transferring their attention away from the physical sensation of fatigue, (c) influenced psychomotor arousal, and (d) improved mood of the exercise participant. In the most recent research to date, Hutchinson and Karageorghis (2015), examined the psychological effects of music and music-video during treadmill running. Here, it was found that the music-video condition elicited the highest levels of dissociation, lowest RPE, and most positive affective responses regardless of exercise intensity.

In the instance of motivational words, the term ‘priming’ is used to describe “the influence a stimulus has on subsequent performance of the processing system” (Braddeley, 1997, p.325). Priming was traditionally used to explore the relative automaticity of certain behaviours, and has since developed into the investigation of desired behaviours unconsciously through priming methods (see Bargh & Chatrand, 2000). There is a well-established literature demonstrating the influence of visual primes on decision-making processes and situational motivation. It has been proposed that human motivation can be activated automatically without the involvement of conscious guidance or choice. During a study conducted by, Aarts & Dijksterhuis (2002) it was found that priming participants with words associated with fast animals (cheetah, antelope) or slow animals (snail, turtle) led to faster and slower walking speeds. Thus, highlighting the potential benefits of priming methods to physical performance. In a more recent study, Loizou & Karageorghis (2014) looked into the effects of priming, video and music on anaerobic exercise performance. Results indicated that the combined use of video, music and primes was the most effective (compared to no music, video or primes) in terms of influencing participants pre-task affect and subsequent anaerobic performance, followed by the music-only condition.

So, next time you prepare for an event, or routine workout or training. Think about the music on your playlist, the inspirational lyrics you hear, and picture those motivational quotes that are the current fashion on our news feed and gym walls. Theoretical research shows it may just give you that extra edge…