Need physics help? Ask a skateboarder.


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When I came across the Skateboards Rock Physics article on the Science News website, I have to admit, I was a little surprised.


I also have to admit that I was a little disappointed that more people didn't correctly answer the question that these scientists posed.

The question psychologist Michael McBeath (Arizona State University) and his colleagues asked: does a ball travel faster down a relatively long incline that angles steeply downward in two sections separated by a flat stretch, or does it travel faster down a shorter incline that angles downward modestly but without changing slope?

For those of you who need some graphic representation, here is my best approximation (whoops) of what they meant by this:
pic1.png
Skateboarders knew the answer to this problem more often than non-boarders, the study says, probably as a result of their extensive prior bodily experiences which help solve theoretical problems -- such as how fast objects move down various slopes.

The group showed 122 college students drawings which I assume to be similar to mine (but perhaps a little more realistic), and the study found that only 27% realized that a ball would travel faster down the longer path. The kicker? A few students out of those 33 who answered correctly were "known to be avid skateboarders."

Then, the team worked with 41 (mostly male) volunteers at a local skateboarding park who had anywhere from six months to 15 years worth of skateboarding experience. The skate park housed similar models to both types of slopes in question. The boarders were instructed to skateboard as fast as they could down one of these slopes, and they picked the bumpy path on 75% of runs. It consistently proved to be faster.

Finally, the skateboarders were given the classroom problem posed above. Sixty-one percent of skateboarders got it right (compared to the 27% of overall students asked), and notably, those who answered correctly were typically the most experienced skateboarders.

This is sort of a cool concept, but I have my doubts, as does psychologist Barbar Tversky (Stanford). She suggested that "skateboarders may have picked the faster slope at the park because they knew from past rides which incline was speedier", and that "challenging skateboarders with unfamiliar slopes might reveal ways in which their intuitions fall short." Yeah, that. They also could have been watching their friends go faster down the one slope and not so fast down the other. Another problem? There's very limited information in the form of other studies backing up these claims, probably because there are more important things to research than whether or not a skateboarder has better odds based on prior experiences than his non-skating counterpart of passing his/her physics test.

What I'm trying to say is that it really does make sense that skateboarders have to have some basic understanding of physics, because it doesn't take a world-renowned physicist to tell you that there are physics involved in skateboarding (at least, I hope not). But I would like some more compelling information -- maybe a larger sample size with skaters on unfamiliar terrain. I think it would also be relevant to include experienced in-line skaters, skiers, and snowboarders to help generalize the hypothesis that prior bodily experiences can help solve theoretical problems. My advice until then? If you need a physics tutor...get a physics tutor.

4 Comments

Hello Judith! If only skateboarders could be teachers and apply their knowledge to the classroom, the students would be so engaged!

In your entry, the article that you looked up made a correlation between physics prowess with skateboarding abilities. However, like you mentioned at the end of your blog, this was only one study which requires more evidence. I really support your suggestions about a larger study with the incorporation of other boarding activists such as snow boarders and in-line skaters. With a larger and more diversified random group I believe that the research would eliminate a lot of third variables and the possibility of "chance" playing a role.
Just as scientists speculated that a skateboarder has more relevant knowledge about physics, I came across an article about finger displacement.

In the article it goes into a discussion about how the placement of one’s 2d and 4d can have an effect on a soccer player’s ability on the field. Researchers from England and Germany performed a meta-analysis of more than 20 studies that focused on the link between 2D:4D ratio and various sports and performances. (As a reference 2d and 4d stand for second digit and fourth digit).

“Those with longer ring fingers are more often the better athletes. The relationship seems to be stronger for endurance athletes and weaker for sprint, power and strength athletes. For example, the 2D:4D correlates better with 10k race performance than with 50m sprint time.” “The reasons for these relationships are not completely clear. Many feel that the 2D:4D ratio is a marker of pre-natal testosterone. That is, how much testosterone the fetus is exposed to in the womb may affect the finger length ratio. It may also influence a number of physical characteristics such as cardiovascular capacity. So, there may actually be a biological explanation for the relationship between the 2D:4D ratio and athletic prowess.”

Hello Judith! If only skateboarders could be teachers and apply their knowledge to the classroom, the students would be so engaged!

In your entry, the article that you looked up made a correlation between physics prowess with skateboarding abilities. However, like you mentioned at the end of your blog, this was only one study which requires more evidence. I really support your suggestions about a larger study with the incorporation of other boarding activists such as snow boarders and in-line skaters. With a larger and more diversified random group I believe that the research would eliminate a lot of third variables and the possibility of "chance" playing a role.
Just as scientists speculated that a skateboarder has more relevant knowledge about physics, I came across an article about finger displacement.

In the article it goes into a discussion about how the placement of one’s 2d and 4d can have an effect on a soccer player’s ability on the field. Researchers from England and Germany performed a meta-analysis of more than 20 studies that focused on the link between 2D:4D ratio and various sports and performances. (As a reference 2d and 4d stand for second digit and fourth digit).

“Those with longer ring fingers are more often the better athletes. The relationship seems to be stronger for endurance athletes and weaker for sprint, power and strength athletes. For example, the 2D:4D correlates better with 10k race performance than with 50m sprint time.” “The reasons for these relationships are not completely clear. Many feel that the 2D:4D ratio is a marker of pre-natal testosterone. That is, how much testosterone the fetus is exposed to in the womb may affect the finger length ratio. It may also influence a number of physical characteristics such as cardiovascular capacity. So, there may actually be a biological explanation for the relationship between the 2D:4D ratio and athletic prowess.”

This is a very interesting concept.However, as an avid skater I can say that I know absolutely nothing about physics and that is why I am taking this course instead of a intense science course. I think the reason that the skateboarders knew which route would prove to be faster is because they have experienced so many different slopes and speeds in their lifetime that it is just much easier for a skateboarder to predict the speed than a person that does not skate and does not experience the effects of slopes as often.

This is such an interesting post -- my dad used to be an avid skateboarder, and so I'm kind of familiar with the sport. I think that it makes sense that people familiar with a certain sort of terrain would know how that terrain affects other physical things. Skateboarding and the X Games are so much fun to watch. Maybe one day there will be a skateboarding convention at Penn State!

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