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Curveballs: They Are Simply An Illusion

by Phyllis Pollack
October 2010

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

The other day, I tuned into National Public Radio which was in middle of a story about curveballs in baseballs; a study had just been published indicating that these pitches are not what they seem. A few days later when I had some free time, I decided to search for this study on the internet and came upon the very scientific discussion on PLoS ONE which was published on October 13, 2010 and entitled, “Transitions Between Central and Peripheral Vision Create Spatial/Temporal Distortions: A Hypothesis Concerning the Perceived Break of the Curveball.”

Simply stated, the researchers noted that our “visual system does not treat all parts of an image equally: the central segments of an image, which fall on the fovea, are processed with a higher resolution than the segments that fall in the visual periphery.” (Id.) Normally, we do not realize the difference when we view an image. Rather, our perception of the image is seamless. (Id.)

But, in the studies conducted by these scientists, when a motion stimulus (i.e. a fast moving baseball) is introduced into our visual system, a different result is reached:

The stimulus consists of a descending disk (global motion) with an internal moving grating (local motion). When observers view the disk centrally, they perceive both global and local motion (i.e., observers see the disk’s vertical descent and the internal spinning.) When observers view the disk peripherally, the internal portion appears stationary, and the disk appears to descend at an angle. The angle of perceived descent increases as the observer views the stimuli from further in the periphery . . . (Id.)

In short, it is the batter’s shifting his focus between his peripheral and central vision that makes the curveball appear to “break”, to drop or descend vertically. Similarly, it is this same shifting of our focus between our peripheral and central vision that makes a fastball appear to rise when it is actually falling (i.e. the “rising” fastball.) (Id.) The pitcher’s tricks are all an illusion, and literally, are “ in the eyes of the beholder.”

What does this study have to do with dispute resolution? Not much, except that like a curveball, disputes are full of illusions, too: things are not always what they seem. Like the researchers of this study, a party often has to dig deeper to get at the “truth” or what is really going on – to learn what the true needs and interests of the other party really are. Many times, the dispute, itself, is an “illusion” – it is really about the relationship between the parties, and not the particular incident at issue. Like the curveball or fastball, the “dispute”is often in the “eyes of the beholder” who has “misunderstood “ or” miscommunicated” or “misinterepreted” the other party’s purported acts , omissions or “insensitivities.”

Or, one could say that this blog has absolutely nothing to do with dispute resolution: I just found the study interesting, especially in light that it is post-season and every pitcher is throwing his best curveball and fastball to make it into the World Series.

You decide!

. . . Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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