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Weekly Wisdom #26

posted Feb 28, 2011, 10:40 PM by Elizabeth Lehman   [ updated Feb 28, 2011, 10:41 PM by Quinten Hutchison ]
This weeks WW is about physics, cognition and disc reading. As a cogs major you sometimes get to do whatever you want. I'm in the process of developing a research study to better understand the acquisition of disc reading skills. We sent out a paper about the physics of a disc in the fall, but here's a brief summary.

In physics, the flight of a flying disc, a Frisbee[1], is best characterized by gyroscopic stability and aerodynamic lift. During flight, the weight of a disc is not centered. Angular momentum upon throwing counter acts the torque caused by this uneven distribution of weight, gravity and other forces (Morrison 2005). In studying of a disc’s flow dynamics, it has been demonstrated that air flow over the stop of a disc creates two vortices which allows for flight. Research also shows that constant spin results stronger a longitudinal force behind the disc as well as a longer, more stable flight (Nakamura and Fukamachi 1989). Without this explicit knowledge of why and how a disc flies, players are able to “read”, or predict its path, and make successful catches. 

[1] Frisbee is a registered trademark of Whamo-O Inc. The flying discs used in official USA Ultiamte competitions are white, 175-gram Discraft discs. 

You may have noticed that discs fly in a particular manner based on lots of variables- wind, tilt, spin... All of these effect it's flight path. With so many variables the calculations needed to accurately predict its path are difficult even for my TI-89. Nonetheless, you see players run down discs and make spectacular plays consistently. This is attributed to experience and the gaze heuristic. 

By fixating gaze on the disc while running towards it adjusting speed and direction such that the angle of the gaze remains constant, the receiver is able to meet the disc at a catchable point. Marewski and colleagues 
present this case and argue, “Complex judgment tasks often do not need complex cognitive strategies to be solved successfully”(Marewski, Gaissmaier & Gigerenzer, 2010, p. 104). 

The best way to get better at reading discs is to watch them, throw them and run them down. Reading a disc is not an innate skill and everyone has the ability master it. One good read can be the difference between a win and a loss.