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Goalkeepers attempting to stop a penalty during a penalty shoot-out, more often dive to their right when their team is behind. These are the findings of research by scientists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), which were published in the journal 'Psychological Science' on 12 July 2012.

Goalkeepers attempting to stop a penalty during a penalty shoot-out, more often dive to their right when their team is behind. This tendency to go right arises as they must choose which way to dive under time constraints. These are the findings of research by scientists from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), which were published in the journal Psychological Science on 12 July 2012.

The UvA researchers (Marieke Roskes, Daniel Sligte, Shaul Shalvi and Carsten KW De Dreu) analysed all the penalty shoot-outs in every World Cup from 1982 to 2010. It appears that goalkeepers are equally likely to dive to their left as to their right when defending their goal in a penalty shoot-out. It is only when they are under intense pressure, because their team is behind, that they tend to dive right.

If their team is behind, a goalkeeper can become the hero of the game by stopping a penalty, which can give their team the chance to snatch victory. Previous research with animals has shown that the pursuit of positive things leads to a preference for the right side. For example, dogs wag their tails to the right when they see their master and toads extend their tongues more often to the right when catching prey.

Positive goal activates left hemisphere

This preference for the right side occurs because positive goals activate the left hemisphere of the brain. This half of the brain controls the right side of the body. Because positive goals activate the left hemisphere of the brain, animals (and people) tend to move to the right.

However, the UvA researchers showed that people only exhibit this tendency to go right when they have to act quickly and have no time to correct their behaviour. In an experiment, the team found that people asked to quickly divide a line into two equal parts, tend to aim slightly to the right (like the goalkeepers during the World Cup).

‘It is striking that even in such important situations, people are influenced by biological factors,’ says Marieke Roskes. ‘We hope this information will help the Dutch national team to win the next World Cup.’