We investigate the science behind the “lean forward” meme.
FIFA players know the moment well. You go 1-0 down and you realise it’s getting serious. You lean forward in your chair, resting your elbows on your thighs. You focus on the screen – and you start to play. But, does leaning forward actually make you a better FIFA player?
Stakester decided to answer this age-old question for our community of players. So we commissioned Dr Andrea Utley – Reader in Motor Control and Development at Leeds University – to run the first ever experiment into the effectiveness of the lean forward meme. Could a simple shift in sitting position help you win more money and prizes?
Is the “lean forward meme” a thing in real life?
First of all, we wanted to establish just how widespread the behaviour is. In a survey of 1,000 people, we asked gamers what they thought about “the lean.” And the results show that it is almost a universal behaviour, with 76.9% of players saying that they do lean forward while playing video games.
The next logical questions are: how and why do you players do this? Are they conscious of their behaviour or do they feel that it’s instinctive? Do they really believe it makes them play better, or is it more of a signal of intent?
The vast majority of players say it comes naturally, with less than 10% saying it’s an entirely conscious behaviour. The next question, and the one that interested us the most, was whether or not gamers really believe that it makes them play better. And the short answer is – yes. A slim majority of people actually believe in the truth behind the meme.
And they believe it for a variety of reasons, most of which really do have a basis in science (more on that later). From improving vision in various ways, to believing the posture offers more support, to a general feeling of alertness, gamers certainly feel that the behaviour produces a noticeable difference in the moment.
We also know that players play in a wide variety of positions, and that everyone has their own unique set up. Given that 76.9% of the respondents said that they do lean, we can safely assume that it covers a range of set ups – perhaps excluding the gaming chair, which doesn’t really lend itself to leaning in that posture, and those who stand.
Examining the “lean forward meme”
Having established that the “lean forward meme” is a real phenomenon, we needed to test the effectiveness of it for ourselves. The first step was to gather participants. We recruited 10 gamers, who normally play the game for 8-10 hours a week – meeting our definition of a “casual” FIFA player. All male and aged between 18-35, they came from across the UK and EU. The group was a good representation of the Stakester FIFA playing community.
The study began in the midst of the pandemic, so experiment was conducted remotely. Each participant was simply instructed to video record themselves playing 5 online FIFA matches, against real opponents, at home. They were told to press record and play as they normally would, to ensure that their behaviour was as close as possible to one of their regular FIFA sessions. All of the participants were unaware of the purpose of the study.
We analysed each player’s movement and body position in the footage. We noted every major event that transpired in-game, how players reacted to them and their body position when each event occured. When they submitted their footage, the participants then filled out a survey – designed to test their own awareness of their leaning and to see if they believed it worked.
Lean in to win
For starters, every participant leaned forward multiple times during a game. Leans were triggered by a variety of in-game events: scoring or conceding a goal, losing possession or missing or conceding a chance. Interestingly, if an opponent’s team featured Cristiano Ronaldo, a lean was often triggered every time he received the ball!
Overall, it appeared to have a positive effect on performance. Players scored twice as many goals while leaning as they did while sitting normally – that’s 110 goals vs. 52 goals – so leaning forward definitely sharpened players’ instincts in front of goal.
It helped in the defensive side of the game too. Our participants conceded fewer goals while leaning, though the difference was less stark. Still, in our book: less goals conceded = better FIFA player.
Too much of a good thing
Is there a threshold for effectiveness?
When we examined the effect of the lean on actual results, things got really interesting. If you score more goals and concede less while leaning, then you would think the players who leaned more, and for longer would win more matches – right?
Wrong! In matches that our participants won, they spent considerably less time leaning than players who lost. Winners spent an average of 35.5% of the game leaning, while losers did it for an average of 52.6% of the game. This suggested that there may be a threshold at which leaning becomes less effective.
To find that threshold, we looked at the average time that winners and losers spent leaning during a game. Winning players leaned for a little over four and a half minutes – that’s just over a third of an average game (between 12-13 mins). Losers, on the other hand, spent an average of almost eight minutes leaning. That’s about two thirds of an average match on FIFA 21.
What does the science say about the “lean forward meme”?
Andrea explains, “The lean occurs when a player attempts to fix the visual system on the game with a greater level of intensity. Moving the whole body forward, closer to the screen, would be the final stage of narrowing the focus.”
“Moving your main sensory system – your eyes – closer will help your focus and concentration, but without full postural support, especially from the trunk and neck muscles, you will get fatigued. Once fatigued you will move around more while leaning, thus disrupting the ability to fix the sensory system –most people would then stop leaning.”
Leaning forward helps us concentrate on the game, but we can only do it for so long before tiredness sets in. Our eye movements are facilitated by tiny Recti muscles and when they are overworked they become less effective – like any other muscle in the body.
Lean smarter, not longer
And become a better FIFA player
When surveyed afterwards, only one of the participants said that they “leaned forward deliberately” to improve their performance. Two said that “it happens organically” when they play, and the remaining players said it was a “mixture of both”.
We also cast our net wider, asking over 3,000 of our users about their gaming postures. An overwhelming 94% said that they lean forward when playing and 90% stated they believed it made them play better. As with our study, the majority – 57% – said that the lean posture move ‘happens organically’.
The experiment suggests that if you start thinking about how you can deploy your leans more tactically – saving them for when the pressure is mounting in defence or you’ve noticed an overload you can exploit in attack – you could be giving yourself a better chance of scoring more goals and winning more matches than if you let instinct take over and lean indiscriminately throughout the game.
By being mindful about this instinctive behaviour, you could turn it into an even more effective competitive tool. You could win more matches, enjoy FIFA more and take your gaming performance to a whole new level. Thinking about your posture really can make you a better FIFA player.
Thanks to Andrea Utley for her expertise, and to our experiment participants for making the Stakester Study happen, despite challenging circumstances.
Stakester is the mobile app that allows you to win money and prizes playing your favourite games – like Call of Duty: Warzone or FIFA 21 – against real people. Download the app today and play for a free $5 prize.