Professional athletes, such as those who play soccer, hockey and rugby, have better developed perceptual tracking functions than the average college student, according to a new study.
Led by Jocelyn Faubert, Ph.D., of the University of Montreal’s School of Optometry, the perception study demonstrated one possible result of the increased cortical thickness found in areas of trained athletes’ brains, according the researcher.
For the study, 102 professional athletes from the English Premier Soccer League, the National Hockey League and the top 14 rugby players in France, as well as a number of elite amateur athletes recruited from the NCAA American university sports program and a European Olympic training center, were asked to describe a series of simulated objects moving through three dimensions. The task was also assigned to 33 non-athletic university students
“Although the context had nothing to do with any specific sport, we found that professional athletes were able to process the visual scenes much better than amateur athletes, who were in turn better than the students,” Faubert said.
He equated the cognitive requirements for correctly interpreting the abstract moving scenes with situations such as driving, crossing the street, or participating in a sport. “It would appear that athletes are able to hyper-focus their attention to enhance learning, which is key to their abilities.”
The study participants took the “3D-MOT” test 15 times to evaluate several skills that researchers believe are critical to visual perceptual abilities when viewing complex scenes, such as distribution of attention between a number of moving targets, a large field of vision, and the ability to perceive depth.
Researchers noted that the scene is neutral, which means sport specific familiarity, such as play knowledge or experience, will not influence the score as the movements and interactions are totally random.
The 3D-MOT task was developed by Faubert and has been used by teams such as Manchester United and in the National Football League and the NHL.
According to Faubert, the tests revealed that the professional athletes were able to learn how to track fast-moving objects at a much superior rate than the other groups, although all three groups improved their scores over the 15 training sessions.
“Clearly, mental processing and learning skills are key to the excellent performance of the professional athletes,” he said. “However, it is unclear whether this superior learning ability is unique to professional athletes, and whether these are innate skills that led them to be selected by these teams, or whether these skills have been acquired through extensive training. It will therefore be interesting to see how individuals of all athletic abilities improve their perception score as they train with this system.”
Source: University of Montreal