A new study by scientists at Brunel University and at the University of Hong Kong has found that expert sportsmen are quicker to observe and react to their opponents' moves than novice players, exhibiting enhanced activation of the cortical regions of the brain.
The results of the study, which appear in the most recent issue of NeuroReport (www.neuroreport.com), show that more experienced sports players are better able to detect early anticipatory clues from opposing players' body movements, giving them a split second advantage in preparing an appropriate response.
The study, headed by Dr Michael Wright, was carried out by observing the reaction time and brain activity of badminton players of varying degrees of ability, from recreational players to international competitors. Participants were shown video clips of an opposing badminton player striking a shuttlecock and asked to predict where the shot would land. In all participants, activation was observed in areas of the brain previously associated with the observation, understanding and preparation of human action; expert players showed enhanced brain activity in these regions and responded more quickly to the movements of their opponents.
Expertise in sports is not only dependent on physical prowess, then, but also on enhanced brain activity in these key areas of the brain.