Forget Playing, Mere “sporty Spectatorship” Improves Your Brain’s Functions

by Tanya Thomas on Sep 3 2008 1:24 PM

Your on-field soccer skills may only turn out as hopeless imitations of Ronaldo and Messi, but experts say you don’t really have to play sports to improve your brain function. According to them, watching the masters at their game from the comfort of your own home is good enough!

According to the study, being an athlete or merely a fan improves language skills when it comes to discussing their sport because parts of the brain usually involved in playing sports are instead used to understand sport language.

The research was conducted on hockey players, fans, and people who'd never seen or played the game. It shows, for the first time, that a region of the brain usually associated with planning and controlling actions is activated when players and fans listen to conversations about their sport.

The brain boost helps athletes and fans understanding of information about their sport, even though at the time when people are listening to this sport language they have no intention to act.

The study shows that the brain may be more flexible in adulthood than previously thought.

"We show that non-language related activities, such as playing or watching a sport, enhance one's ability to understand language about their sport precisely because brain areas normally used to act become highly involved in language understanding," said Sian Beilock, Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.

She is lead author of the paper, "Sports Experience Enhances the Neural Processing of Action Language," which has been published in the September 2 in the on-line issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Experience playing and watching sports has enduring effects on language understanding by changing the neural networks that support comprehension to incorporate areas active in performing sports skills," she said.