A new study conducted at the University of Bonn has indicated that the brain works very similarly upon soccer goals and financial wins.
As a preliminary study, researchers showed 200 different photos depicting such scenes in front of the opponent's goal to 377 German soccer players, who were asked to estimate in each situation whether they would pass the ball or take aim at the goal themselves and about the chances of scoring a goal from each point of view.
Lead author Alexander Niklas Hausler said that two phases of the experiment are of particular interest to them. Firstly, which processes in the brain take place during the decision to either pass or shoot the ball and secondly, which brain areas are active when a goal is scored or not.
A personality test was used to investigate the egos of the soccer players participating in the study. In contrast to expectations, the players with a more egotistical personality did not demonstrate increased activity in the reward areas when they scored a goal themselves.
However, brain regions associated with learning and reflection were significantly more active in these players when a goal was made after the ball was passed to a teammate. Hausler added that the results indicate that more egotistical players perceive goals after their own shots as rather normal and are less positively surprised by their goal.
To answer whether athletes wired differently during soccer games or does the brain work similarly in everyday situations, the scientists conducted a standard monetary incentive test with the same soccer players and found that during soccer decisions and decisions involving monetary incentives, very similar regions of the reward network in the brain were activated.
From studies involving monetary incentives, it is known that the so-called ventral striatum that is responsible for calculating the chances of success and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that appraises the expected reward if the action is met with success play crucial roles here.
Researcher Bernd Weber noted that though athletic successes and monetary incentives are very different things, the results demonstrate that the reward processing of goals in comparison to money takes place in an amazingly similar way in the brain.
The study is published in PLOS ONE.