Professional athletes have superior perception

Soccer, rugby, hockey players better ignore distractions to follow motion with their eyes

Humongous hamstrings, bulging biceps and dangerous delts are obvious attributes of professional athletes. But the brain might be the most important asset on the field, a new study suggests.

Pro athletes are better at interpreting abstract moving scenes than are average people, reports Jocelyn Faubert of the University of Montreal. In his study, 102 professional soccer, rugby and hockey players completed a difficult perception task. To perform well, participants had to distribute their attention among multiple targets, ignore distractions, correctly perceive depth and follow lightning-fast dots on a computer screen.

The professional athletes outperformed both high-level college athletes and nonathletes, Faubert writes online January 31 in Scientific Reports . He does not know whether these superior perceptual skills are innate or learned over years of practicing the sport.

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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