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Expert basketball players’ brains simulate other players’ movements in slow-mo

30 October 2017

Experienced sports players aren’t just highly skilled at executing their own actions, they also have what often seems like a supernatural ability to read the game, to watch other players and anticipate what’s going to happen next.

A clever new study in Psychological Research offers insight into the brain basis of this aspect of sporting ability – the findings suggest that expert basketball players simulate in their minds the actions of other players in something akin to slow-motion, presumably giving them more time to interpret and read the actions.

Carmelo Vicario and his colleagues recruited twenty female basketball players with an average of 12 years playing experience, and they compared their performance on two perceptual tasks with a group of twenty experienced volleyball players and twenty sporting novices.

The first task involved watching short videos (just over two seconds total duration) depicting a woman basketball player throwing a ball at a basket. Around half a second after starting, each video was blanked for a short duration (between a tenth to half a second), and as it resumed the video either depicted a continuation of the earlier movement, or it showed a continuation of a different throw by the same woman. The participants’ task was to say whether the final video segment showed the same movement as seen at the start of the video or a different one.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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