Top footballers better at abstract thinking

Professional footballers are better at abstract thinking and have superior executive functions than those with less talent in the game. This is the suggestion of new research from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which found these capacities improve for the sport's more elite players.

Published in the journal PLoS One, the study described this ability as game intelligence and noted it is very important in the decision-making process, the New York Times reports.

Investigators used standardised tests that considered a person's talents with regard to creativity, rule-making and problem solving.

They found players with higher marks in the assessments also tended to be the ones who scored the greater number of goals or made the most assists.

Dr Predrag Petrovic, a Neuroscientist at the institute, said: "You can't become a good player if you don’t have strong executive functions, but at the same time you can always improve executive function if you train."

Psychologist Doug MacDonald from the University of Stirling commented: "In the rapidly developing world of modern professional football, recent focus has turned to the ability of the top players to have game intelligence. 

"This includes things like recognising patterns of play, solving problems and making decisions. Looking at the top Spanish players, for example, it had been thought that these abilities were specific to playing football but research by Torbjorn Vestberg and colleagues is challenging this assumption. 

"In their study, they found that top male and female footballers were better than most of the population at general cognitive tasks involved in complex decision making. In addition, the best players also gained the highest scores on the tests. 

"This suggests that playing football can make you better at complex abstract thinking and that scoring well on these tests might help to identify the next Lionel Messi."