All in the head: How football affects thought
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Heading a soccer ball can, on the plus side, score goals and impress fans. But it may also adversely affect a player's ability to think, a new study of high school soccer players suggests.
The neurological effect of concussions and other serious head trauma in sports is, of course, a topic of considerable interest to scientists, as well as to athletes. But there has been less attention paid to the potential effects of so-called preconcussive impacts, or more minor hits to the head, like those that might be sustained when someone heads a soccer ball.
A 2011 brain-scan study of experienced, adult soccer players found subtle structural changes in certain parts of the brain that might be associated with repeated slight impacts.
But it has been difficult to measure the actual cognitive functioning of soccer players right after they have been heading the ball, in part because the equipment required is complicated or lab-based.
However, after the iPad entered the markets, Anne B Sereno a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, who led the new study, and her colleagues developed an iPad version of a well-accepted cognitive test, in which volunteers are told to focus on an image of four boxes grouped in a roughly square shape.
In one part of the test, the volunteers are asked to touch a box when it lights up on screen. In another task they are asked to ignore the box that glows and instead touch the box immediately opposite from the lit box. This second task, known as the anti-point response, tests how well volunteers can control their reactions and impulses and intellectually override a natural response — to look at and reach for the lit box — and correctly touch its opposing counterpart.
The anti-point response "is a good test of executive function" in the brain, Sereno said.
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