Why even seasoned sportspersons tend to miss sitters

November 14th, 2007 - 1:59 am ICT by admin  
Had Baggio’s shot found its mark, rather than zoomed over the bar, Italy might have had a chance to lift soccer’s most coveted trophy.

Now, a new research by Washington University scientists has found why even professional basketball and soccer players sometimes miss an easy shot.

They reason, they say, could be partly explained by spontaneous fluctuations of electrical activity within the brain.

As part of their study, Michael Fox and his colleagues designed an experiment that involved monitoring volunteers’ brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they performed a simple finger-tapping task.

The 17 volunteers were asked to push a button with their right hand as soon as they saw an on-screen prompt, and the timing and force of each button press were recorded.

Brain scans revealed increased activity within the left motor cortex - the region associated with controlling movement of the right hand - shortly after each button-pushing prompt.

The researchers also monitored spontaneous activity within the left motor cortex by analysing its ‘mirror image’ in the right motor cortex. This allowed them to see how spontaneous brain activity affected each button press, independent of the ‘task-related’ brain signals.

They found that volunteers pressed the button with about half the force, on average, if spontaneous activity occurred a few seconds before each prompt.

In other words, fluctuations in brain activity caused the volunteers to subconsciously exert slightly less physical force when pressing a button on cue.

Crucially, this activity was independent of any external stimulus and did not appear related to attention or anticipation, said Fox.

He said this was the first direct evidence that internal instabilities - so-called “spontaneous brain activity” - might play an important role in the variability of human behaviour.

“This is the first clear evidence that [spontaneous brain activity] has some behavioural significance,” said Rasmus Birn of the National Institute of Health in Maryland, US, who was not involved with the research.

Fox said, while he was still unclear how spontaneous activity in the motor cortex could cause people to tap their fingers more gently, he believed the reason could be because the activity fooled the brain into thinking the finger had already moved partly towards the button.

He said spontaneous brain activity could also perhaps explain why people engaging in sports sometimes missed an apparently easy goal or basket, by altering the force with which they kick or throw a ball.

The study appears in the journal Neuron, reports New Scientist magazine. (ANI)

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