Are you smarter than a... sports fan?


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Somewhat recently, a team of UCLA researchers did a study in which they found that simply talking about sports can stimulate the brain. The article attached is titled "What activities improve your brain function?" Listed is simply "talking about sports." The study was conducted with 12 hockey players, 8 hockey fans, and 9 people who had never watched a game.  They were forced to listen to "hockey phrases" and different dialogue that could only be associated with the game of hockey. What researchers found in the brain imaging was that "both the players and the fans showed more activity in brain regions used for planning physical actions, which helped enhance their understanding of language."

            Expanding on this idea, a famous study in the 1990s taking place in Parma, Italy discovered "mirror neurons." This study was conducted by watching a monkey eat a peanut and viewing his brain function in hopes of telling when his neurons were firing. Allegedly, a scientist was eating a peanut and unexpectedly, the monkey's neurons began firing as if the monkey himself was eating the peanut. After more research, it was determined that someone's brain can react to a viewing as if they themselves are doing that activity. (Hence "mirror" neurons). 

orr.jpg


            What we can gather from this is that when sports fans watch sports, parts of their brain is active in that it is as if they are participating in that sport. The difference between a professional hockey player and a hockey fan is quite large, but according to brain activity and firing neurons, the difference is actually quite marginal.

            All of this information poses a few questions. The only study I can find regarding mirror neurons in sports is the hockey study discussed in this article. Why haven't they tried it with other sports? To me, hockey seems quite specific in that some rules such as offside and icing can be complicated to non-fans. However, if this study were done in baseball for example, even the least knowledgeable sports fan knows what 1st base is or a homerun. I can't help but be skeptical if hockey was chosen to skew the data towards what the researchers were hoping to find. What do you think? Does it really matter what sport they chose to conduct the study with? Is this one study enough to prove their point? 

2 Comments

I think hockey was chosen because it is very interactive and constantly changing. Fans aren't going to feel as into a game of baseball and football where there is so much down time in-between each play. Sports like hockey where every second is crucial and can change anything would probably spark mirror neurons more because you pay much more close attention to it. I found an article (given below) that says that athletes can get better at sports by simply just watching it because it activates micror neurons. I think this is interesting because it says, "The basic idea is that imagining the performance of a skill will activate almost the exact same neural pathways as actually performing it, so that you can better at something purely by visualization." This technique should be used by all athletes to better their performance.


http://www.bettermovement.org/2010/mirror-neurons-can-you-get-better-at-sports-by-just-watching/

I completely believe that watching sports can make someone smarter. What you discussed with the mirror neurons is only part of what I believe to be beneficial to people. As the older sister and oldest daughter of two diehard sports fans, I've watched my fair share of sports programming and according to my mother, since I've come to school, the sports programming at home has only gone into overdrive. Today, I was talking to my brother on the phone and he used the world perennial. I wasn't even aware he knew that word. But, the context he knew it in was from that of an MLB Network discussion about a Philadelphia Phillies prospect when he was being called a "perennial all-star" as he had played in multiple All Star games. This benefit has to generalize across other people as well.

To answer your question though, I don't know if the sport itself would matter. I think the general principle is to activate these mirror neurons in the brain through watching some sort of physical activity that can be tracked visually.

I found this article about mirror neurons and how they work that you may find interesting.

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