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12th September 2012

Athletes experience time differently, says research

Athletes perception of time changes when they are competing, according to research published by UCL
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Athletes’ perception of time changes during critical moments of sport, research has found.

For many years, people have reported the sensation of time seeming to slow just before hitting a ball or at other crucial moments of sports games. Now a team from University College London speculates this may be due to an increase in brain processing power immediately prior to the event.

The team, lead by Dr Nobuhiro Hagura, believes that visual and movement processing is improved to increase the amount of information being absorbed by the senses. In this way, decisions can be made quicker and more accurately under time-pressure.

Researchers at the university’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience tested volunteers’ reactions to flashing discs on a screen. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team found that those who were more prepared to move in reaction felt they had more time to react.

Captain of the University mixed basketball league Tom Ashton believes it only takes “one moment of brilliance” to trigger the reaction. “I believe … slowing time to see everything is either adrenaline … or it comes down to confidence”.

Dr Hagura’s team hope to involve top sports players in their further research to identify any marked differences in the brains of untrained athletes.

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