Attention in skilled and novice martial arts athletes

Research on sports has revealed that behavioral responses and event-related brain potentials (ERP) are better in expert than in novice athletes for sport-related tasks. Focused attention is essential for optimal athletic performance across different sports but mainly in combat disciplines. During combat, long periods of focused attention (i.e., sustained attention) are required for a good performance.

Few investigations have reported effects of expertise on brain electrical activity and its neural generators during sport-unrelated attention tasks. The aim of the present study was to assess the effect of expertise (i.e., skilled and novice martial arts athletes) analyzing the ERP during a sustained attention task (Continuous Performance Task; CPT) and the cortical three-dimensional distribution of current density, using the sLORETA technique.

Methods. CPT consisted in an oddball-type paradigm presentation of five stimuli (different pointing arrows) where only one of them (an arrow pointing up right) required a motor response (i.e., target). CPT was administered to skilled and novice martial arts athletes while EEG were recorded. Amplitude ERP data from target and non-target stimuli were compared between groups. Subsequently, current source analysis for each ERP component was performed on each subject. sLORETA images were compared by condition and group using Statistical Non-Parametric Mapping analysis.

Results. Skilled athletes showed significant amplitude differences between target and non-target conditions in early ERP components (P100 and P200) as opposed to the novice group; however, skilled athletes showed no significant effect of condition in N200 but novices did show a significant effect.

Current source analysis showed greater differences in activations in skilled compared with novice athletes between conditions in the frontal (mainly in the Superior Frontal Gyrus and Medial Frontal Gyrus) and limbic (mainly in the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus) lobes.

Discussion. These results are supported by previous findings regarding activation of neural structures that underlie sustained attention. Our findings may indicate a better-controlled attention in skilled athletes, which suggests that expertise can improve effectiveness in allocation of attentional resources during the first stages of cognitive processing during combat.


PeerJ. 2016 Jan 26;4:e1614. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1614. eCollection 2016. Sustained attention in skilled and novice martial arts athletes: a study of event-related potentials and current sources. Sanchez-Lopez J1, Silva-Pereyra J2, Fernandez T1. 1Departamento de Neurobiologia Conductual y Cognitiva, Instituto de Neurobiologia, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico , Juriquilla, Queretaro , Mexico. 2Unidad de Investigacion Interdisciplinaria en Ciencias de la Salud y la Educacion, Facultad de Estudios Superiores Iztacala, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico , Tlalnepantla, Estado de Mexico , Mexico.


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