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Science

Soccer Superstar Plays With Very Low Brain Activity 160

Posted by timothy
from the one-hemisphere-tied-behind-his-back dept.
jones_supa (887896) writes "Brazilian superstar Neymar's (Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior) brain activity while dancing past opponents is less than 10 per cent the level of amateur players, suggesting he plays as if on "auto-pilot", according to Japanese neurologists Eiichi Naito and Satoshi Hirose. The findings were published in the Swiss journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience following a series of motor skills tests carried out on the 22-year-old Neymar and several other athletes in Barcelona in February this year. Three Spanish second-division footballers and two top-level swimmers were also subjected to the same tests. Researcher Naito told Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper: "Reduced brain activity means less burden which allows [the player] to perform many complex movements at once. We believe this gives him the ability to execute his various shimmies." In the research paper Naito concluded that the test results "provide valuable evidence that the football brain of Neymar recruits very limited neural resources in the motor-cortical foot regions during foot movements"."
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Soccer Superstar Plays With Very Low Brain Activity

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  • by denzacar (181829)

    You don't need much brain for running around kicking a ball.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Or making a /. comment.

    • You don't need much brain for running around kicking a ball.

      No, you don't need much intellect.

      • by denzacar (181829)

        A chicken can do half of that task with its head chopped off.

        Had it been taught to kick a ball while running around, it could probably do that as well.
        Insert joke about it still being better than the players of team XY.

        • by schnell (163007) <[me] [at] [schnell.net]> on Sunday July 27, 2014 @12:20AM (#47541461) Homepage

          News flash: basement-bound nerds think being a world champion-caliber athlete is easy. Film at 11.

          Let go of your hatred of the dumb-ass jocks who got laid in high school but could never compete on a professional level, and consider that it might not be so brainless to be a world-class athlete. All this study says is that the very best athletes have learned to do it on autopilot, but for everyone else a lot of thinking is involved.

          Geeks can actually simulate the experience to a certain degree, given that some modern video games have evolved to a high degree of realism. Play "Madden NFL" on an expert difficulty level, and you'll see just how hard it can be for a NFL quarterback to try to read the movements of 11 defensive players simultaneously and pick the best route to throw the ball... even when you don't actually have to have the arm strength to throw it. Play "MLB the Show" on an expert level and you'll see how hard it can be to react in a tiny fraction of a second whether you're swinging at a 100 mph straight-ahead fastball, an 85 mph changeup that looks just like a fastball, a 90 mph slider that stars out straight but breaks away from the pitcher's arm, or a 70 mph knuckleball that just floats all over the fucking place.

          TL;DR - (some) video games these days are good enough to replicate just how hard professional level athletics are, even without the actual physical exertion. Please don't dismiss athletics as brainless if you don't know what the fuck you're talking about.

    • by alphatel (1450715) * on Saturday July 26, 2014 @09:34AM (#47538241)

      You don't need much brain for running around kicking a ball.

      You're absolutely correct in a very zen kind of way. In order to be in the zone, or flow, you still need to make decisions such as "lean left, kick right", or "stop short, pass forward", but they key is to not let those minor mental decisions get in the way of your physical ability to execute. Some people are born with the ability to simply "do it", other may take years of practice to learn to let go of the process, but in the end it's all about realizing your potential without anxiety about the outcome.

      • The interesting part is are some people really born with the ability to "do it". There is a lot of research that disputes that. Even studies of child prodigies like Mozart show that they have actually put in their 10,000 hours, it's just that they started at a very young age and had an opportunity for a very high quality practice (Mozart father was a famous music teacher and he started from the day Mozart was born).

        • by Bengie (1121981)
          I wonder if some people are just born with strong interests, so they just have more time consumed with something that caused them to be better.
      • by eulernet (1132389)

        In fact, thinking slows down the entire "flow".
        The more you think, the slower you get.
        This is because our brain is a very slow tool, with a very limited bandwidth.

        It's easy to verify: some people try hard to think while they speak and this is audible ;-)

        Beginners want to achieve perfect results, so they try hard to master every single step of the process, and they spend a lot of their brain's bandwidth on their actions.
        Experts don't need to master everything, so their brain bandwidth is pretty unused, makin

    • No, but running at full speed while controlling the ball and getting past highly skilled opponents who are trying to stop you does.

      • by denzacar (181829)

        Study proves just the opposite.

        I.e. That anyone can do it. He just does it better and with less effort. After training his whole life.
        Ergo... not much brain power needed if average Joe can do it too. But to do it at expert level - you must train your whole life.

    • I think the idea is that all this guy's practice has streamlined his mental footballing process. If you tried to go kick a ball around in a stadium full of screaming fans while trying to avoid all the other people trying to kick the ball, you'd use tons of brain power. I suspect I'd use so much I'd pass out. But this guy's trained himself to filter out all the superfluous information and do the work as naturally as I type these words.
      • by denzacar (181829)

        I think the idea is that all this guy's practice has streamlined his mental footballing process.

        Exactly. He's been pushing one single button for most of his life.
        He got really good at pushing that button. He can push it in his sleep.

        I suspect I'd use so much I'd pass out.

        LOL! No.
        Unless you regularly faint whenever you encounter a problem as mentally challenging as deciding if the traffic light is red or green.
        Ever played chess and fainted? If not... you're probably safe from "stadium induced fainting".

        The article is just click-whoring for the last bits of interest in that recent ball kicking event.
        Which was once again won by Germans as I h

  • by anegg (1390659) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @08:35AM (#47537965)
    I'm only an armchair cognitive scientist, but my interpretation of this result is that it shows how an expert player has integrated the knowledge of how to play as a skill. The player no longer has to think through each situation and plan a response, the brain recognizes patterns and produces a response automatically. This allows for a higher-level of play because the player's conscious mind is free to act at a higher level, producing better tactics and strategy.
    • by drkstr1 (2072368) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @09:44AM (#47538285)
      It's just muscle memory. They drill this into us all the time in martial arts. When fighting, you don't have time to sit and think about your next move, it just has to come naturally, like some kind of instinct. I'm not surprised by these findings at all. Sparring is one of the very few activities that allow me to quite my mind.
      • It is not muscle memory.
        Muscle memory is something completely different and works on a very different level.
        Muscle memory e.g. lets you perform a perfect strike, or a punch or a kick.
        But it does not let judge you how to pass a ball perfectly into the way of the guy who will make a goal, avoiding offside and the guy tackling you and the other one and that third defender running straight into the obvious path.
        Nor does muscle memory help you to actually execute that pass.
        Muscle memory only helps to execute per

        • by drkstr1 (2072368)
          I appreciate your experience and insight, but for me at least, this is not the case. I'm a TKD/BJJ guy myself, so I need to be ready for the fight to go anywhere and be ready defend against anything. The ability to "turn your mind off" and just go with the flow is exactly what keeps me from getting my head knocked off. I would have described myself as someone who is bad at sports prior to getting into MMA. In hindsight, maybe I was just bad at sports because I thinking to hard...
          • Then try to wake up in that flow, and watch yourself. Much more fun.

            • by drkstr1 (2072368)
              An intriguing idea if I can pull it off. I will have to give it a try! Thank you for the tip sir.
              • I used to wrestle in school, took it pretty seriously and won gold in several provincial tournaments. I found that my body would be operating automatically when I did my moves, just like the article describes, and that the conscious part of my mind would be "watching" as though I was removed from the fight and was being an outside observer. Except that it wasn't that simple, because the tactile is huge in wrestling, when you can't see the guy and you're rolling and flipping and flying through the air, you

                • Well, you can still be creative :)
                  The founder of Aikido once said figuratively: "in the moment of contact with your attacker, you create a new technique." A unique - once for your lifetime - technique.

                  From the fact that for an outsider such techniques look similar in the sense that you can group them into categories of similar techniques come the principles, the names for those categories, the names for those techniques.

                  Sounds that you are really good in martial arts, I wonder where the urge for street figh

                  • It's not a matter of having an "urge". I lived in an area with a lot of gang violence, and I had a lot of friends who weren't particularly good at standing up for themselves... hippies, ravers, skaters, theater folk, etc. When your friends can't stand up for themselves and there's an imminent threat, you step forward.

                    I was just a cowardly little nerd who skipped a grade and was younger and smaller than everyone else when I was young, and spent a lot of time running away. Then I hit puberty and my balls d

                    • Honestly, perhaps you should write a book about it.

                      Can't judge how much you write here actually happened, but you write it in a nice style ... you have the hand for it.

                      And regarding hitting guys with chairs etc. I suggest you stop that habit ... only in movies the chair breaks on the head of the victim. Usually the head breaks :D

                      However as long as you have fun, why not, luckily in my country street fights like this don't happen since WWII

        • by drkstr1 (2072368)

          Actually, I think the article is talking about something entirely different than reflexes or muscle memory. I've been experimenting with this "turn off your mind" thing the past few days, and I've been finding I can do some things I normally can't. For example, I can't walk a tight rope to save my life, but I tried clearing my mind of all thought, not even thinking about the task at hand, and just started walking... Made it half way down before I became aware again and fell on my ass. I can actually feel it

          • Actually, I think the article is talking about something entirely different than reflexes or muscle memory. Exactly, that is what I tried to point out when people came up with muscle memory.
            I've been experimenting with this "turn off your mind" thing the past few days, and I've been finding I can do some things I normally can't. For example, I can't walk a tight rope to save my life, but I tried clearing my mind of all thought, not even thinking about the task at hand, and just started walking... Made it h

      • > They drill this into us all the time in martial arts. When fighting, you don't have time to sit and think about your next move, it just has to come naturally, like some kind of instinct.

        You're talking about "reflex", not "muscle memory". I've done martial arts too, and found the problem with this approach is that, if someone has very reflexive, "automatic" defensive moves, it's very easy for an attacker to take advantage of that by baulking. Making the defender expect an attack in one place, then attac

        • by drkstr1 (2072368)
          Actually, I think the article is talking about something entirely different than reflexes or muscle memory. I've actually been experimenting with this "turn off your mind" thing the past few days, and I've been finding I can do some things I normally can't. For example, I can't walk a tight rope to save my life, but I tried clearing my mind of all thought, not even thinking about the task at hand, and just started walking... Made it half way down before I became aware again and fell on my ass. I can actuall
    • That's exactly what it is. Like a master level chess player plays 20% by calculation and 80% by pattern recognition while with a recreational player it is the opposite.

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        That's exactly what it is. Like a master level chess player plays 20% by calculation and 80% by pattern recognition while with a recreational player it is the opposite.

        As a rated chess player I have to say, "What a load!"

        Calculation vs "pattern recognition" isn't even the dichotomy used in chess. And pattern recognition is mostly considered to be part of the calculating process. The strategic process ("positional" play) is based on a wide variety of things, very little of which is pattern recognition. For the master, anyways. For the club player it is pattern recognition because they have little understanding and just have to match the learned rules of thumb (patterns) to

  • Sounds like Captain Obvious has struck again by "proving" a common "truth" that everyone already knew.

  • Duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by c (8461) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Saturday July 26, 2014 @08:46AM (#47538013)

    I guess that's a sexier headline than "Expert Soccer Player Has Good Muscle Memory", and it does tie into that recent bit of excitement down in Brazil, but otherwise I'm not seeing anything in the summary that comes as a surprise... Is it that part where they quantify the differences in neural activity between "expert" and "amateur"?

    • This is not muscle memory, but high specialized brain areas. Special neurons that clump together and specialize in certain 'low level' task.

      • by c (8461)

        TFA makes the discussion that it's all about a highly efficient foot-motor control area that can operate with minimal external input (i.e little conscious thought), which pretty much describes muscle memory. There's no mention of "special neurons", just regular motor control areas that are wired for efficiency and operate with less noise.

        Where someone might conclude that it's different from "muscle memory" is that muscle memory is usually focused on specific motor tasks, while this research is basically say

        • Yes, there is no mentioning of special neurones. Hence the article is misleading at best, because there ARE special brain areas with special interconnected neurons responsible for the 'unconciesnous control' of the interaction with the ball. Hence I suggested THOSE brain activity researchers should have cross checked with other researchers. The special developed brain regions for extraordinary motoric control are known since at least 20 years!

          Regarding muscle memory, that is 'memory' behind or starting at t

          • by c (8461)

            Most important: muscle memory as I pointed out above is 'stored' - more precicely: hardwired - in the neurons/nerves directly attached to the muscles. Not in the brain.

            It's in the brain. They don't really know exactly where muscle memory is stored, but it's in the brain. Most likely in optimized synaptic networks in or around the motor control area, but the specific location and mechanism hasn't been nailed down.

            That being said, there's a certain amount of muscle "memory" in the muscles themselves, in the s

            • Perhaps we are 'crosstalking' each other or the article, which I only skimmed uses a different terminology.

              Muscle memory as we athletes call it, is a a very special memory close to the muscles involved, it is not in the brain.

              Signal speed from the brain to a muscle is close to 1/10th of a second ... that would never work.

              but it's in the brain. Most likely in optimized synaptic networks in or around the motor control area, but the specific location and mechanism hasn't been nailed down.
              Perhaps you mean somet

              • by c (8461)

                Perhaps you mean something different with the term 'muscle memory' then?

                Hmm. Yes.

                I'm talking about it from a cognition perspective, which I think is also termed "motor learning". You're using a definition which describes my second point, which is that (in a nutshell) the body undergoes a physical change which adapts it to better performing those rehearsed movements.

                Quite frankly, I'm not sure it's meaningful to talk about those separately, though. If you repeat a physical task often enough to change the bod

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Where does this "muscle memory" sit, in the muscles? I doubt it. So how is low brain activity explained by "muscle memory"?

      • by Aighearach (97333)

        Where does this "muscle memory" sit, in the muscles? I doubt it. So how is low brain activity explained by "muscle memory"?

        In the nerves that attach to the muscle, yes. It is distributed.

        When other parts of the nervous system are taking on a load, there is less load in the brain. The same thing is true in any similar system like an electrical circuit, hydraulic system, or heat distributor.

        It is well established that the limbs can respond, in certain situations like this, faster than the most simplistic analysis would presume. If you measure the amount of time it would take the signals to go from the eye through the brain to the

  • Turned Off Brain (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jim Sadler (3430529) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @08:52AM (#47538045)
    Some people turn of thought when in a fight. It can be a learned talent and it makes ones response much faster and blows delivered much more accurate. The catch is that when in that state extra violence can be delivered as the person is on auto pilot. Courts have not dealt with this as so few people who do this can verbalize what was going on. I'm not so certain that the true capacity to form intent exists in a person in that state of mind. Even advanced chess players can get into a similar state in which they can calculate chess moves like a machine but are sort of not human for a bit after the game is over. A portion of their minds has been diverted elsewhere and it makes them sort of silly emotionally.
    • That is a different state of mind.
      When you play trance like soccer or are in a flow state in a fight, you are actually pretty aware about 'everything' going around you.
      A 'normal guy' who is capable of going into such a meditative state would never execute excess violence. People who do that are more in a 'berserk state' or similar 'rage states'.

      • by digitect (217483)
        Which explains Suarez.
    • Reminds me of the Berserkers [wikipedia.org] in Viking stories, who went into battle and fought in a trance like frenzied state.

  • They should not be in college and at some schools people on the Football team get a free pass in just about all classes.

  • You let your medulla most of the work. There's very little reason to spend any time on what's commonly thought of as higher functioning when you're focused on sight/reaction. Any "thought" is devoted only to grasping the topographical and tactical situation and mildly guiding yourself through it. This is what allows you to coordinate the multiple movements. Anyone promoting that this is dumb is merely rationalizing their inability to do it.

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @09:15AM (#47538169)
    So he plays using "automatic" [wikipedia.org] skill. Every target shooter knows that place. Every cook flipping an egg knows that place. Hell, everybody knows that place. When you're first learning to drive, making a left-hand turn or backing out of a parking place requires lots of thought about HOW to do it. After long practice, you don't think about it, you simply do it. The trick, in soccer, or shooting, or writing code, anything that requires sustained performance, is to stay in that place.
  • by malvcr (2932649)
    Don't mistake it ... this doesn't mean that it is not necessary to think to have the job done.

    This means that some people has the capability of turning off some parts of their brain that they don't need in some specific moment to focus better in what they are doing. This is not negative, this is a very special capacity.

    I could call this the "soldier effect". A good soldier is the one that when given the order to kill perform the task without any complain. But a bad soldier could not to decide to ki
  • by rossdee (243626)

    How about some comparisons with other professional sports?

    • by oobayly (1056050)

      Or even a comparison with his brain activity when inactive.

      • I remember a study making the news in the 90's comparing men and women's brain activity while doing tasks that require 3d reasoning. It was kind of a similar result: men and women would score about the same on the task, but the women's brains lit up like a Christmas tree while the men's brains had fairly localized activity.
  • Should be no surprise to anyone who's every played a videogame: he's in "flow" mode.

    Which raises the question: how is this news for nerds?

    • Should be no surprise to anyone who's every played a videogame: he's in "flow" mode.

      How do you know that it is the same thing?

      Which raises the question: how is this news for nerds?

      I thought that how the brain works is quite nerdy topic. That is why I submitted this. Would you like to see less news like this in the future?

  • Is there a lot more activity somewhere else in his nervous system? Perhaps we distribute the processing load as we learn the moves. IIRC I've read a couple of papers that suggest that more processing than we realize takes place in our retinas when we do object recognition. I'd guess if you measured the brain activity of someone who's been driving for a couple of decades while they're driving, you'll find a lot less brain activity than someone who's just started. Maybe that's why the newbie has so much troub
  • Well trained physical activity is done by your medulla oblongata which means it is done closer to the input and outputs and does not get your thinking brain involved. Thinking is indecision and slows down reaction time.

  • Interesting perhaps, 'in the german article' they said his brain activity was lower in comparison with other professional soccer players. That *is* interesting.

    But it is old news that high skilled professionals, especially if they do body work, like martial artists or artists or musicians easy get into a state called 'flow'.

    "Reduced brain activity means less burden which allows [the player] to perform many complex movements at once. We believe this gives him the ability to execute his various shimmies."
    That

  • Japanese martial art traditions describe a similar concept of mushin ("no mind") where actions are achieved intuitively without active thought.

    At some level, most* achieve this for basic tasks. You don't need to actively think about each muscle contraction and joint movement when you walk, or type on a keyboard, etc.. A lifetime of repeating these activities has trained the brain to minimize expenditure during these tasks.

    The same goes for sports, martial arts, anything requiring extensive training to maste

  • Timothy edits with very low brain activity.
  • by Patent Lover (779809) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @12:51PM (#47539161)
    Doesn't take a lot of brain power to fake an ankle injury
  • I think this study kind of explains when you learn something so well (say, by doing it so many times), you can do it "by reflex." Perhaps what that really means is you no longer need cognitive ability to do those tasks, such as riding a bike, driving in clear conditions, or typing.

    I think what they've found is that the brain becomes more reliant on on older parts of the brain that operates in the sub-conscious, perhaps like the brain stem. So doing something over and over might move the ability from the cor

  • Sadly for Brazil, Neymar went through the recent World Cup with very low soccer playing activity as well. Brazil's defense seemed to exhibit very low brain activity as well.
  • They know music, they know their instrument, but a lot of thought goes into presentation. Would be interesting to see if they're running on autopilot or if their brain is totally engaged.
  • My brain activity is abysmally low when I am coding. I must be engaging hardly 5% of my brain during coding. Often times when I am debugging my own code, "what the hell was I *thinking*?" But now I realize I must not have been thinking at all. I must have been a coding superstar unbeknownst to myself.
  • Well either that or we need to rethink how we measure brain activity.

  • Who said you need intelligence to,play football? Mate, just look at David Beckham. There's not much lower in terms of human intelligence, he even got to the USA to play! fucking hell man, a place were they don't even know what football is!

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