Tis the season to March Madness per the Journal of Neuroscience. Today during Neuro Journal Club, I presented a paper in which Duke researchers localized brain centers involved with recalling passes, shots, rebounds, and penalties of an emotionally-salient basketball game. The study was published by Duke University (and possibly funded by Coach K, since the results were favorable for Duke fans), in which avid, loyal basketball fans of Duke and UNC were asked to recall the outcome of a particular shot (hit or miss) and rate his/her accuracy. After rigorous questioning used to select the most knowledgeable fans of which excluded women (not intentionally), the lucky participants watched a game in the presence of other like-minded fans (excluding alcohol and accompanying hor’d oeuvres) and then underwent fMRI testing to determine which centers of the brain were highly activated during recall of game plays. Not surprisingly, areas of the frontal cortex regulating attention (anterior cingulate cortex, dorsolateral cortex) and memory consolidation/recall (medial temporal lobe) were highly active, but surprisingly, premotor planning areas (the basal ganglia) were equally and in some cases, more active! Additionally, though the Duke fans had faster recall than the UNC fans, the activation intensity within these particular brain areas did not differ between the Blue devil and Tarheel wannabes. From these results, it appears that the premotor cortex accompanies or may even be necessary for the recall of procedural or episodic memories with dominant movement. I know studies in the past have found high activation in these same premotor areas in baseball and football players who rehearse pitches and plays before the game, which may also elucidate gender-specific differences in fan-based statistical and game play recall found in this study. Perhaps these premotor planning areas are more highly activated during a game in males vs. females given a group of both genders equivocally knowledgeable in fan-based statistics and game plays and/or perhaps watching the game with a group of people (as done in the study) further enhances memory consolidation because it increases the likelihood of celebratory gestures (but hopefully no party fowls and/or tabling flipping, Justin!) which of course would activate premotor planning areas? Regardless, I love when my two favorite past times, neuroscience and sports, are concomitantly studied.
In other sports news, I did a sprint workout yesterday with three rookies in the NFL. They may have kicked my ass, but hopefully, my brains won’t look like theirs within the next twenty years (here’s a link the article published in The New Yorker illustrating the massive amount of neurodegeneration (pathologically, a premature state of Alzheimer’s) progressing in most current and past NFL players, due to impactful collisons.
Botzung, A., Rubin, D., Miles, A., Cabeza, R., & LaBar, K. (2010). Mental Hoop Diaries: Emotional Memories of a College Basketball Game in Rival Fans Journal of Neuroscience, 30 (6), 2130-2137 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2481-09.2010