Archery and the brain

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Native American archers. Source: Wikimedia

I wonder if the same is true for jugglers?

Stronger activation and deactivation in archery experts for differential cognitive strategy in visuospatial working memory processing

It is well known that elite athletes have higher performance in perception, planning, and execution in sports activities relative to novices. It remains controversial, however, whether any differences in basic cognitive functions between experts and novices exist. Furthermore, few studies have directly used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate neural activation and deactivation differences between experts and novices while performing visuospatial working memory (WM) tasks. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine possible differences in neural activation and deactivation associated with working memory components in processing visuospatial information between archery experts and novices. To this end, we employed a judgment of line orientation (JLO) task, which has a strong WM component. With regard to brain activation, archery experts displayed higher activation in cortical areas associated with visuospatial attention and working memory, including the middle frontal cortex, supplemental motor area, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex than that of the novices during the performance of the JLO task. With regard to brain deactivation, archery experts exhibited stronger task-related deactivation in cortical areas, such as the paracentral cortex/precuneus and the anterior and posterior cingulate cortex related to the default network, than that of the novices. These results suggest that the archery experts have a strategy that demands greater use of neural correlates associated with visuospatial working memory and attention in addition to greater use of DMN in visuospatial working memory task not directly tied to their domain of expertise.

These results are impressive due to the results suggesting a general benefit from mastering a specific skill, but it is preliminary. It is already well established that “brain training” via learning a particular skill causes brain adaptations that make you better at the skill and very closely related skills, but whether or not this training makes you “smarter” in general remains an open question. Usually it doesn’t, except maybe when it comes to learning to play a musical instrument from an early age(and even then, maybe it just teaches a child discipline, rather than making them more intelligent). Research into activities that can help prevent cognitive decline as we age is a separate though related issue.

The search for activities that can bring about general cognitive benefits or can make you “smarter” in a more general sense continues. In the mean time I will continue to juggle.

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