Neural underpinnings of superior action prediction abilities in soccer players


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Abstract

The ability to form anticipatory representations of ongoing actions is crucial for effective interactions in dynamic environments. In sports, elite athletes exhibit greater ability than novices in predicting other players’ actions, mainly based on reading their body kinematics. This superior perceptual ability has been associated with a modulation of visual and motor areas by visual and motor expertise. Here, we investigated the causative role of visual and motor action representations in experts’ ability to predict the outcome of soccer actions. We asked expert soccer players (outfield players and goalkeepers) and novices to predict the direction of the ball after perceiving the initial phases of penalty kicks that contained or not incongruent body kinematics. During the task, we applied repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) over the superior temporal sulcus (STS) and the dorsal premotor cortex (PMd). Results showed that STS-rTMS disrupted performance in both experts and novices, especially in those with greater visual expertise (i.e. goalkeepers). Conversely, PMd-rTMS impaired performance only in expert players (i.e. outfield players and goalkeepers), who exhibit strong motor expertise into facing domain-specific actions in soccer games. These results provide causative evidence of the complimentary functional role of visual and motor action representations in experts’ action prediction.

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