Science 2 min read

Athletes Can Process Sound Better than Non-Athletes

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Maridav /

According to a new Northwestern University study, people who play sport can process sound better than those who don’t.

The physical fitness that comes with being an athlete has never been in doubt.

But, brain fitness and sport are rarely mentioned in the same sentence, until recently. Now, scientists are exploring how concussion affects athletes’ brains.

In a similar study, researchers discovered that in the absence of injury, athletes have healthier brains than non-athletes. That’s right; even people who play contact sports like soccer, football, or hockey.

We’re saying that playing sports can tune the brain to better understand one’s sensory environment,” says the senior author of the study, Nina Kraus.

That means people who play sport have an enhanced ability to reduce the background electrical noise in their brains. As a result, they’ll be able to better process external sounds such as teammates yelling a play.

How is this possible, you ask?

How Athletes Can Process Sound Better than Non-Athletes

Kraus compared the phenomenon with listening to a DJ on the radio.

Now, imagine that background electrical noise in the brain is static on the radio, Kraus said. To hear the DJ better, you could either boost the DJ’s voice or minimize the static. The latter occurs in athletes.

Kraus, who is also the director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory noted:

“A serious commitment to physical activity seems to track with a quieter nervous system. And perhaps, if you have a healthier nervous system, you may be able to handle an injury or other health problems better.”

The findings could inspire athletic intervention for people struggling with audio processing.

Past studies have linked noisy brains with children from low-income areas. And according to the Northwestern team, the children can benefit from playing sports.

Athletes are not the only ones with enhanced sound processing ability. Musicians and multilingual individuals also have an improved ability to hear incoming sound signals, says Kraus.

But unlike the athletes, musicians, and people who speak multiple languages have to turn up the sound in their brains.

They all hear the ‘DJ’ better, but the musicians hear the ‘DJ’ better because they turn up the ‘DJ,’ whereas athletes can hear the ‘DJ’ better because they can tamp down the ‘static,‘” Kraus said.

Read More: Performance-Enhancing Bacteria, Veillonella, Found in Guts of Athletes

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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