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Electroencephalography and Sport; Review and Future Directions

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An example of the extensive work in North America in the 1960's and "70's was Ogilvie and Tutko's ( Ogilvie 1968 ) sport specific personality test that was found to differentiate athletes from non-athletes and further differentiated among professional, university and high school athletes in several team sports. Common traits listed by Ogilvie as being important in athletes of high calibre were trust, extroversion, tough mindedness, self-controlled and intelligence. Eysenck (1984) reviewed studies tests using the Eysenck Personality Inventory for trait assessment in sport and concluded that there is ample evidence to support extroversion as being a trait of athletes.


States of Optimal Performance

Most of the work from the mid-1970's to today has focussed upon theoretical testing of generally one personality concept or trait such as anxiety. Williams and Krane's (1993) review of interviews and studies with athletes, coaches, sport psychologists and professional scouts suggests that there are common similarities across sports of the mental states or feelings that are present when athletes report experiencing peak performances. The common states can be generalized into arousal control, high self-confidence, attentional control, and determination. The skills taught in mental training programmes for athletes in attempts to achieve these successful states usually include but are not restricted to goal setting, relaxation/energization, imagery, self-talk for performance and coping, and attentional strategies. Research reviews (Greenspan & Feltz,1989,Vealey,1994)) have shown that these skills can be successfully taught and are related to improved sport performance. For our purposes all the above skills are placed into the categories of either arousal control or attention control

Raglin's (1992) review of the arousal/anxiety research indicates that the Inverted U hypothesis of there being an optimal range of arousal for performance, not too high nor too low, is not supported. Rather he concludes Hanin's (1978,1986) theory of the Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) can more accurately explain the relationship between arousal/anxiety and competitive sport performance. The IZOF states that an individual performs best when his/her pre-competitive anxiety is within a relatively narrow range and that many successful performances are produced under both high and low levels of anxiety. Rundle and Weinberg (1997) found no support for the ZOF when team athletes are used. The suggestion that arousal/anxiety levels for successful performance is specific to each athlete has a great deal of face validity. Gould and Udry ( 1994) summarize the literature which indicates that arousal/anxiety control for sport can successfully be taught and indicate the strengths and weakness of studies in the area.


Nideffer (1976)extended theoretical work on attentional processing by proposing that different types of attention could be assessed, and applied in sport. He identified the need for controlling width (broad vs narrow), direction ( internal vs external), and the flexibility to shift attention. While the research using his Test of Attentional Style has shown equivocal results, the importance of attention as paramount to sport performance has been amply demonstrated. Training in controlling one's attentional state has also been found to enhance performance in sport (Nideffer, 1993)..


The use of imagery in mental training programmes for both arousal control and attentional control is widely advocated in sport and will be included as part of the attention control. The effects of imagery upon various psychological and physiological indices have been documented by the National Institute of Health among others (NIH,1995). Meta-analysis reviews have noted the beneficial effects of imagery in sport (Feltz,1987, Landers, et al 1983).

II. RESEARCH ON EEG and SPORT


An underlying problem with the research on the mental skills through the above methods is that the intervening process of what is happening within the athlete's head has to be inferred. This means that true understanding and control can not be attained until measures are taken of both the covert internal processing of the brain and the overt motor and behavioural processes resulting from the internal processing.

Measures of peripheral physiology (eg. heart rate, temperature) or behavioural outcomes (eg anxiety, performance errors) have been the basis of scientific investigations in sport for the past 70 years but only recently has the technology and expertise become available to assess central nervous system physiology in sport. With better EEG and computer capabilities we can more easily and directly measure the electrical activity of the brain implicated in specific attention, arousal, affect and cognitive processes that are either invoked or evoked by the performance demands in sport..

The task demands are different between those who participate in sport for recreational or fitness purposes and those who compete to win. Thus, for our purposes, an athlete is defined as one who is both skilled in and competes in a particular sport


A. Genetics vs Learning

Since there are suggestions that EEG has a genetic base (Allen,Reiner,Katsanis,Iacono,1997, Christian, Morzorati, Norton, Williams, O'Connor & Li,1996) it would seem logical that one would ask are there similarities in EEG patterns that distinguish whether a person is predisposed to perform well in sports? Additionally, are there are similarities in EEG patterns after individuals have "learned' a motor task?


The differences in personality that predispose individuals to participate and succeed in different sports has been reported for decades but the assessment has generally been limited to paper and pencil tests. Based upon Strelau's (1977) work that a resting baseline EEG percent time alpha distinguished pilots with good performance skills from pilots with poorer skills under the stress of flying, Cummings & Wilson (1978) had a track coach rate those athletes who performed well under the stress of competition. The baseline per cent time alpha from O1- T3 was significantly higher for those designated as good copers under stress. Wilson, Ainsworth & Bird, (1984) then used a nationally ranked mens volleyball team rated by coaches as either good or poor copers/concentrators under the stress of competition and again found higher baseline alpha for the good performers. The possibility of using EEG for assessing predisposing mental processes is currently being investigated in other areas such as exercise dependency (Beh, Mathers & Holden,1996).


The second consideration is whether or not the learning of a motor skill affects the subsequent neural processing as assessed by EEG .Gliner et al (1983) reported changes in EEG as individuals learned a motor task but the design did not allow for determining whether they were measuring performance changes or whether learning had occurred. Etnier's and others (1996) study of changes in EEG after a person practices the motor tasks included retention tests in their design to ensure that "learning' of the motor task had occurred. After no initial EEG differences between the experimental and control group in the baseline, the experimental group had significantly greater alpha power at the end of the training and which remained after two retention tests. This confirms that learning a motor task changes the EEG of the participants in future performances of that task.

Further support for an inclusion of both traits (genetics) and states (learning) has been noted by.
Rosenfeld, Reinhart & Srivastava (1997). They have recently shown that alpha and beta entrainment are dependent upon baseline EEG .


Sport Performance

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Sue is a retired professor of York University, where she taught sport psychology, coaching, and self-regulation courses. Her experience includes Biofeedback and Neurofeedback in a medical center, counseling center, businesses, and in schools. For (more...)
 
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