Sports can work out not only the body but also the mind when it comes to comprehending language. To see what effect expertise in a physical endeavor such as ice hockey might have on the brain, scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan 12 hockey players, eight fans of the sport and nine volunteers who had never watched a hockey game. Not surprisingly, the hockey players and fans were substantially better than novices at understanding sentences about hockey actions, such as shooting or making saves. But the University of Chicago researchers also discovered that, in players and fans, parts of the brain usually involved in planning and controlling physical actions are recruited to help understand language, suggesting that the brain may be more flexible into adulthood than previously thought. Take a shot at reading the findings reported online September 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
This article was originally published with the title "Hockey Head Trick" in Scientific American 299, 5, 36 (November 2008)