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Chicago neuroscientist contributes to book on brains and baseball
Date:3/11/2008

Steven Small, professor of neurology and psychology at the University of Chicago, and colleagues Ana Solodkin and John Milton, are among a group science writers and neuroscientists featured in Your Brain On Cubs: Inside the Heads of Players and Fans, a new book that explores how the brain functions when people participate in sports as athletes, coaches and fans.

Using baseball as the quintessential sport for all three perspectives, the contributors tackle such questions as: How does a player hit a 90-mile-per-hour fastball when he barely has time to visually register it" Why do fans remain devotedly loyal year after year" And what allows them to believe in superstitions, such as a curse"

Other topics investigated in the book include how a ballplayer's brain changes as he gains experience and expertise, why there are a higher percentage of left-handers in the major leagues compared to the general population, and the ethical implications of neurological performance enhancement.

Small's contribution, "Why Did Casey Strike Out: The Neuroscience of Hitting," focuses on the batter-pitcher match-up from the point of view of the neural networks that control if, when and how the batter swings the bat.

"If the ball leaves the pitcher's hand at 100 miles per hour," Small said, "it will take it 0.367 seconds to reach home plate--less than the time between successive heart beats. For elite batters, such as the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, such extraordinary skill can only be accomplished by figuring out what the pitcher will do before he even releases the ball."

Small, an expert on the brain imaging of human behavior, uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study how the brain of professional athletes plans complex movements, such as swinging a baseball bat. With fMRI, researchers can peer into the brain while an athlete focuses on a video of a real situation, such as a pitcher preparing (e.g., winding up, grippi
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Contact: John Easton
john.easton@uchospitals.edu
773-702-6241
University of Chicago Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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