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Brendan T Barrett, Julie M Harris, John G Buckley, Simon J Bennett, Jonathan Flavell, Nathan C Beebe, Andrew J Scally, Alice G Cruickshank; Reaction times in elite athletes and the influence of saccades. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2016;57(12):201.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
The issue of whether simple reaction times (RT) are faster in elite athletes remains contentious. Inappropriately timed saccades can elevate RT. Here we examined if faster RT in elites compared to non-sporting groups are linked to better eye movement control.
Male and female elite cricketers (F, n=16, 25.0±2.9 years; M, n=24, 21.0±1.5 years), elite rugby league players (M, n=21, 23.0±4.0 years), and non-sporting controls (F, n=20, 22.0±4.0 years; M, n=29, 23.0±7.0 years) took part. RT to the onset of a circular target (diameter 0.8o) was recorded via a button-press in 90 trials. There was equal probability of the target appearing centrally, or 7.5o to the left or right of centre. Participants were asked to maintain central fixation. Eye-movements were recorded at 250Hz. Regression analysis (maximum-likelihood linear model) was performed separately for each gender.
Baseline male control RT were 283ms (SE 7ms, p<0.001); male cricketers were faster (ΔRT=-19ms, p=0.04) but rugby players were not significantly faster than controls (ΔRT=-17ms, p=0.08). The model for females showed controls baseline RT to be 314ms (SE 11ms, p<0.001); female cricketers were significantly faster (ΔRT=-66ms, p<0.001).For all participants, making a saccade during a trial significantly slowed RT, especially if the saccade occurred around target-onset (Figure). However, very few saccades occurred near onset. The impact of saccades on RT did not differ between groups (F, p=0.40; M, p=0.09).In males, saccades occurred in ~20% of trials, and the proportion did not differ across groups (p>0.86). In females, saccades occurred in 15% of trials in cricketers compared to 36% in controls (p=0.001). When presence of a saccade was included as a co-variate, the superiority of RT for cricketers over controls persisted (male control vs cricket ΔRT=-19ms, p=0.024; control vs rugby ΔRT=-17ms, p=0.06; female control vs cricket ΔRT=-65ms, p<0.001).
Cricketers showed faster RT than controls, but whether this is innate or due to participation in fast ball-sport is unclear. Since rugby players also showed a trend (p=0.08) towards quicker RT, elite sport may be associated with faster RT. Making a saccade increases RT but cannot explain our group differences. We conclude that faster RT in fast-ball elites are not linked to better eye movement control, so training to keep the eyes still is unlikely to lead to any meaningful quickening of RT.
This is an abstract that was submitted for the 2016 ARVO Annual Meeting, held in Seattle, Wash., May 1-5, 2016.
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