Top tennis players see moving objects at high speeds

      Top tennis players like Roger Federer are simply better in certain visual perception skills than others, and they are very fast at creating an internal simulation of a ball's flight that helps position them for a winning return, suggest new studies by Swiss and British experts. An article on these studies points out that any sport that involves a moving object requires athletes to learn three levels of response for interceptive timing tasks, namely optometric reaction, perceptual reaction, and cognitive reaction. It would be an optometric reaction if a person just sees a moving object drawing near, and gets out of the way. A perceptual reaction would be when the person makes out that the object is a tennis ball, not a bird swooping out of the sky. And a cognitive reaction would mean that the person knows what is coming and has a plan of what to do with it, such as returning the ball with top-spin down the right line. The article states that this cognitive skill is usually sport-specific, and learnt over years of tactical training. However, the write-up says, one needs to have excellent optometric and perceptual skills to reach the cognitive stage. In a study, Leila Overney and her colleagues at the Brain Mind Institute of Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) carried out seven visual tests to determine whether expert tennis players have better visual perception abilities than other athletes and non-tennis players. The tests covered a wide range of perceptual functions, including motion and temporal processing, object detection and attention. Each test required the participants to push buttons based on their responses to the computer-based tasks, and each related to a particular aspect of visual perception. Detailing their findings in the journal PLOS One, Leila's team revealed that the tennis players showed significant advantages in the speed discrimination and motion detection tests, while they were no better in the other categories. "Our results suggest that speed processing and temporal processing is often faster and more accurate in tennis players," Live Science quoted Leila as having written in the study report. Telling that the tennis players even scored better than the triathletes, Leila added: "This is precisely why we added the group of triathletes as controls because they train as hard as tennis players but have lower visual processing demands in their sport." Another study by University of Bristol researcher Nadia Cerminara, published in the Journal of Physiology, suggests that years of practice may have helped tennis players create an internal cognitive model that anticipates and predicts the path of an object. During the study, some household cats were taught to reach with their paw at a moving target. If they successfully touched the target, they received a food reward. Revealing the findings of the study, Cerminara said that an internal model had been used to bridge the gap, and provide a prediction of where the object was headed.

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