Characteristics of the athletes' brain: Evidence from neurophysiology and neuroimaging

Hiroki Nakata*, Michiko Yoshie, Akito Miura, Kazutoshi Kudo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

163 Citations (Scopus)


We review research on athletes' brains based on data obtained using non-invasive neurophysiological and neuroimaging methods; these data pertain to cognitive processing of visual, auditory, and somatosensory (tactile) stimulation as well as to motor processing, including preparation, execution, and imagery. It has been generally accepted that athletes are faster, stronger, able to jump higher, more accurate, more efficient, more consistent, and more automatic in their sports performances than non-athletes. These claims have been substantiated by neuroscientific evidence of the mechanisms underlying the plastic adaptive changes in the neuronal circuits of the brains of athletes. Reinforced neural networks and plastic changes are induced by the acquisition and execution of compound motor skills during extensive daily physical training that requires quick stimulus discrimination, decision making, and specific attention. In addition, it is likely that the manner of neuronal modulation differs among sports. We also discuss several problems that should be addressed in future studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-211
Number of pages15
JournalBrain Research Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Mar
Externally publishedYes


  • Athlete
  • EEG
  • FMRI
  • Non-athlete
  • TMS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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