Every football fan knows that goalkeepers play a unique role in their team.
But according to a new study, their brains could also function differently than those of field players.
Scientists present some of the “first solid scientific evidence” that zookeepers exhibit “fundamental” differences in the way they perceive the world.
This can help them make quick decisions based on “limited or incomplete sensory information” and potentially mean the difference between conceding a goal and receiving one.
Goalkeepers known for their quick reaction times who could benefit from this include David Seaman, formerly of Arsenal and England, Brazil Alisson (Liverpool) and the German Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich).
Goalkeepers known for their quick reactions include David Seaman, formerly of Arsenal and England, pictured here during Euro 1996 in London
In the game of soccer, goalkeepers must be prepared to make split-second decisions based on incomplete information in order to prevent their opponent from scoring a goal. Now researchers have some of the first solid scientific evidence that goalkeepers exhibit fundamental differences in the way they perceive the world and process multisensory information. Pictured: Alisson Becker from Liverpool
The new study was led by Michael Quinn, a goalkeeping coach and psychology graduate from Dublin City University.
He is also a retired professional goalkeeper and the son of former Irish international Niall Quinn, who played as a striker for Sunderland and Manchester City in the Premier League.
“Unlike other soccer players, goalkeepers must make thousands of very quick decisions based on limited or incomplete sensory information,” said Michael Quinn.
“This led us to predict that goalkeepers would have an enhanced ability to combine information from the different senses, and this hypothesis was confirmed by our results.”
For the study, Mr. Quinn and his colleagues recruited 60 volunteers, including professional goalkeepers, professional outfield players and others with no professional soccer experience.
Participants had to complete a test in which they had to indicate whether they could see one or two flashing images on a computer screen.
But to make matters even more difficult, these visual stimuli were accompanied by a certain number of beeps – one, two or no beeps – intentionally impairing judgment.
For example, one flash and two beeps generally lead to the false perception of two flashes – which just shows how many auditory and visual stimuli are integrated in the human brain.
The thing is that this misperception decreases as the time between the two types of stimuli increases.
Goalkeepers in particular have an advantage if they keep this period of time – the so-called “temporal binding window” – very short.
Pictured is retired professional goalkeeper and studies author Michael Quinn while playing for League of Ireland club Cabinteely
Participants had to complete a test in which they had to indicate whether they could see one or two flashing images on a computer screen. Here, one flash and two beeps (top row) was incorrectly perceived as two flashes and two beeps
For each participant, the researchers measured the width of their temporal binding window based on their performance on the computer task.
A narrower temporal binding window suggested more efficient multisensory processing – in other words, the ability to separate the auditory stimuli from the visual stimuli and make sense of both.
Overall, their tests showed that goalkeepers showed significant differences in their multisensory processing abilities.
Specifically, goalkeepers had shorter temporal binding windows compared to outfielders and nonplayers, suggesting that the goalkeepers were better at discriminating the two types of signals.
“We suspect that these differences are due to the peculiarity of the goalkeeper position, which places a high value on the ability of goalkeepers to make quick decisions, which are often based on partial or incomplete sensory information,” the researchers write.
They speculate that goalkeepers make quick decisions based on visual and auditory information received at different times.
For example, a goalkeeper can hear the ball being shot, but cannot see it if it is obscured by bodies.
“We suspect that goalkeepers often use information from just one sense to guide their judgment,” the study’s lead researcher David McGovern, also from Dublin City University, told MailOnline.
Researchers found that the goalkeepers had shorter time commitment windows compared to outfielders and non-players
“Depending on the context, this can involve the use of purely visual or only auditory information.”
“Repeated exposure to such environments causes goalies to adopt a strategy of segregating or separating information, while outfielders may find it more beneficial to integrate that information.”
It’s possible that people who are equipped with these shorter time windows from childhood go on to become the most talented goalkeepers.
Alternatively, after much goalkeeping experience, people may begin to process sensory signals separately rather than combining them.
“Could the narrower time commitment window observed for goalkeepers be due to the rigorous training programs that goalkeepers undertake from a young age?” said David McGovern.
“Or could it be that these differences in multisensory processing reflect an inherent, natural ability that attracts young players to the goalkeeper position?
“Further research tracking the developmental trajectory of aspiring goalkeepers will be needed to discern between these possibilities.”
The new study was published in Current Biology.
Moonchester United! Scientists claim the moon could host its first competitive football game by 2035
It’s the most popular sport in the world – but could football soon expand its reach to another planetary body?
Experts at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) have torn up the rulebook and revealed a wild plan for what football could look like on the moon – with 90-minute games and traditional kits a thing of the past.
They believe the game could be played on the lunar surface as early as 2035, although it could look very different than a game here on Earth.