The summer Olympics only come around every four years, and for elite athletes vying for a spot on their national teams, failure to qualify can be crushing. Now, researchers have taken a look at how the brain deals with dashed Olympic dreams. Their findings hint at a possible explanation for why athletes who’ve suffered tough losses often have a hard time getting back on top of their game.
Not surprisingly, the swimmers rated their own videos more wrenching to watch. And their brains showed signs of their emotional pain, with heightened activity in the parahippocampus and other emotion-related areas that have been implicated in depression. (None of the swimmers had a prior history of depression). Moreover, the premotor cortex–a region that plans actions such as the arm and body movements needed to swim–seemed to be inhibited when the swimmers watched their bad race, the researchers reported here 9 April at a meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. To Davis, this suggests that bummed out athletes might perform poorly because their premotor cortex isn’t sufficiently fired up.