Early Season to End-of-Season Comparisons of Cognitive Performance in College Football Players

Azucena Gonzalez


Previous research has shown that mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), is associated with impairments in cognition and emotional attention. In a recent study patients with mTBI utilized more attentional resources and had slower reaction times (RTs) to emotional stimuli than did non-mTBI patients. The current study obtained RTs and event-related potential (ERP) recordings to investigate whether a season of football participation might have similar effects. Participants included twelve football athletes and ten male controls. Data were recorded twice for each participant -- at the beginning of the football season and after the season had ended. Participants completed a computerized RT task, in which emotionally relevant trials required the participant to respond either to a neutral cue (e.g., flower as Go signal, spider NoGo signal) or a threat-related cue (e.g., spider as Go signal, flower NoGo signal). During irrelevant trials the participant had to respond to color cues (e.g., red or green as Go signals), regardless of the figure (e.g., spider or flower). We hypothesized that end-of-season football participants would have slower RTs for threat-related stimuli than for neutral stimuli when emotion was relevant. More attentional resources were also expected to be allocated during emotionally relevant trials for football participants than for controls. The possibility of practice effects suggested improved performance in the second test, but we expected less improvement in the football players. As expected, the control group showed a significant improvement in the neutral trials (t(9) = 3.06, p < 0.01) as well as the threat-related trials (t(9) = 2.35, p = 0.04), while football participants did not show significant improvement for either the neutral or threat-related trials. These results suggest a mild cognitive impairment in the football players. Additional ERP and behavioral analyses are underway to test our other hypotheses.


mTBI; EEG; sub-concussions

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