Scientists study golfers' brains to learn more about 'the zone'
The ZONE -- an altered state of being that enables us to focus so deeply on performing that our actions become almost automatic, and success comes much easier.
University of Chicago scientists are peering deep into the brains of professional golfers to find out what happens on a neurological level when they enter that elusive zone.
In a sport considered one of the biggest mind games of them all, professional golfers use their heads. Before they swing the club, they mentally plan, imagine and review their big drives, chips and putts in their heads before taking the shots.
Dr. John Milton, a University of Chicago neurologist leading the new study, believes that brain activity during this "imaging" phase is exactly the same as during the actual physical movement.
Nine top women golfers volunteered for the study. Researchers stood nearby at a video monitor measuring the golfer's brain waves (EEGs) while the golfer imagined the putt, and then took it.
Their EEGs showed tall, spiky alpha waves emanating from the brain's left side during the visualizing phase and smaller beta waves from the right side when they swung the club.
The brain's left side is where more analytic thoughts take place, and, as expected, proved to be more active when the golfers were deep in concentration.
In another part of the study, the golfers were strapped for 80 minutes into the dark, noisy tunnel of a magnetic resonance imaging machine (MRI), a brain scanner that provides multidimensional images of the brain and looks deeper into the brain than the EEG.
Golfers again visualized shots while photographs of a fairway and green were projected onto a screen.
With data from the MRI and EEGs, researchers hope to pinpoint where exactly in the brain neural activity takes place when athletes are in the zone.
Milton said he suspects it's deep within the brain's subcortex, where natural reflexes also originate. Results won't be known until after the study's next phase, when the LPGA golfers' scans will be compared with tests on amateurs to see how brains acquire and store commands that control complex movement.