In the News

Psychology In The News | The Art of the Assist

Rosey Gardiner-Earl

27th May 2024

In the fast-paced world of football, split-second decisions can make or break a game. Knowing when to pass the ball and when to hold back requires a combination of perceptual and cognitive abilities that separates elite players from the rest. A recent study has shed light on this topic, revealing that highly skilled footballers possess a unique ability to inhibit motion, a skill that may contribute to their success on the pitch.

The study, conducted in Japan, compared the performance of three groups of 7 participants: highly skilled amateur university players, low-skilled amateur players, and novice footballers who had never played football. Participants were fitted with electrodes to measure brain activity while completing two tasks. The first task involved reacting to visual cues (a white circle or a red circle) by pressing a foot switch as quickly as possible when shown the red circle (see Figure A) while the second "pass choice" task aimed to mimic real-life passing decisions on the field (see Figure B).

The results demonstrated that the highly skilled players react faster overall, but they also exhibited less variability in their reaction times compared to the low-skilled and novice groups. Furthermore, in the "pass choice" task, the skilled players demonstrated stronger neural inhibition when the correct decision was not to pass the ball.

This ability to suppress undesirable physical actions appears to be a characteristic of skilled footballers. The researchers noted a correlation between faster reaction times to "go" signals and stronger inhibition of movement when withholding a pass was appropriate. Interestingly, this enhanced inhibitory control was particularly evident in the more demanding "pass choice" task, suggesting that it plays a crucial role in navigating the complex decision-making required on the football pitch.

The findings offer intriguing insights into the neural mechanisms that underlie superior passing skills. If replicated and expanded upon, these results could pave the way for training programs aimed at strengthening the neural inhibition of undesirable actions, potentially helping footballers improve their passing abilities and overall game performance.


  1. Outline one limitation of the sample used in the above investigation
  2. Suggest a modification to this study in order to overcome the limitation you have outlined above
  3. The researchers used Event Related Potentials (ERP) as a method to measure the participants’ neural inhibition. Outline how an ERP is used to measure brain activity.
  4. Evaluate the use of Event Related Potentials to investigate brain activity

Challenge: how could the findings of this research be implemented practically?

Reference: (accessed 15.5.24)

Download this teaching activity!

Rosey Gardiner-Earl

Rosey has 15 years of experience teaching Psychology and has worked as both a Subject and Senior Leader in school and large sixth form setting. Rosey is also an experienced A level Psychology examiner.

© 2002-2024 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.