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Scientists Use Sports to Study the Brain

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Researchers look into the brains of avid basketball fans as they watch the games, allowing MRI scans to measure that element of surprise.

Those exciting, nerve-wracking instances in sports are linked to the element of surprise. Suspense heightens that feeling of anticipation and the sudden, unexpected outcome produces that quick thud in the psyche.

James Antony, a neuroscientist based in Princeton University, opts to look into these momentous instances in sports to analyze the workings of the human brain—and study how we process that element of surprise. “We’re trying to figure out how people update their understanding of things that are occurring in the real world, based on how events unfold over time — how they set up these contextually-based predictions, and what happens when those are confirmed or contradicted,” asserts Antony, citing the different processes involved as the human brain reacts to unexpected events that happen in sports.

Antony’s team observed 20 basketball fans as they avidly concentrated on the last 5 minutes of the 9 games from the men’s NCAA March Madness tournament in 2012. While the participants were watching the games, a specialized camera was tracking their corresponding eye movements. At the same time, MRI scans were measuring their neural activities. The researchers opted for basketball because the frequency of the scoring allowed them more moments to witness the element of surprise crucial to the subject at hand.

“This study has both theoretical significance, in terms of testing and refining models of how surprise affects the brain and behavior, and also popular science appeal. Sporting events like the NCAA tournament are both incredibly compelling and also hyper-quantifiable — you can assess, moment-by-moment, exactly how probable an outcome will be, given what happened in previous games — making them an ideal domain for studying how cognitive processes like memory, event understanding and emotional responses work in the real world. James’ paper is the first to unlock the potential of this approach,” points out Ken Norman, the Huo Professor in Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience and the chair of the Department of Psychology who is also the senior author of the publication.

During the unexpected moments of the said games—last minute maneuvers and key turnovers, most participants exhibited fast pupil dilation plus various shifts in different areas of the brain including the prefrontal cortex. “There’s a lot of nuance — it’s not like ‘Surprise is surprise is surprise is surprise,’” shares Antony, mentioning that the element of surprise provides various effects in the different systems of the brain.

“As a field, we’ve been eager to see whether the principles that we’ve come up with — based on these very simplified scenarios — apply in real life. The challenge is that in real life, it’s hard to pinpoint the moment when the surprise occurs, or how big the surprise was. Sports let us precisely quantify surprise in a real-world setting, giving us the perfect opportunity to see whether these ideas about surprise generalize outside of the lab,” Norman explains, adding that the element of surprise can only be relevantly quantified when doing actual observations outside of the controlled atmosphere of the academic laboratory.

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The 2020 Sports Year Amid the Onslaught of COVID-19

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January seemed a premonition for what was to come to the whole 2020 sports year as its first day saw the Nashville Predators playing the Dallas Stars outdoors during the NHL Winter Classic in Texas.  On 13 January at the College Football Playoff National Championship games, Joe Burrow made a name for himself as he successfully accomplished a total of six (6) touchdowns. Several managers including AJ Hinch of the Houston Astros, Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets, and Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox got fired, as well, when a report for the MLB confirmed that they cheated.

One of the most unforgettable events this year was the untimely demise of Kobe Bryant. On 26 January, Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, along with several others were riding a helicopter bound for the Mamba Sports Academy. The world went on a standstill when news went out, informing every one of the unexpected crash of the helicopter in the Calabasas hills of California. Bryant and all his companions died.

February witnessed Sofia Kenin winning the Australian Open, defeating Garbine Muguruza and becoming America’s youngest woman to grab a Grand Slam in the said event since 2002’s victory of Serena Williams.

March was a tumultuous month for the 2020 sports year as many stadiums all over the world were temporarily converted into field testing sites and hospitals for coronavirus patients. The global first wave of infections occurred, forcing other sports arenas and similar areas to act as transient morgues and shelters for the homeless, as well.

The NBA opted to shut down during this period which, then, became a precursor for all other sports to cancel and suspend their event schedules. Another huge blow to all the different sports was the necessity to halt the already planned 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics as more and more countries had to collectively initiate massive lockdowns to stop COVID-19 transmission.

May saw a comeback of UFC as three (3) of its events pushed through. UFC 249 had to be moved and postponed several times before it was agreed to be hosted by the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

As the 2020 sports year moved on, despite the necessity to change, cancel, and postpone schedules, June witnessed NASCAR banning Confederate flags in the different race tracks due to Bubba Wallace’s urging. After eleven (11) days, however, hundreds of vehicles carrying various flags protested the decision as they paraded at Talladega Speedway’s entrance. NASCAR, however, backed Wallace but his trip to the Speedway ended in a massive display of unity and strength among the participants.

The end of the 2020 sports year is nearly approaching. The start of December saw a midweek game of the NFL. Due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Baltimore Ravens, their Thanksgiving event versus the Pittsburgh Steelers had to be done on a Wednesday. This was the second time that the NFL had a Wednesday game since 1949. The NBA is back, as well, as some of the Association’s familiar faces join the fray.

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Lionel Messi Decides Barcelona’s Future This Coming Summer

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Barcelona’s legendary star, Lionel Messi, shares that he will decide his next career move in summer. Messi nearly departed the Nou Camp after he successfully submitted a request transfer in summer. However, he opted to remain at the club. Josep Maria Bortomeu pointed out that Messi had to pay the €700 million release clause before he would be given the right to do so. Bortomeu’s words were said during an interview, alerting Manchester City as they were involved in Messi’s decision to either stay or move on.

“Nothing will be crystal clear before the end of the year. I’ll wait until the season is over.  What matters now is thinking about the team, finishing the year well and not being distracted by other things, shared Lionel Messi. “I don’t know what will happen. I’m focused on what we have here and battling for whatever we can. “I’m not thinking about how the year will end. As of today, it wouldn’t be wise for me to say what I’m going to do because I don’t know,” he continued.

While Messi declined to speak further about his next career move, he spoke fondly of his close friendship with Paris Saint-Germain’s forward, Neymar, as he mentioned that he would also want to have a chance to join the Major League Soccer (MLS) games. “I’ve always had the dream of playing in another league, in the United States,” Messi explained. “Maybe it will happen, doesn’t have to be right away. Today I am just focused on these next six months.”

He went on to speak of a possible Barcelona reunion with his friend Neymar. “It’ll be difficult to bring in players because the funds aren’t there. We’ll have to bring in plenty of top players to get us competing on all fronts again and they come at a price. Neymar would be extremely expensive. How would the club pay PSG for the transfer (of Neymar)? The situation will be tough for the new president, who will have to be intelligent and get everything in order. Changes will be needed for him to do well,” Lionel Messi speculated. “I don’t know if Neymar said that (that the two would play together next year). You’d have to ask him about what he said. We do chat sometimes and we are in touch,” he added.

Speaking of Luis Suarez, Messi also shared how he felt about Barcelona selling the striker to Athletico Madrid despite the fact that the club was one of their biggest rivals. “What they did seemed crazy to me, because of how he left. He left for free, paying him his contract and a team that fights for the same thing as us,” Messi lamented.

Although Lionel Messi plans to make his future career decisions at the end of this season, fans are still glad to have him around. Surely, wherever he decides to go and whatever options he chooses to go with, he will still be one of the main Barcelona star players for many of his avid fans.

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From Sand to Ice: World’s Most Beautiful Horse Race Courses

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Meydan, Dubai

Dubai is known to be a luxurious place where only the richest of the rich can afford. It is no wonder that Dubai also houses one of the most prestigious racecourses in the world! Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse is located beside the first five-star hotel in the area alongside a museum and several high-end restaurants. The grandstand boasts of an impressive mile-long track that can host more than 60,000 spectators. Did I mention that it also boasts of a rooftop infinity pool?

Dubai is known to host one of the most prestigious racehorses globally, the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup.

St., Moritz, Switzerland

Switzerland is home to one of the best ski resorts in the world. It is a perfect and scenic spot for winter sport with the alps and its majestically cold weather. And yes, maybe including horse racing. The White Turf Event is one of the most anticipated horse racing events for three long days each year. It is not your typical horse racing event. Since racers are required to race through in freezing weather, special equipment and paraphernalia are needed to ensure that both the rider and the horse are safe as they race through the majestic backdrop of the Engadin mountains in icy lakes. This spectacular event draws more than 30,000 spectators to witness this exciting horse race.

Flemington Racecourse, Australia

Australia is known to have wild, flamboyant colors and exciting culture. This is why this reflects in the Flemington racecourse, which is probably one of the world’s oldest racecourses. The renovated venue reflects Australia’s rich culture through its loud colors that mimic the vibrant energy that Australia brings. Filled with bright oranges, reds, yellows, and greens, the racecourse is a sight to see!

Piazza del Campo, Italy

Italy is known to be one of the most famous tourist spots in the world with its majestic architectural wonders and rich history. Piazza del Campo is simply no exception to the majesty that Italy brings. The Palio di Siena horse race hosts two events every year, and the place is so rich with history that the place dates back to ancient medieval times when buffalos were used to race instead of horses! Some critics have dubbed the Palio di Siena horse race track as one of the most challenging and difficult horse race track courses globally.

Happy Valley, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is known for shopping and its famous skyscrapers and home to a rather spectacular racecourse called the Happy Valley racecourse. It is located right smack in the center with remarkable buildings and architectural wonders surrounding the racecourse. It can host more than 50,000 spectators and have lots of fun activities such as a beer garden, live music, and entertainment between races.

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