Research Review: Visual Cognition

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Research Review: Are Baseball Players More Accustomed to Withholding a “GO” Stimulus?

It’s pretty clear that quick reaction time and processing is needed to be successful in sport, especially in baseball.

Reaction time can be defined as a reaction to a stimulus, and simple reaction time is the measure of the overall speed of the perceptual and motor systems [1].

To show how reaction time improves over an athletic career, let’s think about two different extremes: a 5-year-old and 18-year-old baseball player.

The 5-year-old baseball player has a slower reaction time due to the perceptual and motor systems. To that same child, a 40 mph fastball may perceptually seem like a 90 mph fastball (just to throw numbers out there).

As this same child is aggressively thrown into an environment where he must adapt to a quick stimulus, reaction time  will naturally be enhanced over time.

Now, the 18-year-old baseball is able to react to an 80 mph fastball because he has constantly been forced to adapt to quicker stimuli each and every competitive year of baseball.

Previous research has shown that there is no relationship between simple reaction time and offensive ability in baseball. Therefore, long-term practice in sport (in this particular research) does not improve simple reaction ability [1].

However, what I can tell you is that baseball players are great at withholding from a “GO” stimulus, otherwise known as a “No-Go”.

In this specific example, the “Go” stimulus is swinging at a strike, and the “No-Go” stimulus is withholding from swinging at a ball.


In this particular study, there were two groups: athletes and non-athletes.

Within this group of athletes, there were baseball players and tennis players. Within these baseball players, there were categories listed as highly skilled, moderately skilled, and low skilled.

The researchers wanted to determine if there was a difference between reaction time and simple reaction time with a “Go/No-Go” task. The results were pretty interesting.

Simple Reaction Time

There were NO differences between groups for simple reaction time. Within the baseball players, there was also NO significant difference between skill levels.

Say what?!

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However, when looking into the analysis even further, there WAS a difference in the “Go” reaction time task.

On average, baseball players had a greater reaction time than the non-athletes and then tennis players. This makes sense because this is what the sport is all about.

Baseball players who were highly skilled had a significantly less simple reaction time than other skill levels.

From an age difference standpoint, there WAS a difference in reaction time and age in the sport. First year baseball players had a slower reaction time when compared to the senior baseball players. This refutes the previous finding that experience in the sport does not improve simple reaction time. In this study, there was a difference in the “Go” reaction time.

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However, this study still shows that there is no difference between sport, age, and experience level and simple reaction time. The specificity in reacting to a “Go” and withholding from a “No-go” stimulus is where there will be a difference in simple reaction times.

Conclusion

I believe this study is significantly important for practice play. Since extensive baseball practice does not improve simple reaction time, it’s time to practice with a purpose.

For example, we can work on taking “active” takes in the cage. This supports the thought in the baseball community that you need to have an approach at the plate. Rather than just reacting, you have to have plate awareness and be ready to hit the pitch you are looking for.

When we are in the cage, here is what I recommend based on this study:

  • First round: work on seeing the ball all the way through the zone. Verbally say “yes” or “no” if it is a strike or not. This will further prime the nervous system for precise decision making.
  • Second round: work on hitting YOUR favorite pitch. Be ready to hit every single pitch, but if it is not your pitch, use the “active take” approach. Simply put, your lower half still reacts as if you were going to swing, but you have to withhold from swinging (a.k.a. “No-Go”
  • Third round: game situations. Start with an 0-0 count, 0-1 count, or 1-1 count. This will put the hitter in a situation where he still must react and hit the pitch he is looking for and withheld from a pitch that he does not want to hit. Obviously, this approach will change as soon as there are 2 strikes

Keep reacting,

Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS

Reference

Kida, N., Oda, S., and Matsumura, M. (2005). Intensive baseball practice improves the Go/No Go reaction time, but not the simple reaction time. Cognitive Brain Research 22, 257-264.


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