Age and visual processing in Karate

Relating Physiology to Karate & Zen for Fighting

Grasping the big picture: Age and visual + neural processing in martial arts
by Christopher Caileis

Age, it turns out, does have a least one physical advantage over youth the ability to grasp the big picture visually.

Research has shown that older people have improved skill in tracking peripheral movement. This translates to being able to comprehend the total image of events unfolding around them better tracking movement, things and people around them. This allows them to potentially perform better in some situations.

This skill gives you an advantage in a multi-person confrontation. It can also make you more aware of potential dangers on the street since you are more aware of things around you. It also translates into an advantage in team sports such as basketball, football or hockey.

This finding came out of a research that studied the effects of aging on the human brain. Youthful college students were tested against older adults in their 60s and 70s. The study was conducted in Canada (Ontario), at McMasters University, by psychology Ph.D. students Lisa Betts and Christopher Taylor along with Profs. Allison Sekuler and Patrick Bennett. The study was published in a recent issue of Neuron (Feb. 05).

In one test they measured how quickly subjects processed information on the sideways movement of vertical bars seen on the screen of a computer. Younger subjects took less time in detecting sideways motion when the bars were small, or were low in contrast, but when the bars were large and in high contrast, older subjects performed better.

Patrick Bennet, the second senior author, noted that this indicated a difference in how signals are processed in the younger versus older brain. The difference was attributed to changes in brain chemistry (that can also make older adults perform more poorly in some tasks) possibly lower levels of y-aminobutyrate (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter used in the brain for communication (that work by inhibiting neuro-signals). The difference in brain chemistry allows younger brains to filter out clutter, or non-useful information within a field of vision. In short: as we age, brain cells have reduced capacity to inhibit each other.

As people age, noted Bennett, it is more difficult for them to concentrate on any single thing and ignore everything else. The benefit for older people, it turns out, is that they become more visually aware to everything around them.

In contrast, children and young adults have a much higher level of this neurotransmitter. This allows them to isolate something specific within a complicated field of visual objects, but at the same time it makes it harder for them to tune in to the clutter itself.

This author has observed that his two young sons are faster than he is at selecting the appropriate puzzle piece from many on the floor. They can also look at their room cluttered with toys and quickly find just what they were looking for. This is probably the same chemistry at work.

Article kindly provided by Christopher Caileis of -