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Harder, better, faster, stronger…smarter?

[4B]CUPSmart and athletic? Well that’s not fair

Dan Leroy
The Fulcrum (University of Ottawa)

OTTAWA (CUP) — The stereotype of the dumb jock has consistently been perpetuated by mainstream media. Some people can’t help but wonder, “All these people do is skate around a rink or kick a ball, so how smart can they really be?”

According to a recent study by Jocelyn Faubert of the University of Montreal, professional athletes actually learn more quickly than the average student population.

The study showed that professional athletes get to where they are not by being big, athletic powerhouses, but by possessing high biological motion perception – or, the ability to track multiple fast-moving objects simultaneously.

Think Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby: they are not necessarily the biggest players, but their ability to anticipate the play and know where the puck is going sets them apart from the rest.

“Biological motion perception involves the visual systems’ capacity to recognize complex human movements when they are presented as a pattern of a few moving dots,” Faubert states in his study.


"If being happy makes me more efficient at school and if doing sports makes me happy, then exercise is clearly positive." – Félix Morin


In his research, Faubert happened upon a trend, which indicated that athletes tended to be quicker and become adjusted to new patterns at a faster rate than the average individual. This led Faubert to conduct a study with CogniSens Athletics, a lab that has access to professional athletes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Soccer. Faubert’s study found, with almost no ambiguity, that athletes do learn more quickly than the average university student.

This doesn’t mean that athletes are smarter than students in every way – to be smart can mean many things. Einstein was a brilliant physicist, but might not have been a 50-goal-a-year scorer in the NHL, had he laced up his skates. Some intelligence relies on quick, instantaneous learning and hyper-focus, while other intelligence requires long-term concentration and rational induction. An NHL player, though, will generally be able to focus intently for the five to eight seconds necessary to make that outstanding play nobody else could have seen.

Félix Morin, a master’s of science student at the University of Ottawa and a member of four intramural hockey leagues, said being an athlete has a positive impact on his schoolwork.

“Although [sports] takes time away from school work, I think it has a positive effect. If being happy makes me more efficient at school and if doing sports makes me happy, then exercise is clearly positive,” said Morin.

As to whether being a strong athlete on the ice makes a person a faster learner, Morin was skeptical.

“I don’t know if I am a fast learner or not,” he said, laughing. “I think I am quicker in some fields, but not as much in others.”

Faubert’s study highlighted that “professional athletes as a group have extraordinary skills for rapidly learning unpredictable, complex dynamic visual scenes that are void of any specific context.” It also found that athletes tend to learn quicker than the average student in kinetic intelligence, as well as in classroom-like settings where the athletes process random information.

Now this is no reason for us non-athletic university students to despair. Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin would probably prove quite unable to carry out scientific experiments or lead a political debate in the same way many U of O students can.

However, if they faced off against us in a test of processing multiple events in a small period of time, these two guys would most likely put us all to shame.

Photo by Arthur Ward

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