Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

On the Advantage of Being Left-Handed in Volleyball: Further Evidence of the Specificity of Skilled Visual Perception

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

On the Advantage of Being Left-Handed in Volleyball: Further Evidence of the Specificity of Skilled Visual Perception

Article excerpt

Published online: 7 December 2011

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2011

Abstract High ball speeds and close distances between competitors require athletes in interactive sports to correctly anticipate an opponent's intentions in order to render appropriate reactions. Although it is considered crucial for successful performance, such skill appears impaired when athletes are confronted with a left-handed opponent, possibly because of athletes' reduced perceptual familiarity with rarely encountered left-handed actions. To test this negative perceptual frequency effect hypothesis, we invited 18 skilled and 18 novice volleyball players to predict shot directions of left- and right-handed attacks in a videobased visual anticipation task. In accordance with our predictions, and with recent reports on laterality differences in visual perception, the outcome of left-handed actions was significantly less accurately predicted than the outcome of right-handed attacks. In addition, this left-right bias was most distinct when predictions had to be based on preimpact (i.e., before hand-ball contact) kinematic cues, and skilled players were generally more affected by the opponents' handedness than were novices. The study's findings corroborate the assumption that skilled visual perception is attuned to more frequently encountered actions.

Keywords Anticipation . Perceptual expertise . Handedness . Perceptual frequency effect

Left-handed opponents present an interesting obstacle to many athletes in interactive sports. As compared with the general population (10-13%; Raymond, Pontier, Dufour, & Møller, 1996), successful left-handers are overrepresented in many interactive sports; for example, in tennis from 1968 to 1999, 34.4% of males with World Number One rankings were left-handed, despite "lefties" comprising only ~7% of players (Holtzen, 2000; see also Loffing, Schorer, & Cobley, 2010). Similar results have been noted in baseball (Goldstein & Young, 1996; Grondin, Guiard, Ivry, & Koren, 1999) and cricket (Brooks, Bussière, Jennions, & Hunt, 2004; for a review, see, e.g., Grouios, Koidou, Tsorbatzoudis, & Alexandris, 2002). One explanation for this phenomenon is the negative frequency-dependent selection hypothesis proposed by Faurie and Raymond (2005). They supposed that the superiority of left-handed athletes in interactive sports is the result of players having less experience with left-handed opponents. The lack of familiarity with the playing techniques and tactical strategies of left-handed competitors therefore disadvantage a player to act the same as when faced with a right-hander (e.g., Loffing, Hagemann, & Strauss, 2010). As a result, the inexperience of those players ultimately creates an advantage for their left-handed opponent (cf. Wood & Aggleton, 1989).

Although a left-handed action may seem to be simply a horizontally inverted version of a right-handed action, assuming that interpreting left- and right-handed actions does not involve different cognitive processes may be misleading. Neuropsychological and psychological evidence suggest that the horizontal orientation is an important part of perceiving human motion. Preliminary results in sport studies also support this notion (Hagemann, 2009; McMorris & Colenso, 1996). On a neuropsychological level, computer tomography has shown that the superior temporal sulcus (STS) is particularly active when individuals perceive human movements (Grossman et al., 2000). Electrophysiological studies using single-cell recording in the STS have revealed that this region also reacts sensitively to the orientation of posture or body movements. For example, Perrett et al. (1985) found cells in the anterior part of the STS (STSa) of a macaque monkey that react to the right-sided profile of a person moving to the right. This same cell does not fire, however, when the left-sided profile of the person moves to the left. Perrett et al. (1985) noted that the majority of cells in the STSa were selective for movement direction and the view of the body, which is specified in relation to the observer (see also Oram & Perrett, 1996). …

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