Do Athletes See Space Differently?

Document Type

Poster Session

Publication Date


Published In

Journal Of Vision


Many varsity athletes participate in sports for which there are standardized dimensions with which they are familiar. In baseball, the distance to first base is 90 feet (27 m). In basketball, the rim of the basket is 10 feet above the court. We compared varsity athletes with other students using distance and height estimation tasks, perceptual matching tasks and action tasks (walking and throwing). Unsurprisingly, all participants were fairly well calibrated for throwing and for walking to targets 7.5 m away. Athletes were less variable, as a group, in their walking performance than non-athletes, F(22, 25) = 2.42, p = .0173, (COVs of 7% and 16%), but both groups were similar in throwing performance (COVs of 9% and 11%). Variability seemed to be in performance, not perception: There was no correlation between walking and throwing performance in either group, nor was either action measure correlated with verbal estimates. Our varsity athletes were more likely to be familiar with common sport dimensions (even for sports they did not play), and were much more accurate at estimating our far distances (e.g., averaging 12.1 m estimates for a distance of 12.5 m) than were other students (9.9 m), t(47) = 2.09, p = .045. Estimates of height, however, were similarly accurate for the two groups; most people reported using units of human height for comparison. Crucially, when engaged in a perceptual matching task -- matching their egocentric distance from a pole to the vertical extent of the pole -- athletes performed nearly identically to non-athletes (e.g., both groups judged an egocentric distance of 31 m to be equal to the height of a 20 m pole). It appears that the perceptual experiences of distance for the two groups did not differ, but that the varsity athletes were much better calibrated at verbally estimating longer distances.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2012.


Vision Sciences Society Twelfth Annual Meeting

Conference Dates

May 11-16, 2012

Conference Location

Naples, FL