Sports experience changes the neural processing of action language

Sian L. Beilock, Ian M. Lyons, Andrew Mattarella-Micke, Howard C. Nusbaum, Steven L. Small

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


Experience alters behavior by producing enduring changes in the neural processes that support performance. For example, performing a specific action improves the execution of that action via changes in associated sensory and motor neural circuitry, and experience using language improves language comprehension by altering the anatomy and physiology of perisylvian neocortical brain regions. Here we provide evidence that specialized (sports) motor experience enhances action-related language understanding by recruitment of left dorsal lateral premotor cortex, a region normally devoted to higher-level action selection and implementation - even when there is no intention to perform a real action. Experience playing and watching sports has enduring effects on language understanding by changing the neural networks that subserve comprehension to incorporate areas active in performing sports skills. Without such experience, sport novices recruit lower-level sensory-motor regions, thought to support the instantiation of movement, during language processing, and activity in primary motor areas does not help comprehension. Thus, the language system is sufficiently plastic and dynamic to encompass expertise-related neural recruitment outside core language networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13269-13273
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 9 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Action planning
  • Comprehension
  • Expertise
  • Motor stimulation
  • Premotor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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