Scientists have been looking for the cause of the ability to excel in athletic athletic activities for ages. Their efforts have mainly been focused on physical attributes and genetics; however, scientists have recently started to look into dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to the feelings of reward and pleasure and the ability to deal with stress.
Researchers at the University of Parma in Italy organized an experiment to determine what makes an athlete great in which they collected data from 50 professional athletes and 100 athletes who played sports everyday below the professional level. They then compared four genes among the two groups related to: muscle development, the transfer of dopamine, the regulation of cerebral serotonin and the deconstruction of neurotransmitters.
The researchers found a significant difference in only the gene related to dopamine transfer. Two types of the dopamine active transporter gene were established to be much more prevalent in the brains of the highly competitive athletes. Compared to the non professional athletes, one variant of the gene was around five times more common in the brains of elite athletes while the other variant was roughly 1.7 times more common.
These findings combined with other similar experiments have led scientists to hypothesize that such variations in the brains of elite athletes affects their ability to take more risks, resulting in their ability to achieve at higher levels in athletics. Although an ample amount of research has been conducted in this field, more tests need to be conducted in order to determine the connection between dopamine and athletic ability.
Isabella Drzala ‘19
Wylie, Robin. “Olympic Gold May Depend on the Brain’s Reward Chemical.” Scientific American, 5 Aug. 2016, www.scientificamerican.com/article/olympic-gold-may-depend-on-the-brain-s-reward-chemical/. Accessed 13 Feb. 2018.