I recently read an article in LiveScience by Charles Coi (April 14) on how Navy SEALs recognize anger more quickly than the general population. Obviously, this is pretty important for their job so it makes plenty of sense.   From the article, which cited research conducted by several neuroscientists at UC San Diego:

The scientists found the insula, a region deep within the brain, activated more strongly in Navy SEALs when they saw angry faces than when compared to ordinary men.

“The insula is important for understanding your body sensations, or gut feelings” Simmons, [the neuroscientist who conducted the research], explained. “This suggests that when they see an angry face they do a ‘gut check.’ This may be because angry faces, but not fearful and happy faces, do require immediate attention for safety in combat.”

When it came to happy or fearful faces, the brains of Navy SEALs reacted more slowly than non-SEALS.

“Slower reaction time can indicate reduced attention, increased contemplation, or distracted or multiple processing,” Simmons said. “Given the SEALs’ capacity to excel in performance-related tasks, it may be most probable that they decide not to exert much effort in responding to faces that are not giving as important information.”

Does this have a connection to athletes, too? The well-trained athlete might develop neurocognitive speed in identifying other important visual cues taking place in the game, while having lower speed on cues that are irrelevant.   Was Wayne Gretzky’s insula activating more intensely giving him better anticipation?  Are good soccer forwards better able to detect at the precise time a defender is going to attempt a tackle… based in part on a facial or another body expression? 

Just thought it was interesting….