How Skill Expertise Shapes the Brain Functional Architecture: An fMRI Study of Visuo-Spatial and Motor Processing in Professional Racing-Car and Naive Drivers

Giulio Bernardi, Emiliano Ricciardi, Lorenzo Sani, Anna Gaglianese, Alessandra Papasogli, Riccardo Ceccarelli, Ferdinando Franzoni, Fabio Galetta, Gino Santoro, Rainer Goebel, Pietro Pietrini*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Web of Science)

Abstract

The present study was designed to investigate the brain functional architecture that subserves visuo-spatial and motor processing in highly skilled individuals. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we measured brain activity while eleven Formula racing-car drivers and eleven naive' volunteers performed a motor reaction and a visuo-spatial task. Tasks were set at a relatively low level of difficulty such to ensure a similar performance in the two groups and thus avoid any potential confounding effects on brain activity due to discrepancies in task execution. The brain functional organization was analyzed in terms of regional brain response, inter-regional interactions and blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal variability. While performance levels were equal in the two groups, as compared to nave drivers, professional drivers showed a smaller volume recruitment of task-related regions, stronger connections among task-related areas, and an increased information integration as reflected by a higher signal temporal variability. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that, as compared to nave subjects, the brain functional architecture sustaining visuo-motor processing in professional racing-car drivers, trained to perform at the highest levels under extremely demanding conditions, undergoes both 'quantitative' and 'qualitative' modifications that are evident even when the brain is engaged in relatively simple, non-demanding tasks. These results provide novel evidence in favor of an increased 'neural efficiency' in the brain of highly skilled individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere77764
JournalPLOS ONE
Volume8
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2013

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