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Sports-Related and Gender Differences on Neuropsychological Measures of Frontal Lobe Functioning

Ryan, Jeanne P. PhD; Atkinson, Thomas M. BA; Dunham, Katherine T. PhD

Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: January 2004 - Volume 14 - Issue 1 - p 18-24
Original Research

Objective To determine similarities and differences in the performance of female and male athletes on neuropsychological measures of frontal lobe functioning.

Design A cross-sectional study of male and female college-aged athletes involved in one of the following sports: hockey, basketball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, and track.

Setting Division III college.

Participants A total of 262 athletes (male, n = 157; female, n = 105) participated in the study.

Main Outcome Measures Controlled Oral Word Association (letters F, A, S), Cognitive Assessment System (Planned Codes, Planned Connections, Number Detection), and WAIS-R-NI Vocabulary were administered to all athletes.

Results MANCOVA was performed with gender and sport as fixed factors. Female athletes displayed faster and more accurate performance on perceptual-motor tasks (P < 0.01) and on one condition of a verbal fluency task (P < 0.01) compared with male athletes. Male hockey athletes showed superior perceptual-motor speed and accuracy (P < 0.01) compared with male athletes in the track/swimming group. Evaluators were naive to athletes’ gender and sport.

Conclusion Gender- and sport-specific performances on perceptual-motor and verbal fluency tasks were found. Adding cognitive components to base functions eliminates gender- and sports-related distinctions, suggesting that existing differences are related to basic, fundamental skills, which are inherent and practiced within the respective sport. Understanding the differences and similarities across sports and gender on various neurocognitive measures is relevant for determining group differences in studies examining the consequences of mild traumatic brain injury among athletes.

From the Psychology Department, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY (Drs. Ryan and Dunham); and Psychology Department, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (Mr. Atkinson).

Received for publication February 2003; accepted June 2003.

Reprints: Jeanne P. Ryan, PhD, Psychology Department, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, 101 Broad Street, Plattsburgh, NY 12901 (e-mail:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.