Visual cortex training: coming to a baseball team near you

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This is fun. Some neuroscience researchers at UC Riverside had the UCR Highlanders baseball team take part in an experiment aimed at sharpening the way their visual cortex processes stimuli. Specifically, they looked at patterns on cards called Gabor patches, designed to increase vision and perception. The results were dramatic. From the research abstract, published in Current Biology:

We applied this training program to the University of California Riverside (UCR) Baseball Team and assessed benefits using standard eye-charts and batting statistics. Trained players showed improved vision after training, had decreased strike-outs, and created more runs; and even accounting for maturational gains, these additional runs may have led to an additional four to five team wins. These results demonstrate real world transferable benefits of a vision-training program based on perceptual learning principles.

The study is explained more generally at the L.A. Times.

The big caveat to all of this: the measurement of how much the team improved was based on sabermetric analysis of the team’s performance compared to performance from the previous year, with researchers finding that “the Highlanders’ improvements exceeded what would be expected from simply maturing and playing additional games.” My suspicion is that variation and uncertainty in any projection/prediction of how a baseball team does — especially a college team, which has way less of a body of data behind it than big league teams — is pretty great. Maybe there was marked and significant improvement. But how much is probably extremely wide open given how inexact a science baseball projections represent compared to your average neurological research data.

Still: intriguing. If time with some pattern recognition exercises is truly effective, might time in the batting cage be cut a few minutes each day?

Bryce Harper is pandering hard to Philly fans

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Bryce Harper hadn’t even addressed his new hometown fans before his Phillies jersey started selling like hotcakes. Since then, he’s said all the expected things. Talking about joining the Phillies, he said, “From day one, it felt right … I always talk about family and being a family, being one unit, and I get that from this team. Every guy has your back and vice versa. I’m very excited to go into battle with these guys.”

Harper is continuing to pander hard to Phillies fans. Behold his latest Instagram post:

Has anyone ever really longed to see the Liberty Bell?

Harper also famously recreated that Chase Utley scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia with actor Rob McElhenney on Twitter:

In Harper’s next post, he will talk about alternating bottles of You-eng-ling beers with glasses of “wooder.” He’ll add that every so often he will treat himself to a steak sandwich with cheese on it, then go home to watch all of the movies in the Rocky series.