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Save head, slow down brain

Keeping a cool head may have real advantages for batsmen at the crease, according to new research among cricketers.

This found a measurable improvement in reaction times and vigilance when they did not wear protective helmets.

Researchers believe that the difference in performance may be linked to an overheating of the brain in players batting in helmets — possibly similar to the effects on people over-using mobile phones.

Dr Nick Neave, of the human cognitive neuroscience unit at Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, said his study showed that “in young adults, in a mild climate, some aspects of cognition are affected by wearing a non-vented protective helmet following exercise”.

Dr Neave and his colleagues now want to test their results with adult cricketers to see if experience overrides the slight detrimental effect of wearing a helmet.

He speculates that New Zealand cricketers who wear vented helmets and keep cool heads may have some advantage. The researchers plan tests that will compare vented with non-vented helmets in windy and still conditions.

Dr Neave will tell the annual conference of the British Psychological Society, which opens in London today, that his team tested 16 cricketers, aged 13 to 17, who were members of Durham County Cricket Club.

The boys — half wearing standard helmets — batted in the nets with a bowling machine and underwent a computer test for mental abilities, including vigilance, reaction times and attentiveness.

The study showed that getting hot alone had no effect on the physical abilities of the young cricketers or on their mental abilities to perform very simple mental tasks.

But when they were asked to perform more complex tasks, involving making choices, their reaction times fell.

One measurement showed a 16 millisecond deficit in helmet-wearing boys.

However, Dr Neave stressed: “We want to emphasise that cricketers should not disregard safety. Getting run out may be preferable to brain damage.”

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