Protecting College Athletes
Using Neuropsychology to Gauge Readiness to Return to Play
Sports leagues want to ensure that players return to action after suffering a concussion only when they are 100% healthy, but the leagues’ ability to determine readiness may be compromised. Amanda Rabinowitz of Pennsylvania State University will use her APF Benton Meier Scholarship to improve assessment so that players do not return before they are ready and suffer the possibility of serious, often permanent damage.
Teams gauge readiness by comparing the athlete’s baseline testing to post-concussion testing; however baseline tests may not provide an accurate portrayal of the athlete’s cognitive skills. Many athletes are less engaged in baseline testing than in post-concussion testing and do not exhibit the same motivation they have after an injury. Athletes are often highly motivated to return-to-play after suffering a concussion, and they are eager to demonstrate to the assessor that they are functioning well. Rabinowitz plans to study in-the-moment fluctuations in the emotional, cognitive, and physical state of college athletes pre-injury to better gauge the athletes’ motivation during baseline testing so that comparisons to post-concussion testing are more accurate.
Theoretically, Rabinowitz’s project promises to expand the understanding of motivational influences on cognitive performance. Clinically, her research has the potential to provide assessors with a tool for increasing the validity of sports-related concussion diagnosis and management—a critically important issue, considering potentially catastrophic outcomes associated with these injuries.