College athletes in contact sports such as football and ice hockey were more likely than peers in non-contact sports to perform worse than expected on tests measuring the ability to absorb new learning, according to a study published this week in the journal Neurology. The study, by Thomas McAllister of Dartmouth College's medical school, did not find differences in test results between the two groups of athletes at the beginning of the season, suggesting that head impacts from previous seasons did not appear to diminish thinking and memory skills in contact-sport athletes.
But where just 4 percent of the athletes in non-contact sports (such as crew, track, and skiing) performed worse than expected on the test of new learning after their playing season, 22 percent of contact-sport athletes did. (Players who had suffered concussions were excluded from the study.) Concerns about cognitive impairment due to head impacts has been escalating, most notably in football and most intensely at the professional and high school levels.