Motor skill failure or flow-experience? Functional brain asymmetry and brain connectivity in elite and amateur table tennis players

Sebastian Wolf, Ellen Brölz, Philipp M. Keune, Benjamin Wesa, Martin Hautzinger, Niels Birbaumer, Ute Strehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Functional hemispheric asymmetry is assumed to constitute one underlying neurophysiological mechanism of flow-experience and skilled psycho-motor performance in table tennis athletes. We hypothesized that when initiating motor execution during motor imagery, elite table tennis players show higher right- than left-hemispheric temporal activity and stronger right temporal-premotor than left temporal-premotor theta coherence compared to amateurs. We additionally investigated, whether less pronounced left temporal cortical activity is associated with more world rank points and more flow-experience. To this aim, electroencephalographic data were recorded in 14 experts and 15 amateur table tennis players. Subjects watched videos of an opponent serving a ball and were instructed to imagine themselves responding with a specific table tennis stroke. Alpha asymmetry scores were calculated by subtracting left from right hemispheric 8-13. Hz alpha power. 4-7. Hz theta coherence was calculated between temporal (T3/T4) and premotor (Fz) cortex. Experts showed a significantly stronger shift towards lower relative left-temporal brain activity compared to amateurs and a significantly stronger right temporal-premotor coherence than amateurs. The shift towards lower relative left-temporal brain activity in experts was associated with more flow-experience and lower relative left temporal activity was correlated with more world rank points. The present findings suggest that skilled psycho-motor performance in elite table tennis players reflect less desynchronized brain activity at the left hemisphere and more coherent brain activity between fronto-temporal and premotor oscillations at the right hemisphere. This pattern probably reflect less interference of irrelevant communication of verbal-analytical with motor-control mechanisms which implies flow-experience and predict world rank in experts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-105
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2015


  • EEG
  • Elite athletes
  • Flow-experience
  • Functional brain asymmetry
  • Psycho-motor performance
  • Table tennis
  • Theta coherence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Medicine(all)


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