More than 460,000 student-athletes compete in 24 different sports at National Collegiate Athletic Association member institutions each year. Many of these athletes will suffer concussions, which can be particularly worrisome because of possible long-term effects. Concussions can also spell the end of an athletic career, so, how likely are these student-athletes to hide their symptoms following a head injury?
Utah State University Honors student Josh Hansen, a lifelong athletics enthusiast, is investigating factors that influence a collegiate athlete’s decision to report, or conceal, concussive symptoms.
“I was drawn to this project because of my own experiences as a high school wrestler,” says Hansen, a human biology major and aspiring physician.
The Pocatello, Idaho native is among about 30 Aggie scholars selected to present research to state legislators at 2018 Undergraduate Research Day Feb. 28, on Utah’s Capitol Hill. The annual Salt Lake City event highlights the importance of research in undergraduate education.
Working with faculty mentor Breanna Studenka, assistant professor in USU’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, Hansen secured a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) grant to study the influence of culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and gender on concussion reporting behavior among NCAA athletes. The pair crafted a carefully designed survey they distributed to more than 450 NCAA institutions. Hansen plans to publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal.
“We surmised socioeconomic status might have a significant effect, because scholarships are on the line,” Hansen says. “Yet our survey results revealed little effect.”
Neither did ethnicity, nor whether or not the athlete was part of a Division I, II or III program. Gender, however, played a significant role in reporting behavior.
“We found women were more likely to report a concussion or concussive symptoms than men,” Hansen says.
Another finding? Football players are the least likely of any athletes to report concussions.
“I think it’s the culture and the bravado of football,” Hansen says. “There are expectations among men, and football players in particular, to ‘tough it out.’”
Such findings are helpful to athletic trainers and coaches, he says, who can use the information to identify athletes most likely to hide potential concussion symptoms and protect those students from repeated concussions.
Hansen, who graduates from Utah State this spring, has been accepted to the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, where he’ll train to become a physician in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
“In first grade, I vowed I’d either become a WWE wrestler or a doctor,” he says. “I’m an empathizer and a person who likes to support others. I’m excited to pursue a profession that allows me to be a healer and to serve those who put their lives on the line.”
Research, says Hansen, is a vital component of undergraduate education.
“You can learn from books, but until you get involved in real-world learning experiences, your education isn’t really complete,” he says.