The study by Brunel University London and Leuven Belgium University found that elite referees have a greater tendency to predict and watch contact zones between players. The university took 20 elite referees and 19 experienced and had them watch clips of games, using eye tracking technology the researchers could see where the referees focused on and for how long, ‘visual search behaviour’. Elite referees were right on how to handle a foul 61% of the time compared against the experienced referees who were right 45% of the time while watching video clips.
The researchers suggest the years of experience of an elite referee allow him/her to anticipate where the areas of contact between players may occur and focus on them efficiently, they already recognise where a problem may happen and have made sure they are in the right place at the right time to see it before the potential foul even occurs. Experienced referees have not yet fully developed their ability to predict contact zones to the same level and are therefore more distracted by other things on the pitch.
The study was published in the Journal of Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications