The researchers led by Anne Sereno tested the effects of non-injurious head-to-ball impacts on cognitive function using a tablet-based app.
They found that sub-concussive blows to the head may cause changes specifically linked to certain cognitive functions.
In the study, high school female football players were significantly slower than non-players on a task that required pointing away from a target on the screen, but showed no difference in performance when pointing to the on-screen visual target.
According to the study published in journal PLOS ONE, tasks that involve pointing away from a target require specific voluntary responses, whereas moving toward a target is a more reflexive response.
The app used in the research may be a quick and effective way to screen for and track cognitive changes in athletes, researchers said in a statement. They added that a tablet-based application for such quick screens may also have broader applications in the clinic or the field.
Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is considered one of the top headers of the ball. He plays as a forward for Spanish La Liga club Real Madrid.