Cognitive Flexibility in Elite Forces

Research Paper Title

Altered Insula Activation in Anticipation of Changing Emotional States: Neural Mechanisms Underlying Cognitive Flexibility in Special Operations Forces Personnel.

Background

Individuals who perform optimally in extreme conditions, such as elite military warriors, can provide valuable insight into the neurobehavioral mechanisms underlying extraordinary performance.

Methods

In this current study, the researchers examined the degree to which Navy SEALs, when compared with healthy volunteers, could show more right anterior insula activation when shifting from anticipating one emotion to another during functional MRI.

Results

Consistent with their hypothesis, SEALs showed attenuated insula activation to negative image relative to positive image anticipation and greater right anterior insula activation during affective set-shifting.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that elite warriors show combined:

  1. Minimal reactivity during negative stimuli; and
  2. An enhanced ability to efficiently change their physiological state.

These neural changes may underlie their ability to perform well in stressful situations.

Reference

Simmons, A.N., Fitzpatrick, S., Strigo, I.A, Potterat, E.G., Johnson, D.C., Matthews, S.C., Orden, K.F., Swain, J.L. & Paulus, M.P. (2012) Altered Insula Activation in Anticipation of Changing Emotional States: Neural Mechanisms Underlying Cognitive Flexibility in Special Operations Forces Personnel. Neuroreport. 23(4), pp.234-239.

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