OptiBrain Consortium

San Diego, CA, United States

OptiBrain Consortium

San Diego, CA, United States
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Thom N.J.,OptiBrain Consortium | Thom N.J.,SAIC | Johnson D.C.,OptiBrain Consortium | Johnson D.C.,University of California at San Diego | And 11 more authors.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience | Year: 2014

Understanding the neural processes that characterize elite performers is a first step to develop a neuroscience model that can be used to improve performance in stressful circumstances. Adventure racers are elite athletes that operate in small teams in the context of environmental and physical extremes. In particular, awareness of team member's emotional status is critical to the team's ability to navigate high-magnitude stressors. Thus, this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study examined the hypothesis that adventure racers would show altered emotion processing in brain areas that are important for resilience and social awareness. Elite adventure racers (n = 10) were compared with healthy volunteers (n = 12) while performing a simple emotion face-processing (modified Hariri) task during fMRI. Across three types of emotional faces, adventure racers showed greater activation in right insula, left amygdala and dorsal anterior cingulate. Additionally, compared with healthy controls adventure racers showed attenuated right medial prefrontal cortex activation. These results are consistent with previous studies showing elite performers differentially activate neural substrates underlying interoception. Thus, adventure racers differentially deploy brain resources in an effort to recognize and process the internal sensations associated with emotions in others, which could be advantageous for team-based performance under stress. © The Author (2012).


Simmons A.N.,Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System | Simmons A.N.,University of California at San Diego | Fitzpatrick S.,University of California at San Diego | Fitzpatrick S.,University of Texas at Austin | And 14 more authors.
NeuroReport | Year: 2012

Individuals who perform optimally in extreme conditions, such as elite military warriors, can provide valuable insight into the neurobehavioral mechanisms underlying extraordinary performance. In the current study, we 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. Consistent with our hypothesis, SEALs showed attenuated insula activation to negative image relative to positive image anticipation and greater right anterior insula activation during affective set-shifting. These findings suggest that elite warriors show combined (a) minimal reactivity during negative stimuli and (b) an enhanced ability to efficiently change their physiological state. These neural changes may underlie their ability to perform well in stressful situations. © 2012 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.


Paulus M.P.,University of California at San Diego | Paulus M.P.,Veterans Affairs San Diego Health Care System | Flagan T.,University of California at San Diego | Simmons A.N.,University of California at San Diego | And 9 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2012

Background: It is unclear whether and how elite athletes process physiological or psychological challenges differently than healthy comparison subjects. In general, individuals optimize exercise level as it relates to differences between expected and experienced exertion, which can be conceptualized as a body prediction error. The process of computing a body prediction error involves the insular cortex, which is important for interoception, i.e. the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Thus, optimal performance may be related to efficient minimization of the body prediction error. We examined the hypothesis that elite athletes, compared to control subjects, show attenuated insular cortex activation during an aversive interoceptive challenge. Methodology/Principal Findings: Elite adventure racers (n = 10) and healthy volunteers (n = 11) performed a continuous performance task with varying degrees of a non-hypercapnic breathing load while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. The results indicate that (1) non-hypercapnic inspiratory breathing load is an aversive experience associated with a profound activation of a distributed set of brain areas including bilateral insula, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulated; (2) adventure racers relative to comparison subjects show greater accuracy on the continuous performance task during the aversive interoceptive condition; and (3) adventure racers show an attenuated right insula cortex response during and following the aversive interoceptive condition of non-hypercapnic inspiratory breathing load. Conclusions/Significance: These findings support the hypothesis that elite athletes during an aversive interoceptive condition show better performance and an attenuated insular cortex activation during the aversive experience. Interestingly, differential modulation of the right insular cortex has been found previously in elite military personnel and appears to be emerging as an important brain system for optimal performance in extreme environments. © 2012 Paulus et al.

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