Subjecting Elite Athletes to Inspiratory Breathing Load Reveals Behavioral and Neural Signatures of Optimal Performers in Extreme Environments

Universidad Europea de Madrid, Spain
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 02/2012; 7(1):e29394. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029394
Source: PubMed


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.
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.
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.

Download full-text


Available from: Taru Flagan
    • "ventral medial prefrontal , and bilateral dorsal medial prefrontal ( all p ' s o0 . 05 ) . These areas of significant response are consistent with previous results using this task in healthy adults ( for e . g . , Paulus et al . , 2012 ) . Bilateral insula and bilateral amygdala response was also examined based on a priori hypotheses . Task - related mean response was significantly greater in the shape than in the face condition in the left insula only ; there were no differences between the two conditions in the right insula or bilateral amygdala ( R insula : t ( 26 "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Empathy is thought to be a mechanism underlying prosocial behavior across the lifespan, yet little is known about how levels of empathy relate to individual differences in brain functioning among older adults. In this exploratory study, we examined the neural correlates of affective and cognitive empathy in older adults. Thirty older adults (M=79 years) underwent fMRI scanning and neuropsychological testing and completed a test of affective and cognitive empathy. Brain response during processing of cognitive and emotional stimuli was measured by fMRI in a priori and task-related regions and was correlated with levels of empathy. Older adults with higher levels of affective empathy showed more deactivation in the amygdala and insula during a working memory task, whereas those with higher cognitive empathy showed greater insula activation during a response inhibition task. Our preliminary findings suggest that brain systems linked to emotional and social processing respond differently among older adults with more or less affective and cognitive empathy. That these relationships can be seen both during affective and non-emotional tasks of "cold" cognitive abilities suggests that empathy may impact social behavior through both emotional and cognitive mechanisms. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
    No preview · Article · Dec 2014 · Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging
  • Source
    • "In particular, aversive body state signals may reduce an individual's propensity to engage in risky activities such as drug use. In comparison, engaging in risky activities such as drug taking may result from attenuated insular processing of potentially aversive states, which—in turn—results in inadequate cognitive control modulation implemented by DLPFC (Paulus et al., 2009; Verdejo-Garcia & Bechara, 2009; Verdejo-Garcia et al., 2012). As of yet, however, few studies have employed interoceptive manipulations to examine neural changes as a function of stages of stimulant use. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Inability to appropriately process afferent interoceptive stimuli may contribute to initiation and/or escalation of substance use. An aversive interoceptive stimulus probed neural processing in problem stimulant users (PSU; n = 19), 18 desisted stimulant users (DSU; n = 18), and healthy comparison subjects (CTL; n = 21). Participants completed a continuous performance task while they anticipated and experienced 40 cm H2O/L/sec inspiratory breathing loads during fMRI. PSU exhibited lower left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) activation than DSU and CTL across trials. Greater lifetime drug use due to stimulants was also linked to lower activation in these regions. In addition, PSU displayed lower right IFG and insula activation during breathing load than DSU and CTL. Findings suggest that transition to stimulant use disorders is marked by weakened attentional salience of aversive stimuli.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2014 · Psychophysiology
  • Source
    • "ator of feelings of " fatigue " and " effort " ( Amann et al . 2010 ; Hilty et al . 2011 ) . Individuals who are more aware of their homeostatic condition self - regulate their energy consumption more efficiently , and highly trained ath - letes and warriors use interoceptive sensory activity to produce optimal performance ( Herbert et al . 2007 ; Paulus et al . 2010 ; 2012 ) ."
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Kurzban et al. make a convincing case against the idea that willpower is a depleting resource. However, they do not advance a positive account of willpower. Rather than treating “willpower” as a synonym of “executive function,” we argue that the term willpower should be designated for mechanisms individuals deploy to reduce dynamic inconsistency in their behavior.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2013 · Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Show more