August 19, 2019

What is high cognitive performance or “peak brain performance”?

More and more people wish to improve their academic or professional performance by training their cognitive capabilities. This means improving cognitive functioning until each person’s optimal. Do you know what cognitive performance is and how it can be trained? This post will provide more information on high cognitive performance and the most frequent techniques employed to achieve it.

What is high cognitive performance or “peak brain performance”?

High cognitive performance or “peak brain performance“ refers to the achievement of optimal and effective functioning of cognitive capabilities and executive functions. Work concentrates on the capabilities that are preserved from any alterations, aiming at achieving optimal performance for each person.

People who wish to perfect and further refine the results obtained at cognitive level improve, for example, memory, processing speed, and decision-making. These capabilities are boosted to optimal levels, better adjusting to the high demands of the current labor market.

It is well-known that in some professional contexts, such as top-class sports, training of athletes extends further than the improvement of physical conditions only, and that is where cognitive performance appears as an important factor for success. But, how can this aspect be trained by an athlete? There are currently several ways of exercising mental capabilities from a cognitive psychology aspect, and cognitive stimulation has been in the spotlight recently.

What is cognitive stimulation?

Cognitive stimulation can be understood as the set of techniques and strategies focused on efficacy and boosting of cognitive capabilities through activities that produce changes in the brain. High-quality, specific cognitive stimulation customized to each person can improve the performance of capabilities such as working memory, attention, concentration, etc. Therefore, seeking for the help of professionals is very important to increase the chances of success of any cognitive intervention.

Achievement of high cognitive performance must fundamentally include, besides cognitive stimulation, specific complementary activities and exercises. These complement stimulation to improve physical and cognitive well-being and therefore help maintain good health, along with a healthy, balanced diet, regular practice of physical exercise, and good resting. All these aspects, in combination with good cognitive stimulation, will favor the development and strengthening of cognitive functions.

What is brain plasticity?

Brain plasticity or neuroplasticity refers to the capability of the nervous system to adapt to surrounding demands. The nervous system, after completely formed, can regenerate its structure and functionality, reorganizing and restructuring thanks to the formation of new synaptic connections. The increase in the number and consolidation of these connections improves general brain functionality. Also, due to better communication, neurons can achieve faster and more effective transmission of information, which yields better cognitive performance.

Although initially it might seem that all brains are similar, because they share a common basic structure, no two brains are the same. The personal experiences of each person, and how we address the demands of the surroundings influence brain plasticity, enabling us to adapt to situations and the changes frequently experienced. Learning and cognitive learning processes are strongly connected with neuroplasticity, which defines personal identity.

What populations can benefit from training to achieve high cognitive performance? 

More and more people are interested in mental healthcare and include cognitive training as part of their routines. The objective is usually to improve quality of life through the achievement of adequate cognitive wellbeing, either preventing age-related cognitive decline or recovering from a pathology that caused cognitive deterioration. There are even very exigent people that wish to achieve high work or school performances.

The population that can benefit from training to achieve high cognitive performance (“peak performance”) is very broad, from students who seek high academic performance to top-level athletes, executives, or armed forces, among others.

  • Students

Some of the people that work on mental capabilities to achieve the expected results include senior students (last years of high school) that wish to achieve high grades and guarantee access to a specific university, graduate students that wish to maintain good academic levels or compete for a scholarship, or professionals that wish to secure a civil servant position.

More and more young adults become conscious of the importance of good preparation at the time of entering the labor market, and once employed, maintaining good work levels to achieve good results. These young professionals are motivated to search for all possible ways to improve their cognitive performance.

  • Executives

Executives are submitted to high, exigent work demands and must deal with the management of multiple tasks at the same time. Besides, they are continuously exposed to different stimuli that compete for their attention and have the capability of managing their resources to reach adequate answers.

Recently, many companies and organizations are including cognitive training tools among their activities, with the purpose of boosting the mental capabilities of the employees, along with the promotion of the benefits of physical exercise. Motivation and satisfaction levels are increased, creating a very healthy working environment and improving productivity results.

ejecutivos que han entrenado el cerebro con neurofeedback moderno o estimulacion cognitiva de alto rendimiento

  • Top-level athletes

 

Some occupations require important decisions to be made in just a few seconds, sustaining attention during long periods of time, or react immediately. Also, precise actions could be required that entail high risks, along with stringent deadlines to be met, while controlling high levels of stress.

Good mental training is fundamental to maintain cognitive capabilities and executive functions at high levels. Improvement of attention, concentration, processing speed, fast decision-making, critical reasoning, etc. are important aspects of these type of occupations.

High-performance sports have a long history dedicated to the training of physical, mental and emotional aspects jointly, which help achieve good results in sports. Physical exercise, a good diet, adequate resting times, and mental and emotional training are some of the aspects involved.

Cognitive function training works on attention and concentration, focus, and processing speed. These capabilities can influence, for example, on shorter reaction times or more precise throws. Besides, it can also help manage the stress or pressure to which athletes are submitted during specific times of a competition.

  • Security forces (e.g., police officers, firemen, military, etc.)

Some occupations require important decisions to be made in just a few seconds, sustaining attention during long periods of time, or react immediately. Also, precise actions could be required that entail high risks, along with stringent deadlines to be met, while controlling high levels of stress.

Good mental training is fundamental to maintain cognitive capabilities and executive functions at high levels. Improvement of attention, concentration, processing speed, fast decision-making, critical reasoning, etc. are important aspects of these type of occupations.

pilotos y fuerzas armadas que han entrenado el cerebro con neurofeedback moderno o estimulacion cognitiva de alto rendimiento

  • Other profiles (e.g., judges, lawyers, journalists, etc)

Processing the information obtained from different sources is many times a difficult task and we can lose important details that could have made a difference. Or it can be the case that we have a great amount of information to analyze and organize to make a decision.

Occasionally professionals are overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to take into account, and sometimes, such information is contradictory. Therefore, good mental functions help tolerate these demands and finish the work.

What cognitive capabilities can be trained?

High cognitive performance can be attained by training a wide range of abilities or strengthening specific ones that, in function of our needs, are more interesting. Some of these cognitive functions are:

  • Attention: capacity of generating, selecting, directing and maintaining an adequate activation level to process relevant information.

  • Reasoning: capacity of solving problems, extract conclusions, and learn consciously from events, in such a way that we can establish causal and logical relationships.

  • Processing speed: capacity that establishes the relationship between cognitive execution and invested time. Enables processing information in a fast and automatic manner

  • Perception: codes and coordinates different elementary sensations to provide them with meaning.

infografia de las capacidades cognitivas que pueden entrenanrse con estimulacion cognitiva de alto rendimiento

What cognitive training exercises can be employed? 

Let’s see some of the most frequently employed activities and exercises for cognitive stimulation to achieve high cognitive performance (peak brain performance). 

Firstly, there are workbooks with cognitive stimulation exercises, which are very useful to work on executive functions and cognitive capabilities such as memory, attention, orientation, reasoning, problem-solving, etc. Some of these workbooks can be downloaded for free from the internet, such as Esteve’s exercise workbooks for cognitive stimulation and the Exercise workbooks for cognitive stimulation and memory reinforcement from Consorci Sanitari Integral (CSI). Other workbooks can be purchased at bookstores or from the internet, such as Rubio’s cognitive stimulation workbooks.

Another cognitive stimulation activity includes well-known brain training games. These applications, available for smartphones, computers, and tablets, present the advantage of being used anywhere, anytime. Some of these training games are Lumosity, Elevate brain Training, NeuroNation, Fit Brains Trainer, Peak among others. Although these are widely employed as brain training strategies, there is controversial debate on the transference of learnings to cognitively closer tasks and to daily life activities.

Neurotechnology is another cognitive training technique that also utilizes exercises to improve the cognitive system. The Elevvo device, developed by the Spanish neurotechnology company Bitbrain is a scientifically validated example. This technology is adapted to medical contexts, wellness and older adult contexts, and for high performance environments.

The Elevvo technology utilizes modern neurofeedback procedures that register and analyze the brain signals of each person to individualize and adapt the training. With this procedure, neuroplastic changes are achieved in brain areas related to cognitive performance: sustained attention, working memory and processing speed. From a cognitive point of view, the results described by scientific publications report improvements between 10% and 30% in these capabilities. The Elevvo High Performance programs are applied by professionals and are designed under strict scientific standards, which is crucial to achieve the proposed improvements. It is important to highlight that the interventions include cognitive and neurophysiological tests that enable pre- and post- training monitoring to observe the cognitive progress and changes at brain levels (these changes in brain plasticity are the neurobiological support of cognitive performance).

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High work-related demands force our brains to perform to our maximum possibilities and utilize all the information processed cognitively, improving reaction times, decision-making, and concentration. For such, training different cognitive abilities is important and there are increasingly new strategies and technologies that offer this option, enabling its integration and complementarity with other methods to strengthen different facets of each person. This is having an important impact on the daily life and work