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'Peak experiences' accompany high brain integration in world-class performers
by Harald S Harung and Frederick Travis
Cognitive Processing Translate This Article
18 June 2012
A series of four studies by American and Norwegian researchers—the most recent of which was published in May in Cognitive Processing—looked at the characteristics of world-class athletes, virtuoso musicians, and top-level managers. In addition to high levels of brain integration, measured by EEG, the top performers also had particular subjective 'peak experiences' while performing at their very best.
See Parts I and II of this news release:
∙ Research breakthrough: High brain integration underlies winning performances
∙ Brain Integration Scale: Delineating the qualities of world-class performance.
The release continues:
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The researchers found it's not just that their brains function differently; the world-class performers also had particular subjective experiences that were associated with their top performances.
Called peak experiences, these experiences are characterized by happiness, inner calm, maximum wakefulness, effortlessness and ease of functioning, absence of fear, transcendence of ordinary time and space, and a sense of perfection and even invincibility.
The first study was done on world-class athletes selected by the National Olympic Training Center in Norway and the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. Besides screening athletes' brains using EEG, each athlete was interviewed about their experiences while performing at their very best. The result was a wide range of peak experiences.
Former cross-country skier Thomas Alsgaard, who won 11 gold medals in Olympic Games and World Championships, said:
''The senses are so open that you have the ability to receive signals that are almost scary: In a way it is a 'high.' I receive an unbelievable amount of information. Much, much more—10-20 times more information—than what I manage to take in if I sit down and concentrate and try to perceive things. But I am so relaxed. And the more relaxed I am, the more information I register.''
Another athlete who participated in the research is the Norwegian handball keeper, Heidi Tjugum, who was part of the Norwegian national team that won one World Championship, one European Championship, two European Cups and a number of silver and bronze medals. She says:
''Sometimes I have felt that I am an observer—I just watch what happens. This is a good feeling. It is a very beautiful feeling; it is not that I feel I don't have control. But it goes by itself—in reality I do not have to initiate anything at all. Extremely here and now—nothing else matters.''
These statements are similar to those the researchers gathered from other top-class performers, both among the musicians and the business leaders. As seen, they found a significant difference amongst the top performers and controls on several quantitative measures.
''Therefore, there must be some common inner attributes and processes that make top performers able to deliver at top level, regardless of profession or activity,'' says Fred Travis, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, USA. ''We found this common inner dimension to be what we called higher mind-brain development.''
Higher mind-brain development includes that various aspects and parts of the brain work together in an integrated way. Among world-class performers this integration is especially well developed.
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Global Good News will continue to feature the news release on this body of research, the most recent study of which presents a new Unified Theory of Performance. The news release includes a discussion of important questions raised by the research, such as the possibility of developing the brain for higher performance—citing research by co-author Travis and others showing greater EEG coherence in Transcendental Meditation practitioners.
Contact: Ken Chawkin
Maharishi University of Management
1. Harung, H. S., Travis, F., (2012) Higher mind-brain development in successful leaders: testing a unified theory of performance. Cognitive Processing Vol 13, Number 2, 171-181, DOI: 10.1007/s10339-011-0432-x
2. Harung, H. S. (2012). Illustrations of Peak Experiences during Optimal Performance in World-class Performers: Integratimg Eastern and Western Insights. Journal of Human Values, 18(1), 33-52, doi:10.1177/097168581101800104
3. Travis, F., Harung, H. S., & Lagrosen, Y. (2011). Moral Development, Executive Functioning, Peak Experiences and Brain Patterns in Professional and Amateur Classical Musicians: Interpreted in Light of a Unified Theory of Performance. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(4), 1256-1264
4. Harung, H.S., Travis, F., Pensgaard, A. M., Boes, R., Cook-Greuter, S., Daley, K. (2011). Higher psycho-physiological refinement in world-class Norwegian athletes: brain measures of performance capacity. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Vol 21, Issue 1, pages 32, February 2011, doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01007.x
5. Harung, H. S., Heaton, D. P., Graff, W. W., & Alexander, C. N. (1996). Peak performance and higher states of consciousness: A study of world-class performers. Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 3-23
© Copyright 2012 AAAS, the science society.
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