Recent research shows how elite Navy SEALs excel in difficult conditions.
A team of neuroscientists studied the brains of elite Navy SEALs and compared them to those of civilians to find out how the SEALs excel in extreme circumstances. The goal was to help other soldiers cope better with stress and improve their military performance.
Researchers scanned the brains of 11 off-duty members of the elite Navy SEALs and 23 ordinary healthy men while they viewed faces that displayed either angry, fearful or happy expressions. The scientists found the insula, a region deep within the brain, activated more strongly in Navy SEALs when they saw angry faces than when compared to ordinary men. “The insula is important for understanding your body sensations, or gut feelings,” neuroscientist Alan Simmons explained. “This suggests that when they see an angry face they do a ‘gut check.’ This may be because angry faces, but not fearful and happy faces, do require immediate attention for safety in combat.
However, when SEALs viewed happy or fearful faces, their brains reacted slower than non-SEALs.
Slower reaction time can indicate reduced attention, increased contemplation, or distracted or multiple processing,” Simmons said. “Given the SEALs’ capacity to excel in performance-related tasks, it may be most probable that they decide not to exert much effort in responding to faces that are not giving as important information.
Simmons says their research suggests that the SEALs’ ability to excel mentally and physically is because they are perhaps able to appropriately tune their behavior to the environment and reduce their effort when not needed and increase it in relevant situations.