Mental fatigue impairs both cognitive performance and subsequent physical performance.
Mental fatigue can be brought about by the prolonged performance of a single cognitive
task, but also by the combined performance of many cognitively demanding activities,
as well as tasks that require self-control or prolonged periods of suppressing emotion.
Manifestations of mental fatigue include feelings of tiredness, lack of energy and
exhaustion, as well as changes in mood states, towards moods such as irritation. Mental
fatigue is further exaggerated by conditions commonly experienced by soldiers, such
as sleep deprivation. As mental fatigue progresses, continuing a cognitive task becomes
difficult, represented by aversion to continue with the present task, a decrease in
the level of commitment to the task at hand and increased resistance against further
effort. Anecdotal evidence has also noted that mentally fatigued persons become distracted
more easily and that lapses in concentration become more frequent. Mental fatigue
impairs physical performance, primarily through a reduction in endurance, as well
as impacting technical performance, such as soccer passing and goal shooting. Despite
consistent findings of a reduction in endurance with mental fatigue, a recent study
reported that when compared with recreational cyclists, professional cyclists were
more tolerant to mental fatigue. Following a bout of mental exertion, the time trial
performance of the professional cyclists was unimpaired, they also significantly outperformed
the recreational cyclists on the cognitive task designed to induce mental fatigue.
It was suggested that the professional endurance athletes had a greater self-regulatory
capacity compared to the recreational athletes, likely due to the amount of time they
spend engaged in activities requiring self-regulation such as maintaining a strict
diet, refraining from alcohol and committing to long individual training sessions.
Although suggested to be partially genetic, many studies have shown that practice
of one task of self-regulation will improve performance on another, unrelated task
of self-regulation. Self-regulation is a characteristic required for successful performance
of endurance sports, studying and training, and persisting with a cognitive task.
Consideration of the impact of mental fatigue on physical performance is important
in a Defence context. Individuals may be required to perform monotonous tasks for
long periods of time, followed by, or concurrent to physical tasks, often with little
to no rest. Here we discuss the impact of mental fatigue on physical performance and
potential strategies to overcome these performance decrements.
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© 2017 Published by Elsevier Inc.