When team members are engaged there is no diversion of attention, increased prefrontal activity, particularly within brain networks responsible for sustaining attention. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DL-PFC) manipulates goal-relevant information within working memory.
The DL-PFC is important for planning and task flexibility. Sustained action towards a goal is driven by a group of interconnected parts of the brain including:
•the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC),
•the anterior ventral lateral prefrontal cortex,
•the dorsal anterior cingulate,
•the medial superior frontal cortex.
The aPFC integrates working memory with the attentional resources to achieve valued goals. aPFC activation is associated with one’s ability to focus on a metagoal while executing the associated goals.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) resolves conflict between multiple viable responses to a given situation. The ACC is active in regulating emotional processing networks. The ACC resolves conflict by ensuring consistency. In situations of goal-conflict, the ACC recruits the DL-PFC to resolve motivational dissonance.
The Prefrontal Attention Network
The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) assigns emotional significance to incoming information. The OFC is active in long-term planning, cogitating the consequences of various competing action plans measuring the value of a range of behaviour before deciding how to act.
This part of the thoughtful system allows us to predict future dynamics and use handy information to make a plan. Increased activity in the frontopolar PFC keeps the metagoal in mind while one engages in actions connected to concrete goals.
Working under high stress with feelings of anxiety often leads to performance failure. Chronic stress and rumination overwhelm working memory, draining resources that could otherwise be processing situationally relevant information.
This unnecessary load on working memory can be said to situationally retard IQ since general intelligence is tightly correlated with working memory. When a team member feels they are drowning in stress, it is interpreted as a mortal danger by their instinctive system.
This overrides the thoughtful system to deal with the perceived threat, the problem is the stress systems are energy intensive which means other “non vital” functions, such as the immune and digestive system are inhibited to provide energy for a stress response.
When team members are in a state of stress overload it is far more difficult for them to control their attention. Attention control is governed by the thoughtful system, but this system is inhibited during stress overload.
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- Verhoef, Bram-Ernst, and John HR Maunsell. “Attention-related changes in correlated neuronal activity arise from normalization mechanisms.” Nature Neuroscience 20.7 (2017): 969-977.