Elizabeth A. Stanley. “Neuroplasticity, Mind Fitness, and Military Effectiveness,” in Bio-Inspired Innovation and National Security, Robert E. Armstrong, Mark D. Drapeau, Cheryl A. Loeb, and James L. Valdes, Eds. (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2010), 257-279.
The missions that the U.S. military is being called upon to execute in today’s security environment require a tremendous amount of awareness—of self, others, and the wider environment. Awareness is the foundational meta-skill for being able to “learn and adapt.”
This chapter proposes a new way to achieve such awareness. It draws on the well-documented theory of neuroplasticity, which states that the brain changes in response to changes in environment. The first section examines some of the ways that “negative” experiences, such as stress and trauma, can change the brain in deleterious ways. The second section examines some of the ways that “positive” experiences, such as mind fitness training, can change the brain in beneficial ways. The third section builds on these ideas to propose ways that mind fitness training could enhance military effectiveness. Given that the brain is constantly building new neural connections from all of our daily experiences, it makes sense to concentrate on skills that build those neural connections most beneficial for operational effectiveness and soldier wellbeing. The conclusion extends this research by examining potential limitations and highlighting possible applications in the national security environment.