Our brain is one of the most important organs of our body, if not the most, but we don’t take care of as much as for the others.
Still, the brain is the highest energetic consumer, it regulates provisions and controls the functions of other peripheric organs.
These functions need an intense neuronal activity, giving the brain the highest metabolic request comparing to its dimension.
The immediate metabolic costs of the brain depend on its activation state. During sleep the metabolic rate is low but an increase in energy consumption has been observed, which derives almost exclusively from glucose metabolism when we are subjected to a cognitive task.
The brain, however, is unable to store a significative quantity of energy, so the body is required to provide glucose to the brain quickly and efficiently. To preserve cognitive function compared to that of peripheral organs, the brain gives priority to its glucose requirement, hence the theory of the “selfish brain”.
Mental energy is not just about glucose consumption but it is much more, not surprisingly, more and more scientists have dedicated themselves to its study, during the last 20 years.
Several studies have given different definitions of mental energy: there’s someone who has identified mental energy as attention span, who as the time of reaction, who associates it to memory, elaboration speed and so on.
One of the industry’s leading scholars in the field, Lykken (2005) defined mental energy as” the ability of any individual to perform cognitive tasks for a long time, keeping the attention and blocking distraction to achieve a certain task”
Biographies of really successful people, in science and other disciplines, suggest that, in addition to their intellectual gift, they are endowed with an extraordinary abundance of mental energy. According to Lykken, these people can focus their attention on some tasks for a long period without getting tired or distracted by the problem in question.
From Archimede and Socrate, from Galileo and Newton to Einstein and Richard Feynman, many scientific and mathematical geniuses have been not only really clever but also capable of maintaining a total and prolonged level of concentration thanks to an extraordinary abundance of mental energy. At the same time, there are some other factors recognized as important as interesting, ambition, impulse but ineffective once mental energy is exhausted.
Even if Lykken proposed a preliminary definition of mental energy and he described the important role of it in human functioning there is still no single definition.
To address this problem, the North American branch of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) launched a world conference in 2004 to define and conceptualize mental energy.
After discussion, they defined mental energy as “the intensity of subjective feeling about one’s ability to perform cognitive tasks in daily life”.
ILSI has provided a preliminary model of mental energy that includes 5 main components including motivation, thinking skills, quality of life and mood.
Since now, therefore, what we know about mental energy is that it is a limited resource, directly influenced by external factors such as the emotional state and the psycho-physical state as a whole. Since the emotional state is in direct correlation with mental energy, it follows that maintaining a certain kind of emotional balance allows one not to quickly exhaust one’s mental energy supplies.
When mental energy begins to be insufficient, we speak of mental fatigue, here you will find more insights.
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David Likken Intelligence 33 (2005) 331–335 Science Direct, Elsevier, 2004
Cognitive methods for assessing mental energy, Harris R. Lieberman, Pages 229-242 | Published online: 05 Sep 2013
Mental Energy: defining the science. A workshop of the ILSI North American Technical Committee On Energy 8 novembre 2004, Washington