The Effects of Mental Fatigue on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review

Abstract

Background

Mental fatigue is a psychobiological state caused by prolonged periods of demanding cognitive activity. It has recently been suggested that mental fatigue can affect physical performance.

Objective

Our objective was to evaluate the literature on impairment of physical performance due to mental fatigue and to create an overview of the potential factors underlying this effect.

Methods

Two electronic databases, PubMed and Web of Science (until 28 April 2016), were searched for studies designed to test whether mental fatigue influenced performance of a physical task or influenced physiological and/or perceptual responses during the physical task. Studies using short (<30 min) self-regulatory depletion tasks were excluded from the review.

Results

A total of 11 articles were included, of which six were of strong and five of moderate quality. The general finding was a decline in endurance performance (decreased time to exhaustion and self-selected power output/velocity or increased completion time) associated with a higher than normal perceived exertion. Physiological variables traditionally associated with endurance performance (heart rate, blood lactate, oxygen uptake, cardiac output, maximal aerobic capacity) were unaffected by mental fatigue. Maximal strength, power, and anaerobic work were not affected by mental fatigue.

Conclusion

The duration and intensity of the physical task appear to be important factors in the decrease in physical performance due to mental fatigue. The most important factor responsible for the negative impact of mental fatigue on endurance performance is a higher perceived exertion.

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Acknowledgements

Bart Roelands is a post-doctoral fellow of the Fund for Scientific Research.

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Correspondence to Bart Roelands.

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Jeroen Van Cutsem, Samuele Marcora, Kevin De Pauw, Stephen Bailey, Romain Meeusen, and Bart Roelands declare that the systematic review complies with all ethical standards.

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No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.

Conflict of interest

Jeroen Van Cutsem, Samuele Marcora, Kevin De Pauw, Stephen Bailey, Romain Meeusen, and Bart Roelands have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.

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Van Cutsem, J., Marcora, S., De Pauw, K. et al. The Effects of Mental Fatigue on Physical Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med 47, 1569–1588 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0672-0

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Keywords

  • Endurance Performance
  • Mental Fatigue
  • Physical Task
  • Corollary Discharge
  • Peripheral Fatigue