RSS feed LinkedIn Watch us on Youtube

Activity title

Cognitive Neuroenhancement: Techniques and Technology

Activity Reference



Human Factors and Medicine

Security Classification




Activity type


Start date


End date



attention, brain training, Cognitive enhancement, cognitive training, human enhancement, learning, memory, neurofeedback, performance, physiological feedback, readiness, resilience, tACS, tDCS, TMS, transcranial alternating current stimulation, transcranial direct current stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation


As noted by General James N. Mattis, “war is a primarily human endeavor,” despite the dramatic increases in defense applications of automation throughout the world. Presently, automation supports the human operator to perform his or her job more efficiently and effectively, but is not a replacement for human thought, decision making, or ingenuity. Even if we are successful in advancing computer-derived artificially intelligent behavior, it is unlikely machine automation will ever be able to independently develop military Tactics, Techniques & Procedures (TTPs). While technological advances in weapons systems can facilitate successful mission outcomes, wars are won through superior strategy and intuition that only human operators can provide. However, technological investment has historically focused on the machine rather than the human, which has resulted in a static potential for the human operator. Miller’s (1956) theory on the limits of working memory, for example, remains a valid argument for why the human is often the “weakest link” in the weapons system. Human capabilities are further compromised by stressors present in the operational and training environment. Traditional methods to prevent or counteract exposure/stressor-related performance decrements have included acclimation/physical training, pharmaceutical interventions, modifications of clothing, user displays, protective gear, and working environments, and increasing the level or application of automation. Emerging research in neuroscience offers a different approach that may revolutionize how the military expands human performance capabilities. State-of-the-art techniques such as cognitive training, cognitive or neurofeedback, and non-invasive brain stimulation have all provided evidence that aspects of cognition can be enhanced or preserved under diverse and often rapidly evolving exposure conditions. This technology could provide a critical strategic advantage to NATO counties in combat operations, increasing the competitive advantage of allied forces. A NATO Exploratory Team (ET-163) was created in 2017 to examine the topic of neurocognitive enhancement. The team discussed previous and ongoing research in neurmodulation techniques, cognitive training, and biofeedback for cognitive enhancement, resilience, and readiness applications. Based on the emerging work in this area among the member nations, coupled with the recognition that significant gaps remain in current scientific knowledge regarding safety, utilization, and both short and long term benefits/consequences of cognitive enhancement technology, the contributing nations (ITA, CAN, NLD, DEN, GER, GBR, and USA) determined further exploration of this topic was warranted. The final recommendation was the creation of a Research Task Group


Collate and examine the state-of-the-art research, techniques, and technologies in cognitive neuroenhancement including (but not limited to) neuromodulation, cognitive training, and biofeedback. Report on recent research and development efforts, lessons learned, strengths and weaknesses of each approach and combinations of approaches, best practices among the NATO participants, scientific/technological challenges, and other important considerations for deployment.Scope of the proposed topic:The scope of the topic will encompass techniques, technologies, and/or interventions that target cognitive performance enhancement, readiness/resilience, and accelerate recovery/reset.


The following topics will be covered by this activity: A. Neuroenhancement Techniques, Technologies, and Interventions 1. Neuromodulationa) Such as: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), Peripheral Nerve Stimulation, Photobiomodulation 2. Pharmaceuticals/Nutraceutical Interventionsa) Such as: tyrosine, curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids, modafinil, caffeine, 3. Cognitive Training Approachesa) Such as: Working memory training (Near/far transfer), cognitive bias training (affect related) 4. Biofeedback a) Such as: electroencephalography (EEG), function near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), peripheral physiological feedback (heart rate, heart rate variability, occulometrics, skin temperature, galvanic skin response) 5. Synthetic aides or implantables B. Supporting Capabilities 1. Virtual Reality Environments 2. Simulators (such as driving, flight or marksmanship simulators) 3. Artificial Intelligence 4. Modeling (“Big Data,” predictive statistical models, machine learning) C. Target population 1. All military personnel 2. All occupational codes 3. All ranks D. Functional Domains Targeted 1. Learning 2. Attention (vigilance, situational awareness) 3. Memory 4. Visualspatial 5. Cognitive Efficiency, (“multitasking”) 6. Motor Speed and Coordination (psychomotor function) 7. Judgment/decision making E. Considerations for Research, Development, and Deployment 1. Ethics 2. Safety 3. Deployability 4. Efficacy 5. Scalability 6. Context of the application 7. Optimization of the technique parameters 8. User requirements and acceptance 9. Precision, reliability 10. Individual vs. team applications 11. Technical maturity 12. Strengths and weaknesses 13. Policy and Regulation 14. Interaction of techniques

Contact Panel Office