New study sheds light on “peak experiences” in world-class performers

A Norwegian researcher has published a new study on peak experiences among world-class performers in management, sports, classical music, and a variety of professions, which found that during optimal performance they spontaneously experience “higher states of consciousness.”

The study by Dr. Harald Harung of the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences in Norway and published in the Journal of Human Values (, reviewed research on peak experiences, including four quantitative studies on world-class performers.


Dr. Harung

Dr. Harung found that world-class performers displayed unique brain wave characteristics that were distinct to the controls. He also found correlations between high performance and their subjective experiences of “high states of consciousness,” which include inner calmness and happiness amidst dynamic activity, maximum wakefulness, effortlessness and ease of functioning, and a sense of perfection.

Dr. Harung also found that top-level performers outscored the control groups in a test of moral development. Higher moral development implies an expanded awareness where the individual is able to satisfy the interests of other people and not just his or her own needs, according to Dr. Harung, who added that is remarkable that high levels of performance in a wide spectrum of activities are connected to high moral standards.

Akershus University

Dr. Harung said that peak performers have experiences of “high states of consciousness” because they are naturally accessible to the human brain physiology:

”Everyone wants excellence, yet current understanding of high performance is fragmented. What we have done in our research, is to use quantitative and neurophysiological research methods on topics that so far have been dominated by psychology.”

Researchers have long explored whether meditation techniques can help to actively cultivate the brain. Studies by Dr. Fred Travis, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management and a co-author of the study, has found that Transcendental Meditation practitioners have greater EEG coherence and greater presence of alpha waves which has been shown to promote a more efficiently functioning brain.

Said Dr. Travis:

Fred Travis, Ph.D.

“The experience of the transcendent is not unique to TM practitioners or peak performers; it’s unique to human beings. It’s what we experience when the activity of feeling and thinking and perception settle down and the mind experiences its most expanded state of awareness. It’s the experience of pure unbounded consciousness and it’s available to anyone.”

According to Dr. Travis, peak experiences, as described by top athletes, might be able to be cultivated over time through regular TM practice.

“With the TM technique, we have a way to systematically allow the mind to deeply settle down. As the brain becomes more familiar with the process of transcending—going beyond the active level of thinking to the mind’s settled state—we should see more experience of the transcendent in waking. This is traditionally understood as the basis of higher states of consciousness. So we can predict that if you have an athlete who is practicing TM, they should be more in the zone more often than before they started the TM technique.”