Tag Archives: brain

5 Foods to Improve Brainpower and Productivity

Nom nom nom. Eating peanuts at my desk by slworking2I’ve been eating a lot more lunches at my desk, and I know it’s not healthy. However, I have work to do (or articles to read or music to listen to, etc.). So if I’m going to eat there, I might as well eat foods that increase brainpower.

That’s what makes the following video from Citrix and nutrition expert Kit Hansen a great find. It offers suggestions on what to eat so that your brain won’t go to waste while you’re wasting away in your cubicle watching cat videos.

(Image via Flickr: slworking2/Creative Commons)

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Facebook Use Can Increase Cognitive Performance

grandma joan writing her nightly e-mail message to the family by Sean DreilingerJokes about elderly people using technology are plentiful. Yes, it can be humorous to tease those that have a hard time with technology. But the truth is that there are benefits if the elderly (really, any age) are willing to learn something new. Let’s take Facebook, for instance.

Janelle Wohltmann, a psychology graduate student at the University of Arizona, found that people over the age of 65 who learned to use Facebook saw an increase in cognitive performance and became more connected socially.

Yes, you read that correctly. Being connected socially increases cognitive skills. The kicker is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a face-to-face connection.

“The idea evolved from two bodies of research,” Wohltmann said. “One, there is evidence to suggest that staying more cognitively engaged – learning new skills, not just becoming a couch potato when you retire but staying active – leads to better cognitive performing. It’s kind of this ‘use it or lose it’ hypothesis.

“There’s also a large body of literature showing that people who are more socially engaged, are less lonely, have more social support and are more socially integrated are also doing better cognitively in older age,” she continued.

More research is needed to determine if Facebook’s social aspect truly contributed to better cognitive performances. Still, Wohltmann feels that the site’s complex interaction is a key component in boosting cognitive behaviors.

“The Facebook interface is actually quite complex,” she said. “The big difference between the online diary and Facebook is that when you create a diary entry, you create the entry, you save it and that’s all you see, versus if you’re on Facebook, several people are posting new things, so new information is constantly getting posted.

“You’re seeing this new information coming in, and you need to focus on the new information and get rid of the old information, or keep it in mind if you want to go back and reference it later, so you have to constantly update what’s there in your attention,” she continued.

This gives hope to anyone that isn’t able to get out and meet people, either by situation or choice. If you can be social online, then you can boost your cognitive abilities. And I’m sure this can expand to include anyone who plays games such as Call of Duty, where you’re playing alongside or against other players.

No, this doesn’t take away from the value of face-to-face interaction and its many benefits, but it does show that our brains can clearly define “social” in more ways than we usually allow in our minds.

(Story materials from the University of Arizona/Alexis Blue. Image via Flickr: Sean Dreilinger/Creative Commons.)

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An IQ Test Alone Can’t Explain Intelligence

screen testWe, as humans, tend to ascribe a lot of weight to numbers. Perhaps that’s an easy way for us to make sense of the world. Consider, though, IQ scores. Can you accurately judge a person’s intelligence by an IQ test?

Not according to a recent study from Western University scientists who found that measuring a person’s IQ by a single, standardized test is misleading.

The scientists–who used an online study open to everyone worldwide and included more than 100,000 participants–asked people to complete 12 cognitive tests on memory, reason, attention and planning abilities. Participants were also asked about their backgrounds and lifestyle habits.

“The uptake was astonishing,” said Adrian M. Owen, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging and senior investigator on the project at Western’s Brain and Mind Institute in London, Canada. “We expected a few hundred responses, but thousands and thousands of people took part, including people of all ages, cultures and creeds from every corner of the world.”

Result’s from the study showed

that when a wide range of cognitive abilities are explored, the observed variations in performance can only be explained with at least three distinct components: short-term memory, reasoning and a verbal component.

No one component, or IQ, explained everything. Furthermore, the scientists used a brain scanning technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to show that these differences in cognitive ability map onto distinct circuits in the brain.

With so many respondents, the results also provided a wealth of new information about how factors such as age, gender and the tendency to play computer games influence our brain function.

“Regular brain training didn’t help people’s cognitive performance at all yet aging had a profound negative effect on both memory and reasoning abilities,” Owen said.

“Intriguingly, people who regularly played computer games did perform significantly better in terms of both reasoning and short-term memory,” said Adam Hampshire from Western’s Brain and Mind Institute. “And smokers performed poorly on the short-term memory and the verbal factors, while people who frequently suffer from anxiety performed badly on the short-term memory factor in particular.”

If you’re interested in helping with this research, the scientists have launched a new version of the tests at http://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/theIQchallenge.

(Story materials and image from Western University.) 

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Hearing With Your Hands

Hand by Malthe SigurdssonThere are people who can’t talk unless they’re gesturing. But maybe their hand movements are doing more than helping them speak. Perhaps they’re helping them hear.

According to researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center, what you hear may depend on what your hands are doing.

“Language is processed mainly in the left hemisphere, and some have suggested that this is because the left hemisphere specializes in analyzing very rapidly changing sounds,” said the study’s senior investigator, Peter E. Turkeltaub, M.D., PhD, a neurologist in the Center for Brain Plasticity and Recovery.

The researchers used a simple noise and indication test on 24 volunteers for the study. They had to press a button when they heard background sounds, which were quick or slow.

“We asked the subjects to respond to sounds hidden in background noise,” Turkeltaub said. “Each subject was told to use his or her right hand to respond during the first 20 sounds, then the left hand for the next 20 second, then right, then left, and so on.”

People who used their right hand heard the rapidly changing sounds more often than when using their left hand. It was vice versa for the slowly changing sounds.

“Since the left hemisphere controls the right hand and vice versa, these results demonstrate that the two hemispheres specialize in different kinds of sounds—the left hemisphere likes rapidly changing sounds, such as consonants, and the right hemisphere likes slowly changing sounds, such as syllables or intonation,” Turkeltaub said. “These results also demonstrate the interaction between motor systems and perception. It’s really pretty amazing. Imagine you’re waving an American flag while listening to one of the presidential candidates. The speech will actually sound slightly different to you depending on whether the flag is in your left hand or your right hand.”

I think this research is especially interesting for meeting designers and professional speakers. Imagine the ways you could control what your audience hears by simply having attendees hold something. It would be a fun experiment to present two exact sessions (word for word) to different audiences, one that holds something in the left hand and one in the right hand. Then let’s see if session comprehension and scores are different. Anyone willing to try it out?

(Story quotes from Georgetown University. Image via Flickr: Malthe Sigurdsson / Creative Commons)

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Erasing Fear From Your Brain

Colourful Thinking? by jj_judesThe emotion of fear can be erased from the brain, according to researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden. Take it away, Uppsala news center:

When a person learns something, a lasting long-term memory is created with the aid of a process of consolidation, which is based on the formation of proteins. When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then restabilized by another consolidation process. In other words, it can be said that we are not remembering what originally happened, but rather what we remembered the last time we thought about what happened. By disrupting the reconsolidation process that follows upon remembering, we can affect the content of memory.

In the study, the researchers showed subjects a neutral picture and simultaneously administered an electric shock. In this way the picture came to elicit fear in the subjects which meant a fear memory had been formed. In order to activate this fear memory, the picture was then shown without any accompanying shock. For one experimental group the reconsolidation process was disrupted with the aid of repeated presentations of the picture. For a control group, the reconsolidation process was allowed to complete before the subjects were shown the same repeated presentations of the picture.

In that the experimental group was not allowed to reconsolidate the fear memory, the fear they previously associated with the picture dissipated. In other words, by disrupting the reconsolidation process, the memory was rendered neutral and no longer incited fear. At the same time, using a MR-scanner, the researchers were able to show that the traces of that memory also disappeared from the part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories, the nuclear group of amygdala in the temporal lobe.

‘These findings may be a breakthrough in research on memory and fear. Ultimately the new findings may lead to improved treatment methods for the millions of people in the world who suffer from anxiety issues like phobias, post-traumatic stress, and panic attacks,’ says Thomas Ågren.

Does anyone else think about the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind upon reading this news?

(Image via Flickr: jj_judes / Creative Commons)

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I’m Sorry, Your Name Is…?

Hello My Name Is by Emily RoseI’ve taken improvisation lessons for more than two years now. While it has helped improve my listening skills, I still forget people’s names at times. And as someone who works in the meeting industry, forgetting names is often not a positive trait.

For the longest time, I thought it was my brain’s love of forgetfulness that it increasingly embraces every year. However, it’s not my mind’s mechanics that are at fault. It’s me. According to Richard Harris, a psychology professor at Kansas State University, your level of interest determines your brain’s ability to remember names.

“Some people, perhaps those who are more socially aware, are just more interested in people, more interested in relationships,” Harris said. “They would be more motivated to remember somebody’s name.”

Harris says that the more interest you show in a person, the more likely you’ll remember that person’s name. That’s common sense, but as with most common sense advice, it’s easily forgotten.

To help you remember names, try strategies such as mnemonic devices or saying the person’s name while you talk to the person. Or better yet, as Harris says, just show more interest in people.

(Image via Flickr: Emily Rose / Creative Commons)

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Review: Imagine

Imagine by Jonah LehrerThere was much talk about innovation and creativity in 2011. In fact, I heard or saw the word innovation so much that its mention would bring on waves of hostility in me. Everyone talked about it, making it not, well, very innovative.

Most writers were telling you what to do to be innovative or creative. Rarely did you read why it happens. It’s as most people wanted to jump to instruction without knowing reason.

That’s where Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer comes in. As with his previous book, How We Decide, Lehrer explores the basis of a brain function that everyone wants to know about. Yes, he does offer creativity advice, but he bases it in reason. You have to know the hows and whys before you can know the whats.

Lehrer leads readers through many examples of innovation and creativity, touching on everything from how Bob Dylan found his writing muse to how no-wrong-answers brainstorming doesn’t work in the long run to the benefits of living in a city. And he keeps your interest, because he’s a great storyteller who asserts authority. He doesn’t just report research; he guides with pristine narrative.

“The Power of Q” chapter is one of the more interesting sections. It’s about socialist Brian Uzzi and his study of Broadway musicals, about why some are successful and some are not. Uzzi found that successful productions needed a certain amount of people who have known each other for a long time and a certain amount who are new to the operation. In other words, a sweet spot of social intimacy is needed.

The reason I found this chapter interesting is because around the same time I was reading it, the Dallas Mavericks were restructuring their championship team, losing several players that helped them win it all last season. I’ve always been one that feels you don’t break up the house, you keep teams together for the long-term in order to ensure yearly success. After reading this chapter, though, I’m thinking differently about teams (sports or work). Perhaps it is best that the Mavericks shook things up, bringing in some new faces to play with a few of the old-timers. (However, maybe it’s not working; the Mavericks are 1-4 at the time of this review.)

What Lehrer suggests–and something he consistently suggests in his writings–is that you should know yourself best. Find what works for you, because for every piece of research saying one thing, there will be another saying the opposite. Maybe you work better getting away from a problem. Or maybe you work better with a group. However you work best, identify that and edge toward it. That is where you’ll find your creativity. For you see, science is primarily about paying attention, and until you pay attention to yourself first, nothing will change. Lehrer’s latest book is a great tool toward this needed self-consciousness in society.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer in March 2012.)

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