Why Have Our Brains Started to Shrink?

11/20/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

shrinking brainsFrom Scientific American Mind Magazine
Oct 16, 2014

Christopher Stringer, a paleoanthropologist and research leader on human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, replies:

Indeed, skeletal evidence from every inhabited continent suggests that our brains have become smaller in the past 10,000 to 20,000 years. How can we account for this seemingly scary statistic?

Some of the shrinkage is very likely related to the decline in humans' average body size during the past 10,000 years. Brain size is scaled to body size because a larger body requires a larger nervous system to service it. As bodies became smaller, so did brains. A smaller body also suggests a smaller pelvic size in females, so selection would have favored the delivery of smaller-headed babies.

What explains our shrinking body size, though? This decline is possibly related to warmer conditions on the earth in the 10,000 years after the last ice age ended. Colder conditions favor bulkier bodies because they conserve heat better. As we have acclimated to warmer temperatures, the way we live has also generally become less physically demanding, which overall serves to drive down body weights.

Another likely reason for this decline is that brains are energetically expensive and will not be maintained at larger sizes unless it is necessary. The fact that we increasingly store and process information externally—in books, computers and online—means that many of us can probably get by with smaller brains. Some anthropologists have also proposed that larger brains may be less efficient at certain tasks, such as rapid computation, because of longer connection pathways.

The way we live may have affected brain size. For instance, domesticated animals have smaller brains than their wild counterparts probably because they do not require the extra brainpower that could help them evade predators or hunt for food. Similarly, humans have become more domesticated. But as long as we keep our brains fit for our particular lifestyles, there should be no reason to fear for the collective intelligence of our species.

This article was originally published with the title "Brain size has increased for most of our existence, so why has it started to diminish for the past few thousand years?"

Building Rapport

11/20/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

By Rowena Crosbie

Visit the TERO website

Rapport is a feeling of comfort, trust and understanding you can have with someone else. Rapport makes it easier for us to be assertive, influential, accommodating, persuasive and relaxed with someone. Because rapport happens as a result of the way we interact with someone, we do not have to wait for it to happen naturally. By using the right behaviors and avoiding others, we can make it happen more quickly.

Have you ever been in a discussion with someone and felt that you were really on the same wavelength? What caused that feeling?

Have you ever been in discussion with someone and suddenly felt that rapport was gone? Why was that?

Have you ever tried hard to get along with someone to no avail? What happened?

Do you know anyone who seems able to get along quickly with a wide variety of people? How does he or she do that?

There are two key behaviors that can assist you in building and maintaining rapport. They are matching and reflecting.


People who get along well tend to mirror each other's body language.

Research has shown that people who have good relationships with each other will naturally assume a rhythm that matches the other party - in body language, cadence and movement.

To improve rapport, use matching body language, cadence and movement. Also, look for opportunities to "speak the same language". Does the individual you are negotiating with use language that would suggest they have a preference for auditory learning? Individuals with an auditory preference will use phrases such as: "I hear what you are saying", "How does this sound?"

Matching (and symmetry) also extends beyond body language and learning preference.

Recent studies have looked closely at the process by which parties engage one another. Specifically, one project carefully monitored 47 encounter groups that bring together Jews and Arabs in Israel in hopes of promoting better relationships. Many of these groups involve adults, though some involve children as young as preschoolers.

The researchers tracked the degree to which communication was balanced, as defined by how often and how long various participants spoke. Speaking time was roughly equal in many instances, a possible reflection of both the goodwill of people who chose to take part and the facilitative skill of the conveners. In some cases, however, one side dominated the conversation. That asymmetry likely exacerbated differences between groups.

It's not enough to get the right people to the table. To build and maintain rapport, how we communicate must be considered. Communication that is balanced carries important symbolic messages about respect. More powerful parties need to be especially careful not to inadvertently dominate conversations and put others in a position where they feel they must save face.


Asking questions about what was just said and summarizing or reflecting words back to others increases comfort and rapport.

Use your good listening skills and your asking questions skills.

Resist the temptation to interrupt others and finish their sentences for them.

People tend to get offended when someone tells them what they should do or what they ought to do.

Sentences that begin with yes and are followed by but are offensive and negate the yes.

When someone says "to be honest" it throws into question the honesty of the rest of the interaction.

First Impression, Lasting Impression

10/30/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

By Becky Rupiper-Greene

Is a first glance keeping you from getting a second chance?

It's no secret that first impressions can form lasting opinions. Research consistently reveals that favorable first impressions and a polished image can serve as competitive tools. It also indicates that many are sabotaging their success when their appearance is not congruent with their expertise and abilities.

If you want to be taken seriously, it's time to take a serious look at the impact your appearance has on the way you are perceived by others. Whether you are meeting with a customer, engaging a prospective client, or interacting with a colleague, strategic impression management has the potential to shape that relationship in a positive manner.

Consider just a few seemingly small details which make a significant difference in the impression others form of you:

Shoes are one of the first things people notice about you, so always put your best foot forward. Are they appropriate for the occasion? Do they need to be polished, resoled, or laces replaced? Are they a current or classic style? Dated or scuffed shoes imply that your products, services, or knowledge may also be lacking or dated as well.

Your hands are on display constantly, whether you are shaking someone's hand, pointing to information on a report, or eating in a restaurant. Keeping your hands clean and nails well-trimmed is essential. Neglected hands suggest potential neglect elsewhere.

Unflattering or dated eyewear can have a negative influence on your visual message. Choose frames that are proportionate with your face and which are a flattering color for your skin tone. Avoid wearing tinted glasses indoors as they can make you look tired in addition to inhibiting good eye contact.

You are your own number one asset, and thus you are worth investing in. When you do that, others are willing to invest in you, too, according to recent research done by economists who studied the correlation between time spent on grooming and wages. Their findings indicated that every extra ten minutes of daily grooming increases weekly wages by 6% for men, with women needing to increase grooming time slightly more to achieve similar returns.

Companies also find that when they encourage and engage their employees in the area of impression management, they consistently see an increase in confidence, self esteem, and effectiveness. Personal effectiveness inevitably leads to organizational effectiveness and success - a winning result for all!


10/30/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play


new neuronsFor many years scientists believed that you were born with all the neurons you would ever get. The evidence for this dogma seemed strong: neuroanatomists in the early 20th century had identified immature neurons under the microscope but only in the brains of mammalian embryos and fetuses, never after birth.

We now know that the truth is not quite so simple. By radioactively labeling DNA, researchers gradually began to find exceptions to the rule against new neurons in the adult brain. Today scientists have identified two small regions where neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons, continues throughout life: the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus. The former area is part of the brain’s odor-discrimination system, so neurons there likely participate in this process. But the hippocampus has a much broader function. It gives us memory.

The discovery of nascent neurons in the adult human hippocampus, first reported in 1998, came as a surprise to many in the field. Although sprouting new brain cells may sound useful, the costs are potentially high. After all, space within the skull is finite, and newcomers could disrupt the delicate neural networks that store knowledge.

Neuroscientists now suspect that neurons born in the hippocampus help the brain create and sift through the millions of memories we form over the course of a lifetime. If this is true, neurogenesis might solve a puzzle that has perplexed memory researchers for more than 60 years: how our brain keeps separate memories of similar events. These discoveries may ultimately reveal not only how we recall the episodes of our lives but also how we can preserve our brain’s powerful record-keeping faculties despite the inevitable decline of aging.

Making Memories

In 1949 Canadian psychologist Donald O. Hebb proposed a theory of memory that would come to dominate the field. Hebb suggested that each neuron in the cerebral cortex, the brain’s large outer layer essential to thought and intelligence, encodes some feature of the world and becomes active whenever that feature is present. He also noted that every brain cell is connected to many others by links called synapses. His idea was that we encode memories by creating alliances between groups of neurons. When two connected neurons are active at the same time, the synapses holding them together grow stronger. In other words, “cells that fire together wire together.” To understand how this works, imagine how a memory might map onto a set of interconnected neurons.

Say you take a trip every summer. On one occasion, you pack your backpack for a journey to the mountains, including your favorite book. The features of the event—backpack, mountains, book—will each map onto separate neurons in the cortex. As you unpack the book at your alpine campsite one evening, those neurons fire together, bolstering the connections between the three elements and thereby storing the memory. In reality, the brain uses far more than three neurons and their connections to encode memories, but the principle is the same. If any one of the neurons in the stored memory were to become active later, an electrical impulse would propagate to the other cells in that network. As a result, the neurons representing all three features would fire, encoding the full memory.

This process, called pattern completion, is the way that memories are retrieved, according to Hebb’s theory. It explains how merely glimpsing the backpack after the trip can conjure up mountain vistas in your mind’s eye. Yet this explanation of memory has a problem: What happens when features from different memories overlap? Suppose, for example, that on a second summer vacation you pack the same backpack, but this time with a newspaper for a trip to the beach. For this memory to be stored, neurons relevant to the backpack, beach and newspaper will need to connect. When you recall the episode, the attempt to perform pattern completion will activate the backpack neuron and send a burst of activity through both sets of connections. The memories of the two trips would become conflated. This phenomenon is known as interference. It is an inevitable consequence of Hebb’s hypothesis and is not easy to fix. Neuroscientists have spent decades devising ways around the interference problem.

One simple solution is to minimize the number of shared features in the memories to be stored. The most straightforward way of doing that is to use features that are very specific. For example, instead of just storing the memory of a book in your backpack, you mentally classify it as a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the newspaper from the beach trip as the New York Times. Yet this work-around has its drawbacks. The brain learns about the world by detecting patterns: consistent relations among sets of features.

For example, you may come to appreciate sunblock after sustaining multiple burns on beach trips in which you neglected to pack sunblock. If these features are categorized so specifically that they rarely recur, the memories to which they belong will offer no basis for learning. The importance of sunscreen, for instance, applies to every sunny day—regardless of the beach you visit or brand of lotion. These constraints seem to pit memory and learning against each other. Optimizing the brain for memory requires minimizing overlap, whereas learning depends on easy access to common elements so we can make associations.

Neurogenesis to the Rescue

Forty years after Hebb proposed his theory, three neuroscientists came up with an alternative approach. James L. McClelland and Randall C. O’Reilly, then at Carnegie Mellon University, and Bruce L. Mc-Naughton, then at the University of Arizona, were pondering the two brain regions involved in memory— the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus—when it dawned on them that the brain might resolve the conflict between learning and memory by separating the two processes.

They suggested that to prevent the interference problem, the cerebral cortex would help us forge connections and the hippocampus would focus on filing away distinct memories. They dubbed this hypothesis “complementary learning systems.” Their basic idea hinges on adding another set of neurons to the memory network formed in a Hebbstyle trip to the beach. Each of these additional cells tags a small set of memories.

Let’s say you embark on yet another trip with your trusty backpack. Instead of linking the features of all backpack vacations to one another, the brain allocates a single memory neuron for the latest adventure, and the trip’s salient features all link to it. That single memory cell would reside in your hippocampus, whereas the feature-related cells would dwell in the cerebral cortex. Moreover, the cells involved in memory in the hippocampus fire only in discrete groups because they inhibit or compete with one another. In consequence, only one memory can be active at given time.

When McClelland and his colleagues advanced their theory, evidence for fledgling neurons was still weak, but changed. In 2006 neuroscientists Fred H. Gage of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Gerd Kempermann, then at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, and others recognized the potential importance of new neurons in the hippocampus. In two separate papers, they proposed that neurogenesis might be the brain’s way of continually expanding its stores of memory. For one thing, they reasoned, the new cells can more easily connect to other neurons than older cells.

A second clue is that young neurons have a more uncertain fate than older neurons do. Many of these new cells die in their youth, but their probability of survival improves when an individual is forced to learn unfamiliar tasks—a prime opportunity to form new memories. In fact, as Rutgers University neuroscientist Tracey J. Shors observed in 1999, the rate of neurogenesis can increase during learning exercises. Thus emerged a radical new idea in the science of memory. When the brain needs to create mental records,it might just grow more neurons.

Ten Toasting Tips

10/14/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

By Deborah Rinner Godwin

1. Be brief. Less can be more in a business toast. Keep it at sixty seconds. Choose your thoughts and words carefully to express your intention well. In doubt about what to say? Toasting to longevity, health, or prosperity of a person or organization is always appropriate.

2. The host is responsible for the toast. The toast can be given before the meal to welcome the guests, or be offered at the time of the dessert course. Choose a time the person you are toasting is at their seat. Toasting may be done with any beverage, but should be in a formal setting (not over coffee with paper coffee cups).

3. At a table of more than eight, the host (toaster) should stand to signify the beginning of the toast and to get everyone's attention. If in a restaurant standing may be disruptive to onlookers, so decide situationally if standing is appropriate.

4. A good toast thanks the guest(s) of honor, demonstrates something special about the guest of honor(s) or occasion, and then expresses "please join me in a toast to…." Everyone takes a sip except the person being toasted. A good toast is not an embarrassment, but a tribute.

5. A toast is like a gift. If you receive one, you return one. After being toasted, a person toasts the host or original toaster in return. This time the host or original toaster does not take a sip.

6. A sip is a sip. In American business culture, downing ones glass is never advisable.

7. To clink or not to clink? If you do it is a gentle tap of one glass to the next, keeping at your seat. Make eye contact while clinking and share the moment. Never run around the table to clink. Follow the lead of your dining companions and do not be the first to clink. Clink, don't clash. Be gentle as to the fragility of glassware.

8. A formal toast is "semi-public" and not appropriate at an intimate dinner. If you are at an informal or casual meal with a client, it is celebratory to offer an informal "Glad to have you here" or "Here's to you", refraining from a more formal toast. Toasting at breakfast is not done.

9. If you are working internationally learn the toasting customs of the country you are working with and be prepared. Properly engaging in the toasting custom can be vital to building a successful business relationship.

10. You will appear confident, caring, and be perceived as a leader if you take the initiative to properly toast.

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