Broken Brain Myths

03/10/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

Listening to classical music makes you smarter

In 1993, a small study showed that college students who listened to a Mozart sonata and then took an IQ test got higher spatial scores than those who didn’t. But this so-called “Mozart effect” wore off in less than 15 minutes and researchers disagree on the mechanisms behind it. Listening to classical music has not been shown to improve intelligence in children or adults. In fact, researchers have found that young children who watch classical music-based television learn fewer words, just as children who watch regular television do. However, learning how to play a musical instrument has been shown to enhance cognitive skills in the long term.

The brain does not change.

The idea that the brain does not change after growth ceases may be the greatest misconception that folks have. In actuality, the brain changes throughout life. During embryonic development and early life, the brain changes dramatically. Neurons form many new connections, and some neurons die. However, scientists have discovered that changes in the brain are not restricted to early life. Even in the adult brain, neurons continue to form new connections, strengthen existing connections, or eliminate connections as we continue to learn. Recent studies have shown that some neurons in the adult brain retain the ability to divide. Finally, damaged neurons have some capability to regenerate if the conditions are right.

You only use 10 percent of your brain

You use your entire brain. At some point in your life, you have probably heard this myth. But the truth is that we use virtually all of our brain every day--not just 10%. For example, just reading this article involves engaging your frontal and occipital lobes to see and comprehend and your hippocampus to remember, all while your brainstem and cerebellum help you remain seated, breathing, circulating blood, and digesting your food. And of course your pituitary gland and hypothalamus are regulating hormones, temperature, and much more.

Doing crossword puzzles can keep your brain young.

Crosswords are fun and may improve your ability to find words, but they don't help your brain's overall cognition or memory.

Many people believe that a crossword puzzle a day will help stave off dementia or Alzheimer's--but there is no evidence to support that claim. That's because crossword puzzles only flex one part of your brain, which is word finding (also called fluency.) So they might help you get better at word finding, but not keep your brain sharp in any general sense.

A person's personality displays a right-brain or left-brain dominance.

The two sides of the brain are intricately co-dependent.

You may have heard that you can be "right-brained" or "left-brained"--and that those who favor the right are more creative or artistic and those who favor the left are more technical and logical. But brain scanning technology has revealed that the two hemispheres of the brain most often work together in complex processing. For example, language processing, once believed to be the provenance of the left hemisphere only, is now understood to take place in both hemispheres: the left side processes grammar and pronunciation while the right processes intonation.

Drinking alcohol kills brain cells.

Moderate alcohol use doesn't kill brain cells, and while rampant alcohol use can damage the brain, it's not due to cell death.

We always hear that drinking booze can kill brain cells, but the truth is, the amount of alcohol needed to kill brain cells would also kill the person drinking it. Moderate drinking does not appear to kill or even damage brain cells. Alcoholics can experience brain damage due to drinking, but it's not because alcohol kills brain cells--it's because the alcohol can damage the dendrites that are found at the end of the neurons, which causes problems in cell communication in the brain. Another brain disorder alcoholics may develop, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, is actually due to thiamine deficiency, because alcohol disrupts its absorption.

Zapping the Brain Increases Art Appreciation

03/03/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

People find art more beautiful when certain areas of their brain are electrically stimulated

Mar 1, 2014 |By Lila Stanners

Beauty seems mysterious and subjective. Scientists have long attempted to explain why the same object can strike some individuals as breathtaking and others as repulsive. Now a study finds that applying stimulation to a certain brain area enhances people's aesthetic appreciation of visual images.

First, participants viewed 70 abstract paintings and sketches and 80 representational (realistic) paintings and photographs and rated how much they liked each one. Then they rated a similar set of images after receiving transcranial direct-current stimulation or sham stimulation. Transcranial direct-current stimulation sends small electrical impulses to the brain through electrodes attached to the head. The technique is noninvasive and cannot be felt, so subjects in the trials were not aware when they received real stimulation. The researchers aimed the impulses at the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the brow that is known to be a region critical for emotional processing. They found that the stimulation increased participants' appreciation of representational images, according to the study published online in October 2013 inSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. The scientists believe the stimulation facilitated a shift from object recognition to aesthetic appraisal for the figurative images; the abstract art was probably being processed by a different area of the brain.

Where do Savant Skills Come From?

03/03/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

By Scott Barry Kaufman | February 25, 2014 | Scientific American

There’s a scene in the 1988 movie Rain Man in which Raymond Babbitt (played by Dustin Hoffman) recites a waitress’s phone number. Naturally the waitress is shocked. Instead of mental telepathy, Raymond had memorized the entire telephone book and instantly recognized the name on her nametag.

Hoffman’s character was heavily influenced by the life of Kim Peek, a real memory savant who recently passed away. Peek was born without a corpus callosum, the fibers that connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain. He was also born missing parts of the cerebellum, which is important for motor control and the learning of complex, well-rehearsed routines.

When Peek was 9 months old, a doctor recommended he be institutionalized due to his severe mental disability. By the age of 6, when Peek had already memorized the first eight volumes of the family encyclopedia, another doctor recommended a lobotomy. By 14, Peek completed a high school curriculum.
v Peek’s abnormal brain wiring certainly came at a cost. Though he was able to immediately move new information from short-term memory to long-term memory, there wasn’t much processing going on in between. His adult fluid reasoning ability and verbal comprehension skills were on par with a child of 5, and he could barely understand the meaning in proverbs or metaphors. He also suffered deficits in the area of self-care: he couldn’t dress himself or brush his teeth without assistance.

But what Peek lacked in brain connections and conceptual cognitive functioning, he more than made up for in memory. He had the extraordinary ability to memorize any text in just one sitting. With two pages in front of him, he had the uncanny ability for each eye to focus on a different page. His repertoire included the Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare, U.S. area codes and zip codes, and roughly 12,000 other books. He was known to stop performances to correct actors and musicians who had made a mistake! He could also tell you what day of the week your birthday fell on in any year.

Toward the end of Peek’s life, Peek showed a marked improvement in his engagement with people. He also began playing the piano, made puns, and even started becoming more self-aware. During one presentation at Oxford University, a woman asked him if he was happy, to which he responded: “I’m happy just to look at you.”

The trade-off between memory and meaning is common among savants. The purpose of memory is to simplify experience. We didn’t evolve memory to be precise. Instead, we extract meaning wherever we can so that we can organize the regularities of experience and prepare for similar situations in the future. But without the imposition of meaning, savants can focus on literal recall. Some savants even have hyperlexia, which is the opposite of dyslexia. They are precocious readers, but have no comprehension of what they are reading.

Descriptions of savant syndrome first appeared in the scientific literature as early as 1789. In 1887 the British doctor J. Langdon Down (who discovered Down syndrome) described 10 people with savant syndrome and coined the term “idiot savant” (which is no longer used, because of its pejorative connotation). Today, one in ten people with autism have savantism, although only half of the documented savants are autistic. The rest have some other kind of developmental disorder.

Savantism disproportionately affects males, with about five male savants for every one female, and the syndrome generally occurs in people with IQs between 40 and 70. Like others with ASD, when savants take IQ tests they tend to score higher on nonverbal problems than verbal problems. As Darold Treffert, a world-renowned expert on savant syndrome, observes, “IQ scores, in my experience with savants, fail to adequately capture and reflect the many separate elements and abilities that contribute to ‘intelligence’ overall in everyone.”

Like others on the autism spectrum, savants display a narrow repertoire of skills, which tend to be highly structured, rule-based, and nonverbal. Common savant domains include music, art, calendar calculating, lightning calculating, and mechanical/visual spatial skills. Most musical savants are blind and have perfect pitch, most artistic savants express themselves through realistic drawing and sculpture, and most rapid calculating savants have a fascination and facility with prime numbers.

Even so, savants vary markedly in their abilities. Savant skills fall along a continuum, ranging from “splinter skills” (such as memorization of license plates), to “talented” savants who have musical or artistic skills that exceed what is expected based on their handicap, to “prodigious” savants where the skill is so remarkable it would be impressive with or without the disability. To date, fewer than 100 prodigious savants have been documented. Interestingly, there is almost always no “dreaded trade-off ” between the incredible skills of savants and their development of language, social skills, and daily living functioning.

Savant syndrome can be congenital or acquired. When congenital, the skill appears early in childhood, and when acquired, abilities appear to spring forth suddenly following stroke, brain injury, or dementia. Many savants are creative, in additions to being highly skilled.

Tags: savant

What is Brain-Based Learning? Part 3 Strategies 7 - 10

02/24/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

Written by Eric Jensen

Brain-Based Education is the purposeful engagement of strategies that apply to how our brain works in the context of education.

Brain-based education is actually a “no-brainer.” Here’s a simple, but essential premise: the brain is intimately involved in, and connected with, everything educators and students do at school. Any disconnect is a recipe for frustration and potentially disaster. Brain-based education is best understood in three words: engagement, strategies and principles. You must engage your learners and do it with strategies that are based on real science. Below are Strategies 4 through 6.

Principle to Strategy Number Seven

The role of the arts in schools continues to be under great scrutiny. But five neuroscience departments at five universities (Oregon, Harvard, Michigan, Dartmouth and Stanford) have recently completed projects studying the impact of arts on the brain. The results suggest that arts are far better than earlier believed. They show that certain arts boost attention, working memory, and visual spatial skills. Other arts such as dance, theater and drama boost social skills, empathy, timing, patience, verbal memory and other transferable life skills.

Practical school application: Make arts mandatory and give students the choice of several, and support with expert teachers and the time to excel at it. Right now, evidence suggests that you get the most value from 30 to 60 minutes a day, three to five days a week. Arts support the development of the brain’s academic operating systems in ways that provide many transferable life skills.

Principle to Strategy Number Eight

Humans have the remarkable capacity to display many emotions, but only six of them are “hard wired,” or built in at birth. This is profound because it tells us that unless children get these emotional states taught to them early (ages 0-3), when they enter school, they’ll be emotionally narrow. Kids rarely ever get the emotional skills built in to be ready for school. This leads to more discipline problems and weakened cognitive skills in school. This means we’ll have kids at school who do not understand appropriate emotional responses (e.g. cooperation, trust, shame and humility) unless we teach them at school. Many kids are not getting these taught at home. You class should offer quick, daily skill-building with blended-in-daily practice.

Otherwise students will misbehave, not understand directions, fail to be respectful to teachers and show no empathy when others are in pain. There are more early childhood kids in day care (60-80 percent) today compared with two generations ago (10-12 percent). This is also profound because out of the possible hundreds of emotional states, only a few are good for learning (e.g. anticipation, curiosity, suspicion, confusion). Most states are, in fact, bad for learning.

Practical school application: This suggests two things. One, we must teach appropriate emotional states as life skills (e.g. honor, patience, forgiveness and empathy) and, second, it’s important to read and manage the other emotional states in the classroom. In good states, students learn well and behave better. Insist that teachers build social skills into every lesson. Ask that they use the social structures that are advocated in cooperative learning programs every day. The better the social skills, the better the academics. Many good programs are in books, workshops and online. Why put effort into this area? Kids who learn patience, attention, empathy and cooperation will be better students.

Principle to Strategy Number Nine

There have been stunning strides in rehabilitation of brain-based disorders, including Asperger’s, learning delays, dyslexia and autism. The discovery that aggressive behavioral therapies, new drugs and revolutionary stem cell implantation can be used to influence, regulate and repair brain-based disorders has been amazing. Innovations suggest that special education students may be able to improve far more than we earlier thought.

Practical school application: Make sure all teachers (not just special ed) learn the latest in dealing with special education learning delay recovery. Most kids can be brought back into regular ed classes, but not with inclusion-only strategies. It takes consistent hour-a-day skill-building or the student won’t change. Learn the right skills and go to it 3-5 days a week.

Principle to Strategy Number Ten

The recent brain/mind discovery that even memories are not fixed but, instead, are quite malleable is powerful. Every time you retrieve a memory, it goes into a volatile, flex state in which it is temporarily reorganized. This is highly relevant for teachers and administrators who are responsible for student learning and classroom testing. Every time students review, they might change their memory (and often do). Yet, without review, they are less likely to recall their learning. It suggests that teachers use several strategies to continually strengthen memory over time instead of assuming that once learned, the memory is preserved.

Practical school application: First, teachers should review the content halfway between the original learning and the test. If content is taught Monday and tested on Friday, then review should be on Wednesday. Second, teachers should mediate the review process with students through structured reviews such as written quizzes or group work that ensures quality control. Otherwise the material is more likely to get confused and test scores drop.

Brain-Based Education Insider

This is a new paradigm which establishes connections between brain function and educational practice. A field has emerged known as “brain-based” education and it has now been well over 20 years since this “connect the dots” approach began. In a nutshell, brain-based education says, “Everything we do uses our brain; let’s learn more about it and apply that knowledge.”

If your question was, “Are the approaches and strategies based on solid research from brain-related disciplines or are they based on myths, a well-meaning mentor teacher or from ‘junk science?’”, now you know the answer. We would expect an educator to be able to support the use of a particular classroom strategy with a scientific reasoning or studies.

Each educator ought to be professional enough to say, “Here’s why I do what I do.” I would ask: Is the person actually engaged in using what they know, or simply having knowledge about it, but not actually using it? Are they using strategies based on the science of how our brain works? Brain-based education is about the professionalism of knowing why one strategy is used over another. The science is based on what we know about how our brain works.

How Exercise Benefits the Brain

02/24/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

by Leo Widrich, syndicated from, Aug 27, 2013

Exercise has been touted to be a cure for nearly everything in life, from depression, to memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's and more. At the same time, similar to the topic of sleep, I found myself having very little specific and scientific knowledge about what exercise really does to our bodies and our brains.

"Yes, yes, I know all about it, that's the thing with the endorphins, that makes you feel good and why we should exercise and stuff, right?" is what I can hear myself say to someone bringing this up. I would pick up things here and there, yet really digging into the connection of exercise and how it effects us has never been something I've done.

Inspired by a recent post from Joel on what makes us happy I've set out to uncover the connection between our feeling of happiness and exercising regularly.

What triggers happiness in our brain when we exercise?

Most of us are aware of what happens to the body when we exercise. We build more muscle or more stamina. We feel how daily activities like climbing stairs becomes easier if we exercise regularly. When it comes to our brain and mood though, the connection isn't so clear.

The line around our "endorphins are released" is more something I throw around to sound smart, without really knowing what it means. Here is what actually happens:

If you start exercising, your brain recognizes this as a moment of stress. As your heart pressure increases, the brain thinks you are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect yourself and your brain from stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This BDNF has a protective and also reparative element to your memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That's why we often feel so at ease and things are clear after exercising and eventually happy.

At the same time, endorphins, another chemical to fight stress, is released in your brain. Your endorphins main purpose is this writes researcher McGovern:

These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.

Overall, there is a lot going on inside our brain and it is in fact oftentimes a lot more active than when we are just sitting down or actually concentrating mentally:

So, BDNF and endorphins are the reasons exercise makes us feel so good. The somewhat scary part is that they have a very similar and addictive behavior like morphine, heroine or nicotine. The only difference? Well, it's actually good for us.

The key to maximize happiness through exercise: don’t do more, but focus on when

Now here is where it all gets interesting now. We know the basic foundations of why exercising makes us happy and what happens inside our brain cells. The most important part to uncover now, is of course how we can trigger this in an optimal and longer lasting way.

A recent study from Penn State University shed some light on the matter and the results are more than surprising. They found that to be more productive and happier on a given work day, it doesn't matter so much, if you work-out regularly, if you haven't worked out on that particular day:

"Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning."

New York Times best-selling author Gretchen Reynolds has written a whole book about the subject matter titled "The first 20 minutes". To get the highest level of happiness and benefits for health, the key is not to become a professional athlete. On the contrary, a much smaller amount is needed to reach the level where happiness and productivity in every day life peaks:

"The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active."

So really, you can relax and don't have to be on the look-out for the next killer work-out. All you have to do is get some focused 20 minutes in to get the full happiness boost every day:

"On exercise days, people's mood significantly improved after exercising. Mood stayed about the same on days they didn't, with the exception of people's sense of calm which deteriorated." (University of Bristol)

How to get into a consistent exercise habit: The dance with the endorphins

Now, that's all nice to hear you might say, starting to exercise regularly or even daily is still easier written than done. At end of the day, there is quite a lot of focus required to help you get into the habit of exercising daily. The most important part to note first, is that exercise is a keystone habit according to Charles Duhigg, New York Times bestselling author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business". This means that daily exercise can pave the way not only for happiness, but also growth in all other areas of your life.

In a recent post from Joel, he wrote about the power of daily exercise for his everyday life. Coincidentally, he follows the above rules very accurately and exercises daily before doing anything else. He writes:

By 9:30am, I’ve done an hour of coding on the most important task I have right now on Buffer, I’ve been to the gym and had a great session, and I’ve done 30 minutes of emails. It’s only 9:30am and I’ve already succeeded, and I feel fantastic.

I've spoken lots to Joel about his habit of exercising and here are some of the most important things to do, in order to set you up for success and make your daily exercise fun:

Put your gym clothes right over your alarm clock or phone when you go to bed: This technique sounds rather simple, but has been one of the most powerful ones. If you put everything the way you want it for the gym before you go to sleep and put your alarm under your gym clothes, you will have a much easier time to convince yourself to put your gym clothes on.

Track your exercises and log them at the same time after every exercise: When you try to exercise regularly, the key is to make it a habit. One way to achieve this is to create a so called “reward”, that will remind you of the good feelings you get from exercising. In our big list of top web apps, we have a full section on fitness apps that might be handy. Try out Fitocracy or RunKeeper to log your work-outs. Try to have a very clear logging process in place. Log your work-out just before you go into the shower or exactly when you walk out of the gym. Think about starting small and then start even smaller: Here is a little secret. When I first started exercising, I did it with 5 minutes per day, 3 times a week. Can you imagine that? 5 minutes of timed exercise, 3 times a week? That’s nothing you might be thinking. And you are right, because the task is so easy and anyone can succeed with it, you can really start to make a habit out of it. Try no more than 5 or 10 minutes if you are getting started.

There are lots more great ideas for how you can create a habit from Joel in his post on the exercise habit, be sure to check it out, it might be a lot of help here. I am sure that if you dedicate just very little time, you can get into an awesome exercise routine that makes you happier, more productive and relaxed than ever before.

Quick last fact: You get the highest level of happiness with exercise if you are just starting out

As a quick last fact, exercise, the increase of the BDNF proteins in your brain acts as a mood enhancer. The effects are similar to drug addiction one study found. So when you start exercising, the feeling of euphoria is the highest:

"The release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria over time." (McGovern)

So this means that if you have never exercised before or not for a long time, your happiness gains will be the highest if you start now.

Exercise and how it affects our level of happiness is an absolutely exciting topic for me. Have you played around with this too and seen any results? I would love to hear your thoughts on how exercise and happiness work together.

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