Archive for December, 2013

Happy New Year 2014: Now What About Those Resolutions?

December 29, 2013

Let me begin by making a strong recommendation. If you text while driving, or even if you just use the cell phone while driving, please make it your most important resolution to stop. These activities can lead not only to your own death or disability, but also to the death of others. Although texting is by far the worse of the two, just using your cell phone increases the chance of an accident by a factor of four. Moreover, whether your hands are free or not is irrelevant. Hands are not the problem. These activities produce attentional blindness that can result in accidents. Many of you should have seen the video clip where you are asked to count the number of times a ball is passed among a group of men. During the clip a man in a gorilla suit works across the floor. Many do not even notice his presence. This is a good example of what is meant by attentional blindness.

Although making New Year’s Resolutions is a splendid idea, the problem is that we fail to keep most of these resolutions. One way of improving your success is to cast willpower as a choice. This can be done by carefully choosing the words you use to talk to yourself. Research1 has shown that when participants framed a refusal as “I don’t” instead of “I can’t connotes deprivation, while saying ). So, for example, one could say “I don’t eat fatty foods,” rather than “I can’t eat fatty foods.” Vanessa Patrick, the author of the study said, “I believe that an effective route to self regulation is by managing one’s desire for temptation, instead of relying solely on willpower… Saying,“I can’t” denotes deprivation while saying “I don’t” makes us feel empowered and better able to resist temptation.”1

So it is a good idea to rely on willpower as little as possible. A book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney, explains why. Keeping New Year’s Resolutions results in ego depletion. You can think of ego depletion as being a loss in will or mental energy and it can be measured by glucose metabolism. Whenever you are trying to resist temptation, make a decision, or need to concentrate on certain tasks, there is this loss in willpower or mental energy, such that it is difficult to resist additional temptations, to make more decisions, or to concentrate on additional tasks. So it is unwise to try to give up two vices at the same time. The probability of success if much greater if you address one vice and then later address the other vice.

So the more resolutions you make, the less likely you are to keep them. And the more difficult a given resolution is, the more difficult it will be to keep it. So here is a strategy for you consideration. Decide upon only two resolutions. One should be fairly easy, and the other more difficult. You are more likely to keep the easy resolution, so you will likely have one in the win column. Should you also keep the second more difficult resolution, then you are entitled to a YA HAH moment. This strategy should produce at least a .500 win percentage.

As for what other resolutions one might make, the Healthymemory Blog has some additional suggestions.

Taking at least a forty minute walk at least three times a week.

Learn at least three new words a day (or 21 words a week) in the language of your choice.

Contribute to a Wikipedia page on a topic of interest and continue to build you knowledge in that topic or a new topic.

Find several new friends with a similar interest and pursue that interest with a passion.

Engage in deliberate practice in a skill of interest (See the Healthymemory Blog Post Deliberate Practice”)

Develop and practice mnemonic techniques on a regular basis (Click on the Category “Mnemonic Techniques” and you find a comprehensive listing of mnemonic techniques along with descriptions of the techniques and exercises. Try starting at the bottom of the category and proceeding up. There is a specific Healthymemory Blog post, “Memory Course”, which suggests an order in which the mnemonic techniques should be approached. There are also some websites for learning and developing proficiency in mnemonic techniques. One is www.NeuroMod.org. Click on the Human Memory Site. Then click on the “read more” link under your preferred language. You can open up an account and record and track your progress. Another site is www.Thememorypage.net. Both of these websites are free.)

Begin meditating and start practicing mindfulness. You can find many healthymemory blog posts on meditation and mindfulness, simply enter these terms in the blog’s search block.

Good luck.

1Rodriguez, T. (2013). :I Don’t” Beats “I Can’t” for Self Control. Scientific American Mind, January/February p.14.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Some Words from Einstein Worth Pondering

December 24, 2013

I found the following in Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel (p.255): “In 1959 Albert Einstein received a letter from a rabbi who had lost one of his two daughters to an accidental death. What wisdom could he offered, the rabbi asked to help his remaining daughter as she mourned her sister? Here is what Einstein replied:

A human being is part of a whole. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and foundation for inner security.”

Is It Smart to Be Tested for Dementia?

December 21, 2013

This blog post is derived from an article1 in the Health and Science section of the Washington Post. First of all, it is difficult to distinguish early dementia from mild cognitive impairment. These are those minor memory impairments we experience as we age. About one in five people older than 75 have such blips, and most cases never progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I would argue further that what are experienced as mild memory impairments might not even indicate mild cognitive impairment. We experience memory failures throughout our lives, but as we age we tend to attribute these failures as cognitive impairments that we fear will lead to dementia.

Moreover, some memory lapses that might seem to be like dementia might really be something else. Danish researchers reviewed the records of almost 900 patients thought to have dementia and found that 41% of them were in error. Alcohol abuse and depression were the most common reasons for the misdiagnoses.

Small strokes that damage the arteries in the brain can cause a type of memory loss known as vascular dementia which is not Alzheimer’s. Currently, an autopsy is the only definitive test of Alzheimer’s where the telltale amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangels are found. However, it should be realized that autopsies have been done and found these telltale indicators in individuals who never had any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia while they were alive.

Recent tests using brain scanning can be misleading. If, after reading this blog post, you remain worried, the first step should be to see a gerontologist or neurologist specializing in dementia. The claim is that when a full evaluation is done by somebody who knows how to do it, the accuracy of the diagnosis is supposed to be in the range of 90%.

Absent these full evaluations done by specialists, routine screening tests can be quite misleading. Even with the best screening tests, about 20% of those who turn up positive for dementia don’t actually have it. Another 30% of the people who screen positive for dementia actually have only mild cognitive impairment, which won’t progress or cause them serious problems.

Moreover, there is even some question whether early diagnosis improves outcomes. It should be acknowledged that there is no cure or preventive vaccine for Alzheimer’s. All that drugs can do is to slow the progression of the disease. Here is where I part company with the experts. What is the point of prolonging the progression of the disease? To my mind, this is simply a matter of prolonging the suffering. Our medical system is not designed to give us the best medical care, but rather the most expensive medical care. There is a strong willingness to prolong suffering so doctors and drug companies can take advantage of their last opportunity to cash in!

Moreover, little is said about the concept of a cognitive reserve. The explanation for those who have the brain damage indicative of Alzheimer’s, but not the symptoms, have built of a cognitive reserve. This healthymemory blog is filled with posts and ideas on how to build a healthy memory and a cognitive reserve.

1Christie Aschwanden (2013). Just remember this: It may not be smart to get yourself tested for dementia. The Washington Post, December 17, E5.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Frightening News from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

December 17, 2013

Many healthymemory blog posts have addressed the dangers of distracted driving (enter “driving” into the blog’s search block). This post will add to this list. More than 40% of people between 19 and 39 years old admit to texting while they drive, with 10% admitting that they do it regularly. More than half admit to talking on their cellphone while they drive. Now simply talking on the phone while driving quadraples the risk of being in a crash. The risk while texting is much greater.

Overall the survey found that 26% of the drivers admitted to texting and 6% said they did so frequently. 67% admitted to talking on their phones, 28% admitted to doing so regularly.

It has been estimated that 660,000 Americans use electronic devices while driving at any moment during the daylight hours. Although most people say that they recognize the risk posed by distracted driving, they seem to think that they are able to use their phones safely, but wish that others wouldn’t.

A key problem is “inattention blindness.” Although a driver might see something that should indicate caution, this realization doesn’t register in time for the driver to react by braking or swerving to safety. Research done by David Strayer and others at the University of Utah have found that voice activated devices that allow drivers to listen to or send text messages without touching their mobile device are not effective in reducing distraction. Their research has shown that when compared to other distractions inside the car, “interacting with the speech-to-text system was the most cognitively distracting, clearly suggesting that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”

There was some good news in the survey. The 16- to 18-year group talked less on the their phones while behind the wheel than any group younger than 60 and were less likely to text than drivers between the agesof 19 and 39.1

Please remember that engaging in these activities not only puts your life and health in jeopardy, but also puts the life and health of your fellow human beings in jeopardy.

1Ashley Halsey III (2013). AAA: Drivers ignore texting warnings. The Washington Post, December 17, A4.

Mindsight

December 14, 2013

When I was in high school I wanted to be a psychiatrist. I read Freud and learned about the id, the ego, and the superego. I read Carl Gustav Jung and learned about individuation, extroversion, introversion, and archetypes as well as the collective unconscious. I read Alfred Adler and learned about individual psychology and the inferiority complex. The patients in case histories were identified with mysterious initials. But when I attended psychology and started taking psychology courses I became obsessed with learning how memory works, how we perceive, and how we form concepts and make decisions. So I studied in the area of human experimental psychology and earned a Ph.D. In the working world, I addressed applications and worked in the area of applied experimental and engineering psychology. I became a cognitive psychologist studying cognitive science. Psychology had been divided into half. One half, consisting of what most people think of as psychology, clinical and counseling psychology. And the other half, consisting of people with more of a scientific bent interested in basic and applied psychology. Historically, there has been little interaction between these two halves of the field of psychology.

So when I read Mindsight by Daniel Siegel, M.D, and saw him addressing clinical problems using the language of cognitive science and relating clinical problems to brain structures, I was overwhelmed. Moreover, in his case histories he uses first names, rather than cryptic initials. Daniel Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and co-director of the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. Mindsight refers to gaining insights not only in to how our own minds work, but also in the ways the minds of our fellow human beings work. I believe that mindsight is central not only to a healthy memory and our own mental functioning, but also is key to effective relationships. I could go on and further argue that this is important to government policies, but I shall not belabor that here.

I strongly recommend Mindsight to everyone, especially healthymemory blog post readers. I think it would make a great and valuable Christmas Gift.

Obviously mindsight involves mindfulness. Many healthymemory blog posts on mindfulness can be found by entering mindfulness into the healthymemory search block.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What is Kahnemanite Advertising?

December 10, 2013

According to an article1 in The Economist “Kahnemanite advertising prizes emotion over information and pays more attention to a brand’s “purpose” than to its products.” Daniel Kahneman is the Nobel winning psychologist who is the author of the best selling Thinking Fast and Slow (enter Kahneman into the healthymemory blog search box to find many posts on Kahneman). System one is thinking very fast, most of which occurs below consciousness. System two takes the output of system one and processes, or in conventional parlance, thinks about it. If we didn’t have system one, we would have long ago become extinct. However, the efficiency of System one comes at some cost. It can produce erroneous or incorrect responses, and it is the role of System two to catch and correct these errors. Unfortunately, this frequently fails to happen. Emotional responding is part of System one.

Of course, it is not exactly news that advertisers like to exploit our emotional responses, but conventional advertising also likes to engage System 2. Kahnemanite advertising refers to the emphasis placed on System 1 and the cost of ignoring System 2. I found it interesting that marketers actually speak in terms of System 1 and System 2 processing.

Different methods are used to test whether System 1 is being effectively engaged. Brainjuicer asks subjects to rate an advert by saying which of eight faces, each expressing a different emotion, best reflects the feeling and intensity of the emotion. Another firm, Decode, uses implicit association in which subjects associate images (for example, a chocolate bar) with a concept (for example comfort) and times the reactions. Neuro-Insight monitors electrical activity in the brain when subjects view an advert.

The Economist article finds irony in this. It writes that “Most readers of Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow will end up of mistrusting system one for its propensity to misleading.” But if readers of Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow have correctly understood Kahneman, they will understand that most of the time System one is correct. It is only occasionally that System one will mislead.

Please understand that Kahneman, himself, is not directly involved in any of these activities. You should also be aware that Kahneman, together with his colleague Amos Tversky, are regarded by many as the fathers of behavioral economics. Behavioral economics exposes the fallacy of the rational human being, which is the foundation of conventional economics and which forms the basis of most contemporary policy. This needs to change. To read more about this enter “behavioral economics”, then “gross national happiness” into the healthymemory blog search block.

1Nothing more than feelings, The Economist, December 7th 2013, p.70.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

14-Day Brain Workout?

December 7, 2013

“14-Day Brain Workout!” is the title of an insert by Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., to the National Geographic Complete Guide to Brain Fitness. I’ve replaced the “!” with a “?” because I am completely perplexed by the word “Day” in the title. Does she mean 14 days and your done? This insert is based on Green’s 30 Days toTotal Brain Health, which I find to be even more perplexing. Brain or memory health is a lifelong pursuit, not something that is accomplished in days. Had she substituted the “activities.” the title would be acceptable. An argument can be made that the failure to continue pursuing certain activities as we age can contribute to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Nevertheless, the healthymemory blog shall review her activities in the context of developing and maintaining a healthy memory.

Get Physical. Yes. Aerobic exercise several days a week is definitely beneficial to brain health. Just walking 45 minutes three times a week is beneficial to memory and your hippocampus (see the healthymemory blog post “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).

Tap a Tune. She write of the benefits of tapping a tune with your fingers for a few minutes a day. I really would like to see the research on which she bases this activity. I remain skeptical, particularly if it is done only a few minutes a day.

Color Your World. She encourages drawing or sketching using colored pencils. Now it is beneficial to engage in new activities, but I am skeptical if doing this only briefly will be beneficial.

Learn About Memory Loss. Here she recommends reading about Alzheimer’s. I strongly recommend reading generally about memory and how your memory works and how it fails to work. Many such posts on this topic can be found in the healthymemory blog.

Jump Some Jacks. The jacks here is in the context of jumping jacks. I would subsume this under the earlier activity of getting physical.

The Honorable Opposition. I strongly endorse this activity. This is a matter of familiarizing yourself with the opinions of others. This goes beyond brain and memory health, but also addresses the goal of being a good citizen (see the healthymemory blog post, “APS Address on The Psychological Science Behind Hyperpartisanship and What to Do About It”).

Write a Haiku. Haiku is an ancient Japanese form of verse. Although it is reasonable to think that writing poetry contributes to memory health, there is little reason to think that there is anything special about Haiku.

Take a Yoga Break. Yes. Yoga is beneficial, but there are other forms of meditation that are also beneficial (enter “meditation” into the healthymemory search box) and , “are less demanding physically.

Reorganize Your Desk. Being an inveterate slob I should recuse myself from commenting on this activity. Nevertheless, although I will admit that there are benefits to being organized, I know of no research indicating that this is beneficial to a healthy memory.

Do Something Kind. Yes, not only doing something kind but simply thinking something kind can be beneficial to health (see the healthymemory blog post “The Importance of the Vagus Nerve in Relieving Stress.”).

Learn the Symptoms of a Stroke. Yes. This is quite important. Be sure to visit the National Stroke Association website, www.stroke.org

Doodle. Here Dr. Green does cite some research. According to a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology research participants assigned a doodling task not only did better when quizzed on what they were monitoring in a phone call, but also did 29% better than a control group on a surprise memory test.

Hug 5 People. Yes. Hugging is good. See “Do Something Good.” Just be sure that you know the 5 people that you hug.

List 10 Ways Your Brain is Great. Indeed, Your brain is great. But you not only need to appreciate it, but you also need to build and grow it continually.

All in all, the suggestions are good. I believe more emphasis should have been spent on the importance of social interactions. And I think the benefits of specific memory improving techniques should also have been included (See the “Mnemonic Techniques” category of the healthymemory blog.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mindfulness is Growing Rapidly

December 3, 2013

As was reported in a column in The Economist.1 Google is offering an internal course titled “search inside yourself.” This has proved so popular that Google has created entry-level versions such as “neural self-hacking,” and “managing your energy.” They also have a labyrinth for walking meditation. Ebay has meditation rooms equipped with pillows and flowers. Rupert Murdoch is interested in transcendental meditation, which he says “everyone recommends.” Rayu Dalio of Bridgewater Associates says that meditation has had more impact on his success in the money-management business than anything else. Mindfulness is being introduced at Harvard Business School to develop leaders who are self-aware and self-compassionate. Arianna Huffington runs a mindfulness conference, a “GPS for the soul” app and a mindfulness corner of her Huffington Post.

The Duke University School of Medicine has conducted research that concludes that in the United States an hour of yoga a week reduces stress levels in employees by a third and cuts health-care costs by an average of $2,000 a year.

The Economist article notes that business success might be a tad at odds with the Buddhist ethic of non-attachment to material goods, but Buddhism, like most religions, has different sects to suit different tastes. Whereas Zen Buddhists are highly ascetic, there are other sects that are quite commercial selling fortunes and other items.

Just today I received a solicitation for a donation to the Prison Mindfulness Institute, which, as the name implies, works with prisoners. You can check this out at their website, www.PrisonMIndfulness.org.

Today, it is quite common to see areas devoted to physical exercise at businesses, government offices, and hotels. I believe that we shall soon be seeing mediation areas in these same places. Where space is limited we might even see them replacing the physical exercise areas.

You can find many posts about mindfulness and meditation, by placing mindfulness or meditation in the healthymemory blog search block.

1Schumpeter (2013). The mindfulness business, Nov 16th p.73.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.