Archive for May, 2015

Gone to the Annual Meeting of the APS

May 18, 2015

APS is the Association for Psychological Science.   There will be a hiatus in new posts as I attend the meeting.  Of course, I shall still need to assimilate the knowledge acquired and then I need to write new posts.  So the hiatus will not be trivial.

However, there are close to 600 posts here, so there is much to read and consider.  As for as what to read, there are the categories (scroll down the right hand column to find them) to consider.  I think the titles should be obvious with perhaps the exception of “Transactive Memory.”  Transactive memory refers to memories resident in technology and in our fellow human beings.  Then you can use the search block (scroll back up to find the search block with “search this site” in it to find posts of interests.  Here are some search terms for you to consider:

cognitive reserve
crystalized intelligence
contemplative computing

And if I were to recommend one blog post to read it would be “The Myth of Cognitive Decline.”

Enjoy and remember, “I shall return.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Controlling Pain in Our Minds

May 16, 2015

This blog post is based on an article in the New Scientist (17 Jan 2015, p.10) by Jessica Hamzelou titled “Pain Really Can Be All in Your Mind.”  She reported research  by Tor Wager at the University of Colorado Boulder that was published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS Biology,    They used fMRI to examine the brain activity  of 33 healthy adults.  They first watched the changing activity  as they applied increasing  heat to the participants arms.  A range of brain structures lit up as the heat became painful.  This was a familiar pattern of activity  called the neurologic pain signature.

The researchers wanted to know if the participants  could control the pain by thought alone.  They asked the participants to rethink their pain either as blistering heat, or as a warm blanket on a cool day.  Although the participants couldn’t change the level of activity in the neurologic pain signature, they could alter the amount of pain they felt.  When they did this, a distinct  set of brain structures linking the nucleus accumbens and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex became active.

Vanaia Apkarian of Northwestern University noted,”It’s a major finding.  For the first time, we’ve established  the possibility of modulating pain through two different pathways.”  Brain scans can compare the strengths of activation of these two brain networks to work out how much pain has a physical cause, and how much is due to their thoughts and emotions.

These finding built on prior work by Apkarian’s team, who discovered that chronic back pain seems to be associated with a pattern of brain activity not usually seen with physical pain.  The brain regions active in Apkarian’s patients are the same as those active  in the participants controlling pain in Wager’s study.

It is possible that in chronic pain conditions, psychological pain might overtake physical pain as the main contributor to the overall sensation.  This might be the reason that traditional pain relief such as opiods don’t offer much relief from pain.

Hamezelou notes, “Wager’s study suggests that cognitive therapies and techniques such as nuerofeedback—where people learn to control their brain activity by watching how it changes in real time—might offer a better approach.”

Ben Seymour, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge notes, “in the next five to 10 years, we’ll see a huge change in the way clinicians deal with pain.  Rather than being passed on what the patient says, we’ll be building  a richer picture of the connections in the person’s brain to identify what type of pain they have.

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

May 13, 2015

The title of this blog post is the title of a book that I have found helpful and I think many healthymemory blog readers will also find helpful. Its authors are Noah J. Goldstein, a faculty member at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, Steve J. Martin, the Managing Director of INFLUENCE AT WORK (UK), a consulting group, and Robert B Cialdini, a Regents Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. Cialdini is also the author of Influence: Science and Practice. He is also the President of INFLUENCE AT WORK,

You might conclude that these books are for marketing and sales people. Although you would be correct, they are also good reads for us lay people. Like it or not, there are times when we want to persuade others. And there are many efforts daily made by others to persuade us. We need to know the techniques so that we can be aware of these attempts at persuasion and to have defense mechanisms to preclude us from responding to inadvisable attempts. Research on the effectiveness of different public service messages is presented. What is and is not effective is often counterintuitive.

According to Cialdini there are six universal principles of social influence: reciprocation, authority, commitment/consistency, scarcity, liking, and social proof. There are fifty brief chapters illustrating these principles including a persuasion tip from Benjamin Franklin. I strongly recommended Cialdini’s Influence: Science and Practice.However, Yes! Is an easier read that still includes technical references documenting the cited research.



As We Age Brainpower, Peaks in Different Ways

May 10, 2015

Research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzed the responses of more than 48,500 people who took online tests on the websites and  Researchers found the following:

On average, people think the fastest around age 18.

Short term memory peaks at around age 25.

Our ability to read’s people emotional states is generally best in our 40s and 50s.

“Crystalized Intelligence,” a measure of accumulated knowledge, doesn’t peak until people are in their late 60s or early 70s.  Remember that these results are “on average.”   There are individuals who will peak beyond these years and others who will die before they reach their potential peak.  Apparent slowness of mind is likely due to the vastly increased amount of information in memory (see the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline”). These results indicate that the older population represents a valuable resource that should not be ignored.

These results were reported in the Monitor on Psychology, May 2015, p. 23 and taken from Psychology Science, online, March 13.

Today I Enter the 70th Year of My Life

May 6, 2015

Meaning that today is my 69th birthday.  My first thought is, where has all the time gone?  Time not just flies, it flies supersonically.   I can use the marvelous time travel machine in my brain, my memory, and almost instantaneously travel back to when I was four years old or to any other specific time in my life.  The purpose of memory as a time travel machine is for us to use what we have experienced and learned in our pasts and project it into our future plans and actions.  It is here that memories can disappoint.  Too often I have failed to use information from my past in the future.  That is, I have failed to use lessons learned.  I have no idea how much longer I shall live.  It is highly doubtful that it will be for another 69 years.  I have already outlived my father and my brother.  My mother made it into here 100th year.  Unfortunately, she was plagued with dementia for the last several years of her life.

It is my goal to avoid dementia and to continue to grow cognitively the remaining years of my life.  Recent research, which will be posted in the next healthymemory blog post, found that “Crystalized Intelligence,” a measure of accumulated knowledge, doesn’t peak until people are in their late 60’s or 70’s.  Now these are average data.  There are individuals whose crystalized intelligence either peaks later or when they die.

So how can this potential be enhanced?  That is the question to which the healthymemory blog is devoted, and the first answer is not to wait.  Regardless of age, engage in the practices and advice of the healthymemory blog.  There is an overwhelming amount of advice and number of practices, so choose those with which you are compatible and continue to read this blog.

Perhaps first and foremost is the importance of ikigai.  Ikigai is a Japanese word, which roughly translated means “the reason to get up in the morning.”  In other words, have reasons for living.  Knowing your purpose(s) in life is important to your well being.  Research has indicated that having a regular job  decreases the probability of suffering from dementia.  Consequently, I continue working at my regular job.  Still I need to consider whether I am better off continuing at this job, and getting up extremely early in the morning, or pursuing other activities that might be more beneficial cognitively.  In doing so, I need to draw upon my time travel machine, my memory, to be sure that I am not ignoring any lessons learned when making my decision.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Strangers to Ourselves

May 3, 2015

Consider that at any given moment our five senses are taking in more than 11,000,000 pieces of information.  Our eyes alone send over 10,000,000 signals to our brains each second.  Yet, even the most liberal  estimate is that we can process consciously about 40 pieces of information per second.  So it is obvious that a vast amount of information is outside our awareness.  How do we deal with this enormous amount of information that is outside our awareness?

Strangers to Ourselves:  Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious   by psychologist Timothy D. Wilson addresses this question.  It is only fairly recently that psychologists have become aware of this question.  Freud posited the unconscious in his psychodynamic theory, but this is in the clinical context.  The unconscious is ubiquitous and, hence, we are strangers to ourselves.  Strangers to Ourselves is an academic book, yet it is eminently readable.  It also addresses techniques for learning about this vast territory of unconsciousness in ourselves.

Wilson provides historical background in psychology and philosophy.  Whatever it is, this unconsciousness is adaptive.  Without it, we never would have survived as a species.  He has a chapter titled “Who’s in Charge?” as there are those who would maintain that our conscious mind is all an illusion.  We are like passive viewers of a movie that develops in our unconsciousness mind.  They would argue that explanations of what we did and why we did it are post conscious explanations based on what was seen in the movie.  Although there are times when data indicate that this might be the case, this is certainly not Wilson’s view.  Wilson argues that we should be in charge, but to do so we need to become familiar with our unconscious selves.

He has a chapter on knowing who we are.  He reviews relevant research and provides guidance on getting a better understanding of who we are.

Another chapter is on knowing how we feel.  Now you might think that this is a stupid question as, of course, we know how we feel.  Wilson will present evidence that this is not always the case, and we need to make an effort to come into contact with our true feelings rather than how we might think we feel, as our thinking might be misleading.

Introspection and self-narratives are techniques that can be used to come in contact with ourselves.  Wilson reviews research and techniques.  We can also learn about ourselves by looking outward and using how others react to use to foster a better understanding of our own self.

The final chapter is on observing and changing our behavior.  This is difficult to do, but it is an exercise that we should engage in throughout our lives, and Wilson provides sound guidance on how to do this.

I think this book should be read by everyone capable of understanding it,  and it should be  translated into as many languages as possible.  Courses on this topic should be offered in colleges.  And I would argue further that these topics and concept should be introduced in high school.  Were these activities undertaken, the ramifications could be impressive and widespread.