Archive for the ‘Human Memory: Theory and Data’ Category

How to Talk to Your Immune System

April 7, 2020

This post is the fifth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Dr. Rediger writes, “Successes in immunotherapy today tell us that the power to overcome incurable illness may very well be locked inside each of us. Immunotherapy is a highly technical, precise way of targeting specific cells in the immune system and making them work against cancer. While you can’t practice immunotherapy yourself at home, you can communicate with your immune system, perhaps even—like so many of those who experience spontaneous healing—to the point of changing the way it functions, turning the tide against the disease.”

The key question is why do our natural killer cells sometimes target and remove mutating cancel cells and other times overlook them? When do they work for us, hunting down pathogens and viral invaders, and when do they turn against us, attacking our own tissues and biological systems?

The nervous system is an intricate network of nerve cells that winds and sparkles through the entire body. There are literally billions of nerve cells, or neurons, that allow us to do everything from lifting a finger to feeling an intense emotion. Nervous system cells are unceasingly sending messages through our body, whisking through the body as fast as electricity.

The immune system and the nervous system are intricately interwoven. They are not separate systems operating independently in different sectors of the body but overlapping networks that can swap information and “talk” to each other.

The nervous system connects directly to the thymus, one of the powerhouses of the immune system which nurtures and deploys natural killer cells and other types of white blood cells into the body on command. What is even more fascinating is the researchers now know that the cells of our immune systems actually have neuroreceptors on them. Neuroreceptors were believe to be limited to the brain and the nervous system until Candace Pert, often called “the mother of psychoneuroimmunology,” discovered the presence of neurotransmitter and neuropeptide receptors on the wall of cells in both the immune system and the brain. These neuroreceptors proved a way for the nervous system to communicate cell to cell. The cells of the immune system, roaming throughout our entire body at all times have that radio channel turned on. They are in direct communication with the nervous system, meaning whatever’s going on in your mind is being broadcast directly into the immune system. It is possible for our emotions to talk to our immune systems—sometimes with dramatic and unexpected results.

One recipient of a spontaneous remission attributed part of his healing to an ongoing, unshakable feeling of being loved by a special person who’d been important to him. Dr. Rediger writes, “Could this powerful feeling of being loved have been broadcast into his immune system, revivifying something deep within him? Whether it comes from a therapeutic session, a loving relationship, deep meditation or focused imagery, love touches and heals something that medications can’t touch.

The Immune System

April 6, 2020

This post is the fourth on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Jedd Wolchok, an oncologist and immunotherapy innovator at the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer clinic has said that “spontaneous remissions” are either divine intervention or the immune system. Along with the nervous system, it’s the most complex system in the human body. It’s made up of organs, tissues, and cells that form an intricate and multipurpose web of protection throughout the entire body. It starts with your skin, your saliva, and mucus membranes inside the nasal passages, which stop, trap, and neutralize many pathogens before they even enter the body. It goes as deep as the bone marrow, where white blood cells are born: the intelligent, specialized, rapid, and ruthless soldiers of the immune system, which hunt down and take out everything from invading pathogens to burgeoning cancer cells.

New white blood cells are constantly being born in the bone marrow. From there, they are sent to the thymus—a small organ that sits behind the breastbone—where the grow and mature before fanning out into the bloodstream, fully grown and ready to fight. They move through the body even faster than the blood does, each with its own specific job, can develop hundreds of tiny legs, grip the blood vessel walls, and move millipede-like when they are running to the site of a cut, infection or other breach in the immune system’s barrier, or to the site of an internal emergency like rogue cells that have mutated into something dangerous.

Many symptoms that we might think of as “bad”—and that we are in the habit of medicating away—are actually an important part of the immune system’s pathogen-fighting process. Consider the redness and swelling that appears around a cut or scrape. The redness is caused by the veins and capillaries dilating to allow infection-fighting immune system cells to arrive as quickly as possible to the site. Once at the site, the cells organize themselves into teams—some in charge of cleaning, others repair, and others generating new tissue. This causes swelling as the cells do their work. As long as they are successful in preventing infection from setting in, this type of inflammation is a normal and healthy response that is necessary for healing.

When we get a fever, we tend to immediately try to figure out a way to get rid of it. Until recently, it was standard practice in medicine to recommend controlling a fever with over-the-counter medications called antipyretics. But theories began to emerge that fevers might actually help our immune systems—as long as they aren’t dangerously high.

Fevers, as uncomfortable as they are, are one of the immune system’s many ingenious tools. They help rid the body by producing extra virus-fighting cells to get rid of a cold or flu faster. This finding leads back to Dr. Coley’s discovery over a hundred years ago—that a high fever somehow corresponded with the disappearance of cancer tumors. What Coley had tumbled upon, without completely understanding it, was that when the immune system turned the heat on to kick itself into gear to fight an infection, an unexpected side effect was that it got better at fighting, too. So, when we take medications to suppress a fever in response, we may also be suppressing our immune systems’ efforts to guide us toward recovery.

Not surprisingly, sometimes things go wrong. When lacking the physical and emotional nutrition it needs, the immune can become confused when it deploys to attack a threat; it can overreact or set its sights on the wrong target. Allergies provide an example.

In the case of autoimmune disorders, our immune systems can go haywire. With these diseases, our own body turns on us, attacking what it was sworn to protect. It flags our own cells, tissues, or organs as “foreign” and assaults them. Type 1 diabetes is an example of this: the immune system destroys the cells of the pancreas, making it impossible for the body to produce the insulin it needs to metabolize sugars and survive. Some autoimmune diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes are present from a young age, coded into the DNA of the person who suffers from it. But many other autoimmune disorders don’t appear until much later in life and often don’t have a strong genetic component. Once they appear and begin to progress, most are considered “incurable,” and the focus becomes how to live with the disease and manage it, as opposed to how to cure it. Some of the individuals profiled in this book are those who recovered completely from autoimmune diseases once thought be to incurable—diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis, a devastating and readily progressive form of arthritis that “freezes” the bones of the spine and pelvis.
In all these cases, the individuals stumbled upon a way to reset their immune systems—to wipe out the bad programming that had it attacking its own cells and tissues, and reset completely to normal, healthy immune function.

Building an Effective Immune System

April 5, 2020

This post is the third on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Dr. Rediger writes, “What we want is an immune system with well-nourished cells that are fast, smart accurate, and ready to fight for us. “ It needs to be fully staffed, not depleted and sluggish, sending out sloppy troops that hit the wrong targets or are ineffective. Our immune systems need to have twenty-twenty vision, and be able to see viruses as they enter our bodies and rogue cells that threaten to mutate into cancer.

Unfortunately, many of us are walking around with immune systems that are chronically worn down. They’re sluggish, exhausted, and impeded by poorly managed relationships with stress and nutrition. Missing are key positions in our army of fighter cells, leaving it sparse and thinned out. This leaves us more vulnerable not only to colds and flus, but to cancer, heart, diabetes, and a wide range of serious autoimmune disorders.

Spontaneous remission gives us insight into how we can bolster our immune systems to prevent these diseases from taking hold, or roll back their damage if they already have. As new studies into the immune system emerge, Dr. Rediger continues to notice how the kinds of things that stimulate natural killer cell activity line up with kinds of changes that survivors of incurable diseases make before they experience their spontaneous healing. Diet changes, such as increasing one’s nutritional level, turn out to support natural killer cell activity, as does reducing (or more effectively managing) stress. Studies have shown forgiveness to be linked in natural killer cells.

Dr Rediger writes, “It’s easy to look at these findings and leap to the conclusion that simply changing your meal plan or learning to meditate can spur your natural killer cells into action and turn off your disease like hitting a switch. But what my work with remarkable recoverers has taught me is that it’s not that simple. There are no silver bullets or quick fixes with spontaneous healing. In fact, there is nothing spontaneous about spontaneous remission. In many cases, the stage had been set well before the ‘miraculous’ remission occurred.”

Dr. Rediger continues, “The best way to repair a cracked and ineffective immunological wall is to build health and vitality from the ground up. The body—if you can get out of its way—is a brilliant self-correcting organism that wants to get better. Cases of spontaneous remission, as unique and individual as they are, offer clues on how to get out of your body’s way and give it everything it needs to build and maintain a thriving, smart immune system.”

Here is the story of one individual, Claire, who hd a spontaneous remission. She faced her fear of death. She didn’t know to what she should attribute her remarkable recovery, the mysterious disappearance of her pancreatic cancer. She just knew that at some point between walking out of her surgeon’s office and returning to the hospital years later for an unrelated issue, it had vanished. The profound changes Claire made in her life were not made with the intent to cure herself; she fully expected pancreatic cancer to take her life. Dr. Rediger writes, “The changes made were about living fully and more authentically with the time she had left. They were about confronting fears and other obstacles that had held her back from doing the things she really wanted to do. But perhaps this combination of factors—diet changes, lifestyle changes, and deep emotional and spiritual changes—had in fact altered the terrain of her body like nurtured-rich compost added to thin, barren dirt.”

Dr. Rediger continues, “With cases of spontaneous remission, something shifts that allows the immune system to once again do its job. In several healing centers in Brazil, I’d witnessed a higher-than-usual rate of spontaneous remission. There was something about these healing centers that was allowing these deep fundamental shifts to occur in the immune system so that healing could be unlocked. Perhaps they represented a cluster of cases for a phenomenon that is happening everywhere, invisibly, stalled up by statistics and averages. In Abadiania, for example, people ate nutrient-dense foods. They exercised and meditated, They left behind the stresses of their everyday lives. They turned inward and faced themselves: their fears, their forgotten dreams, their beliefs about themselves and the world they had never before questioned. They reinvented themselves, often completely rearranging the bedrock of their lives.”

Continuing, “Somewhere in these physical, mental, and spiritual transformations that so many visitors experienced—and which were also described by other survivors who emailed me from around the country, with their startling stories of recovery—there may lie the code to spontaneous healing: the precise combination of numbers that have to be punched in together to unlock the door to healing. I suspected that it couldn’t all be boiled down to one single trigger but instead was a serendipitous combination of all the right factors that lined up to create a rare and “miraculous” phenomenon—like an eclipse.”

HM apologizes for publishing this post prematurely.  Even though it is premature, it still should be comprehensible.  The posts that should have preceded it will now follow.

Going to Brazil

April 4, 2020

This post is the second on an essential book by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D. titled Cured: The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. Shortly after the author had accepted a dual appointment to McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School and had opened a small private practice he met Nikki, an oncology nurse who works down the road at Mass General when she came in for a joint session with her adult son. He’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and she wanted support in breaking the news to him.

Shortly thereafter she took an indefinite leave of absence from Mass General; her health had declined to the point where she could no longer work. She was exhausted, having difficulty eating, and losing weight. She planned to travel to Brazil, to a tiny town in the countryside called Abadiania, to visit a Brazilian healer. She’d tried everything that Western medicine had to offer to fight her disease, and she’d decided that she had nothing to lose.

Two weeks after she left she called Dr. Rediger from Brazil. She said, “You have to come down here. I’m getting better. I’m seeing things that you wouldn’t believe.” Dr Rediger had to remind himself that the goal wasn’t to come to a conclusion as soon as he stumbled upon an apparent “answer.” The goal was to improve the quality of the questions. And the first question was: What was really happening in Brazil?

The healing centers were tucked away in little towns in rural Brazil. He found a markedly different culture from his own. They operate with a belief system that accepts the belief that a healer could communicate with and channel spirits, or engird, get from another plane—an invisible world that is realer and more important than the visible world that we can see and touch. In their view the physical world is a faint shadow of this deeper, truer world. In this belief system, ineffable qualities like love and the human soul are thought to be extremely powerful forces, especially in regard to illness and healing—illness begins in the soul, and when healing occurs there, the physical body then “catches up” to this new realty.”

“People flocked to these centers from all over the country sometimes selling possessions to afford the trip. The center that was the focus of his trip was the Casa de dom Inacia Loyala, in Abadania. This place was a little different from the others because it attracted people from all over the world. More reports of remission were coming from this population, and at least a few of the ones I’d vetted before coming down looked interesting enough to pursue. This was the place that Nikki had urged him to investigate.”

One of the first people interviewed was Juan, a vigorous older man in his eighties who went to the Casa each year with his family. He was a soybean farmer from another part of rural Brazil, and his hands, worn and polished like wood, showed his years of outdoor work. Decades earlier, he’d been diagnosed by biopsy with glioblastoma multiform, a deadly and fast-moving type of cancer that few people survive—within five-years of diagnosis, only 2 to 5% of patients are still alive. This small percentage drops to zero pretty quickly after that. There is no cure for glioblastoma multiform; treatment is palliative, wirth the intent to make patients comfortable and, if possible, extend their lives a bit. Yet here was Juan, decades after diagnosis, incredibly healthy for his age and radiating a quiet, meditative calm.

When asked to what did he attribute his impossible recovery, he shrugged, and opened his palms. Who could know? He said he started coming to the Casa after his diagnosis. Since then, he’d come every year to sit in the energy room and meditate. He thought of it as an annual tune-up, like an oil change.

When asked what he changed about his life after he was diagnosed, he shook his head and said he didn’t know.

His wife, who’d been sitting next to him during the interview, listening his, suddenly began to cry.

She said, “Everything changed. She described how pre-diagnosis, Juan barely spent any time with her or their children. He was either out working, off drinking, or who knew where. There was a lot of tension a lot of strife. To her, he felt like a boat drifting farther and farther out to sea, on its own course. When he was diagnosed, and death was suddenly staring him in the face, his life and priorities were completely reordered. He seemed, almost overnight, like a different person. She said, “he came home to us. He’s so much more connected to us now.”

Dr. Rediger heard the same thing, over and over again, from interview to interview. everything changed.

Dr. Rediger writes, “In Brazil and elsewhere people were occasionally healing from incurable diseases, either without medical intervention or else with treatment but wildly outperforming the projected outcomes of those treatments. Some essential, unseen shift was occurring across a diverse cross section of individuals and diseases that was allowing their immune systems to somehow rise up and turn the tide against the disease. The “how” of this was what I needed to focus on. If spontaneous remission occurred at all, even occasionally, science should investigate it if I could could scrape away all the surface distractions: the false stories, the dismissiveness of the medical mainstream, and my own fears about how I would be perceived.”

He continues, “I’d launched my investigation into spontaneous remissions in part to begin asking better questions. So my first question was about immune function and why it isn’t more of a priority in medicine today. When someone comes to us with a chronic or incurable disease, why isn’t immune function the first thing we look at?

Cured

April 3, 2020

The title of this post is the first part of an essential book published in 2020. The remainder of the title is The Life-Changing Science of Spontaneous Healing. The author of the book is Jeffrey Rediger, M.D., who is a psychiatrist. His driving interest is in spontaneous remission. Spontaneous means without cause. Dr. Rediger writes that in the history of medicine, we have almost never used the tools of rigorous science to investigate remarkable recoveries from incurable illnesses. He continues, “Common sense would suggest that these are the cases we would most want to study, that perhaps these are the cases we most want to study, that perhaps these people have stumbled upon profound pathways to healing that we would want to understand. And yet the study of spontaneous remission (SR) is almost completely unexplored terrain. We classify people as “flukes” and “outliers” and simply accept the narrative that they’re unexplainable. But I don’t see remarkable recoveries in health as flukes or outliers any more than I see extraordinary performers as flukes and outliers. Serena Williams and Michael Jordan are outliers, sure, but they are also luminous examples of human capacities, and by studying their techniques and their methods we can understand how to improve our own.”

He continues, “we push aside stories of remarkable recovery, which don’t fit into our paradigm of one cause, one cure. I’m willing to bet, based on experience, that most of us in the medical profession have seen instances of remarkable recovery. We don’t know how to think about them, and so, since, they don’t fit into our frame of reference, we pigeonhole and forget them, perhaps considering them occasionally only late at night, while musing with a cup of coffee at the nursing station, or quietly in the space of our own private thoughts. We don’t know how to explain them, we shy away from publishing them for fear of professional ridicule, and we don’t repeat them to the patients we see who are suffering from these very same diseases. We don’t want to give, “false hope.”

Over the past century the reports of spontaneous remission (SR) have increased in both number and frequency. Typically these reports spike after significant conferences, books, or major media stories. In the 1990s, the Institute of Noetic Sciences began gathering together all the instances of spontaneous remission that had been described anywhere in the medical literature. In 1993 they published the database, Spontaneous Remission: An Annotated Bibliography, that documented 3,500 references to spontaneous healing across eight hundred journals. Dr. Rediger writes, “the cases that actually were reported were only the tip of the iceberg. At the first talk I gave where I brought up spontaneous remission and what we, as doctors, might learn from it, I asked the audience of physicians how many of them had witnessed a story of recovery that made no sense from a medical perspective. Hands shot up all around the room. When I asked how many people had written those cases up and polished their observations, all hands dropped.”

Continuing, Dr, Rediger writes, “It wasn’t that spontaneous remission was rare—it was a culture of fear and judgment was holding us back from seeing the scope of it. How many cases were out there that never made it into the medical literature for fear of professional ridicule? As a new medical director at McLean, one of the oldest and most venerable psychiatric institutions, I felt it keenly. I was hesitant to publish my observations or seek support in the medical world. And yet each day, I saw how cases of spontaneous remission dovetailed with the problems cropping up with my patients whether in the medical, psychiatric, or ER setting. Every day, I was seeing patients with the most common yet deadly diseases out there: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune illness, and lung disease—the top assassins of the Western World. Many of them are increasingly known to have significant lifestyle components. I was starting to believe that if my patients could try half of the strategies that I was seeing people embrace in cases of remarkable recovery, there would be an improvement in general health, not only for suffering individuals, but also for society. But the pressure to remain within the dogmatic confines of my profession was strong, and I had a difficult time shaking it.”

Many posts on this important book will follow. These posts complement previous posts on The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style:
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Applied Meditation

April 2, 2020

The exercises and meditation techniques to this point have been to enhance physical and mental health, and, of course, to build healthy memories. However, you should consider meditating to achieve other ends. Consider debating or having discussions to achieve a specific end. This can be especially difficult if you are trying to convince someone with contrary beliefs or opinions to your beliefs or opinions. Arguing one’s point straightaway is certain to fail, and it risks hardening your counterpart’s opinion against your opinion. Both parties suffer amygdala hijacks.

Perhaps it is most profitable to use the phrase “point of view.” To change someone’s opinions or beliefs, you need to understand these opinions or beliefs. When preparing for a debate it is important to understand, in detail, the positions and arguments underlying the opponent’s position. Meditation with the purpose of mindfulness can be effective, perhaps even necessary, to alter opinions or beliefs counter to one’s own beliefs.

Consider nonjudgmental meditation. The arguments and positions of your adversary need to be considered nonjudgmentally. This means considering these arguments and refraining from the strong temptation to counter arguments. You are trying to understand this adversary’s thinking and how his ideas hang together. There can be strong difficulty in doing so nonjudgmentally. It is unlikely that they will appear to make sense, but perhaps some components might make sense. At a minimum you want to shed your emotional responses to these ideas and logic. The hope is that you can find some agreed upon points and then try to proceed from there.

Remember the post on “The Cult of Trump.” The author, Steven Hassan, was a former member of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. In another words, he was a Moonie. He eventually freed himself from the mind control of this cult. He found inconsistencies in the Moonie teachings. They continued to grow until he was able of free himself from this cult.

From this experience he developed a skill in deprogramming cult followers. First he establishes empathy between himself and the cult follower. He has the cult follower explain his beliefs and listens patiently. When he finds an opening, which could be regarded as an inconsistency, he raises it and asks the cult follower what he thinks. If the cult follower does not have a problem with it, Hassan allows him to proceed. When he does find an inconsistency that the follower accepts, then he tries to build upon it. This is a very time consuming process.

So you should not expect that your meditating will immediately change your counterpart’s mind. Just be pleased if a cordial level of conversation has been achieved. Perhaps over time, there might be changes in the other’s beliefs. And, indeed, there might be some changes in your beliefs.

But hopefully, hostility has ended, and there have been some useful exchanges of information.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Sensitivity to Context

April 1, 2020

Prof. Davidson notes that failing to correctly discern social context can lead to emotional responses that are appropriate in one setting but not in another. It’s appropriate to feel extreme anxiety in dangerous situations but not in other situations; if you can’t tell the difference, you are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prof. Davidson continues, Based on the success of exposure, we can surmise that a general strategy to enhance Sensitivity to Context is to gradually insure yourself to cues that make you anxious or angry:

To help you relax, start with a simple breathing technique from hatha yoga. With your eyes closes, attend to your breathing as you would in mindfulness meditation, counting the duration of each inhalation and exhalation.
Once you have counted for several breaths, lengthen your breathing cycle so it takes you one more second. Keep increasing the lengths as long as you feel comfortable. then maintain these longer breaths for five minutes.
Notice if the inhalation and exhalation are the same length. If one is longer, try to lengthen the other so that they take equal amounts of time. Do this for five minutes and then open your eyes.

Once you feel comfortable with this breathing exercise, move on to context training. Prof. Davidson uses the example of a boss who makes you so anxious that you start sweating just thinking about him, with this anxiety spilling over into your family life. The same principle would work with any source of anxiety or dread:

Make a list of the specific cues and behaviors of your boss that upset you. Maybe he looms over your desk during the workday. Maybes loiters outside your work space at 4:55, watching to see if you leave even a minute early. Maybe he excoriates the reports or other work you turn in. Be specific and vivid and detailed as possible.
Then, in a safe context such as at home on a weekend, gently and gradually bring to mind images associated with your boss. Conjure up exactly how he looks watching you at day’s end. Imagine his face as he reads your work.
Simultaneously, perform the breathing exercise. Continue to do this until you feel comfortable and relaxed imagining your boss’s glowering visage and his habit of hovering over you desk. Spend about fifteen minutes on this exercise.

Prof. Davidson writes, you can expect to experience some benefit after doing this for four sessions, and the hour you invest will be well worth it. By improving your ability to distinguish between the context of your work and home, this exercise should help you distinguish among other contexts, too, and thus display context-appropriate emotional responses. Although there have not been any studies comparing brain activity before and after such training the fact that exposure therapy helps PTSD patients suggest that it works by strengthening connections from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the neocortex.
Prof. Davidson continues, there has been no research explicitly focused on moving people to the Tuned Out end of the Sensitivity to Context continuum, or on ways to weaken connections from the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex and neocortex. But if you feel that shifting your set point away from the Tuned In extreme would help you stop tailoring you behavior to each context in a way that feels excessively contrive, I recommend the exercises that cultivate Self-Awareness.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Social Intuition

March 31, 2020

The brain of someone who falls at the Puzzled end of the Social Intuition dimension is characterized by low activity in the fusiform gyrus plus high activity in the amygdala. At the opposite extreme, being Socially Intuitive reflects high levels of fusiform activation and low to moderate amygdala activity, giving you the ability to pick up even subtle social signals. While improving Social Intuition requires pumping up fusiform activity and quieting amygdala activity, reducing hyper intuition requires dialing down fusiform activity and ramping up that in your amygdala.

To increase fusiform activity in order to improve Social Intuition, the first step is to pay attention. To detect social cues, particularly subtle one, you need to focus on what is going on around you: tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, This is basically a matter of practice.

Start with strangers. When you are out in public, pick a couple or a small group of friends and discreetly watch them. Pay particular attention to their faces, which communicate so much social information. Remind yourself to look at other people’s faces when you watch them, and particularly, when you interact with them.
See if you can predict how they will touch each other (or not), how close they will walk together, whether they will look into each other’s eyes while speaking.
Get close enough to overhear them (assuming you can manage this unobtrusively; Prof. Davidson recommends giving it a try in a crowded public place such as a party, a packed department store, or a jammed movie-theater lobby). See if their tone of voice seems to match their body language and facial expression.
If not, then you are probably misunderstanding something. Take note of that, and apply this lesson to the next people you observe.
Once you feel confident that you are able to tell what people are feeling, try it with friends or colleagues.

Now practice paying attention to people’s eyes, which provide the truest signals about emotional state. At http://www.paulekman.com, Paul Ekman offers online training in micro expressions, the fleeting facial expressions that punctuate social interaction.

Voice, posture, and body language also convey social and emotional cues. Specific exercises can increase your sensitivity to these other channels of communication.

1. To enhance your sensitivity to vocal cues of emotion, when you are in a public place such as a subway, a coffee shop, a store where friends are chattering away, or an airport terminal, close you eyes and pay attention to the voices around you. Tune in to specific voices; focus not on the content but on the tone of voice.

2. Describe to yourself what that tone conveys—serenity, joy, anticipation, anxiety, stress, whatever. Test yourself by opening your eyes and observing what comes next. An encounter that ends with one party stalking away was more likely characterized by negative emotions than positive ones.

3. Now try that with posture and body language. As you observe a conversation, note how the speakers orient themselves toward one another, how they sit or stand, what gestures they make.

4. Designate one channel—tone of voice, body language—to be your focus of attention for a full day. As you commute, work, and observe family or friends or colleagues, look for opportunities to remove yourself a bit from the situation, even if only for a minute, so that you can be an observer and not a participant. Practice either steps 1 and 2, or 3, depending on which channel you are focusing on.

5. The following day, switch to the other channel and repeat the exercise.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and Love—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Resilience

March 30, 2020

If setbacks leave you unable to function for long periods of time, it can prevent you from achieving what you want and can make relationships difficult. Trapped in your own emotional morass, you may neglect family, friends, and work. The brain signature of being Slow to Recover from setbacks is fewer or weaker signals traveling from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala, as a result of either low activity in the prefrontal cortex itself or too few or less-functional connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Patients with depression who are Slow to Recover have very weak connectivity there.

Prof. Davidson recommends mindfulness meditation to cultivate greater Resilience. Because it produces emotional balance, mindfulness helps you recover, but not too quickly. Mindfulness weakens the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about and even wallowing in a setback. For example, losing a job might cause your thoughts to tumble from “unemployment” to “no health insurance” to “lose home” to “I can’t go on.” Mindfulness strengthens connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, promoting an equanimity that will help keep you from spiraling down this way. As soon as your thoughts begin to leap from one catastrophe to the next in this chain of grief, you have the mental wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind does this, note that it is an interesting mental process, and resist getting drawn into the abyss. Prof. Davidson recommends starting with a simple form of mindfulness meditation such as the mindfulness of breathing, previously described.

Prof. Davidson writes that if mindfulness practice does not move you as close to the Fast to Recover end of the Resilience dimension as you would like, cognitive reappraisal training may help. This technique is a form of cognitive therapy. It teaches people to reframe adversity in such a way as to believe that it is not as extreme or enduring as it could be. So, if you made a mistake at work and were barraged by distressing thoughts about it, you might think that you are not very smart, that you are likely to make the same kind of mistake again, and the the mistake is career ending. These errors in thinking are what cognitive reappraisal aims to correct. Instead of viewing the mistake as representative of your work, you are trained to realize that it was an anomaly and could have happened to anyone. Instead of thinking the mistake reflects something consistent and fundamental about you, you consider the possibility that you made the mistake because you were having a bad day, or didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or because everyone is fallible. By challenging the accuracy of your thoughts, cognitive reappraisal can help you reframe the causes of your behavior and the distress. This type of cognitive training directly engages the prefrontal cortex, resulting in increased prefrontal inhibition of the amygdala, the pattern that exemplifies resilience.

Should you wish to move toward the Slow to Recover end of the Resilience dimension, perhaps to strengthen you capacity for empathy, then you need to weaken connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. There is very little research on how to do this, but one strategy is to focus intently on whatever negative or pain you are feeling as a result of a setback. This can help sustain the emotion, at least for a time, and increase activation of your amygdala. You can also focus on the pain of someone who is suffering, perhaps describing it in writing: Nothing goes right for Aaron. HIs ex-girlfriend is using his credit card, his security job is in jeopardy because he got caught in an Internet sting, and his landlord is threatening. Use these descriptions to focus on the particular pain or suffering that you might feel in response. This exercise is likely to result in more sustained activation of the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and amygdala, the circuitry that is involved in pain and distress.

Prof. Davidson also offers meditation from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition called tonglen, which means “taking and receiving.” Designed to cultivate compassion, it involves visualizing another person who might be suffering, taking in her suffering, and transforming it into compassion, and it is very effective at increasing empathy. To get started, try this exercise for five to ten minutes, four or five times a week.

Visualize as vividly as you can someone who is suffering. It can be a friend or a relative who is ill, a colleague who is struggling at work, a neighbor whose marriage is ending. The closer the person is to you, the stronger and clearer the visualization will be. (If you re so fortunate as not to know someone who is suffering, try to visualize a generic person, such as a garbage kicker in Delhi, a starving child in Sudan, a cancer patient in a hospice).
On each inhalation, imagine that you take in this person’ suffering. Feel it viscerally: As you breathe in, imagine her pain and anguish passing through your nostrils, up your nose, and down into your lungs. If it is too difficult to imagine physically taking in her suffering, then imagine the suffering leaving her each time you inhale. As you breathe in, conjure an image of pain and anguish leaving her body like fog dissipating under a bright sun.
On each exhalation, imagine that her suffering is transformed into compassion. Direct this compassion toward her: As you exhale, imagine the breath flowing toward her, a gift of empathy and love that will envelop and enter her, assuaging her pain.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style:
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Attention

March 29, 2020

The focused extreme of the Attention dimension is the result of enhanced activation in brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex, that constitute a circuit for selective attention. The prefrontal cortex is critical for maintaining attention, while the parietal cortex acts as the brain’s steering wheel, pointing attention to particular places and thereby focusing attention on a specific target. At the unfocused extreme, the prefrontal cortex is underachieving and attention is stimulus driven: Whatever occurs around you draws your attention. You veer from one stimulus to the next with no internal rudder to guide your attention. Improving focus requires increasing activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortices.

To improve focus he recommends mindfulness meditation. Follow the instructions in the Self-Awareness section for mindful breathing. Once you feel comfortable you can move on to focused-attention meditation, which is also known as one-pointed concentration.

In a quiet room free of distractions, sit (or recline with your eyes open. Find a small object such as a coin, a button on your shirt, or an eyelet on your shoe. It is important that the object of attention be visual, rather than your breath, your body image, or other mental objects.
Focus all your attention upon this one object. Keep your eyes trained on it.
If your attention wanders, calmly try to bring it back to that object.

Do this daily, initially for about ten minutes. If you find that you are able to maintain your focus most of that time, increase your practice about ten minutes per month, until you reach one hour.

If you feel your attention is excessively focused and wish to broaden it in order to take in more of the world, then open-monitoring or open-presence meditation can nudge you toward that end of the Attention dimension. In open-monitoring meditation, your attention is not fixed on any particular object. Instead, you cultivate an awareness itself. He recommends beginning with a focused-attention meditation practice such as breath meditation, which will give you a basic level of attentional stability and make open-monitoring meditation easier. The basics are:

Sit in a quiet room on a comfortable chair, with your back straight but the rest of your body relaxed. Keep you eyes open or closed whichever you find more comfortable. If your eyes are open, gaze downward and keep your eyes somewhat unfocused.
Maintain a clear awareness of and openness to your surroundings. Keep your mind calm and relaxed, not focused on anything specific, yet totally present, clear, vivid, and transparent.
Lightly attend to whatever object happens to rise to the top of your consciousness, but do not latch on to it. You want to observe the thinking process itself, perhaps saying to yourself, Oh, I notice the the first thing I am thinking of as I sit down to meditate is…
Give your full attention to the most salient current object of consciousness focusing on it to the exclusion of everything else but without thinking about it. That is, you are simply aware of it, observing it as disinterestedly as possible, but do not explore it intellectually. Think of an object of attention as if if were an image in a frame in a museum, or in a movie, with no strong relevance to you.
Generate a state of total openness, in which the mind is as vast as the sky, able to welcome and absorb any stray thought, feeling or sensation like a new star that begins shining. When thoughts arise, simply let them pass through your mind without leaving any trace in it. When you perceive noises, images, tastes, or other sensations, let them be as they are, without engaging with them or rejecting them. Tell yourself that they can’t affect the serene equanimity of you mind.
If you notice your mind moving toward another thought or feeling, let it do so, allowing the newcomer to slip into consciousness. Unlike Attention-strengthening forms of meditation, you do not try to shoo away the “intruding” thought, but allow your mind to turn to it. The key difference from the breath-focused meditation described previously is the in open-monitoring meditation were is no single focus to which the attention is redirected if it wanders. Rather, you simply become aware of whatever is in the center of attention at any moment.
Turn to this new object of attention as you did the first.
Do this of five to ten minutes.

In a study done by Prof. Richardson’s group using EEG found that when people practice open-monitoring meditation it modulates their brain waves in a way that makes them more receptive to outside stimuli—that is, they experience phase-locking, a signature of Focused Attention

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Self Awareness

March 28, 2020

Prof Davidson writes, individuals with high levels of Self-Awareness (emotional or physical) have greater activation in their insula while those with little Self-Awareness have decreased activation. Ultrahigh levels of insula activity seem to be associated with the hyperawareness of every little change in heart rate or respiration that sometimes occurs in panic disorder. To move toward the Self-Aware end of this dimension you need to increase insula activation; to dial it back, you need to decrease it.

As a result of research on panic disorder we know something about how to decrease insula activity that makes us too Self-Aware. The best-validated treatment for panic disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Here patients learn to reframe or reappraise the significance of internal bodily cues. So if you experience chest pain or another sensation that you interpret as a danger signal, tell yourself you have many sensations that are perfectly innocuous, and in all likelihood this one is, too. This kind of cognitive reframing, by reducing insula activity, often reduces panic symptoms substantially.

An alternative is to decrease the rest of the brain’s reactivity to the insula’s signals. The idea is to alter your relationship to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations so that you do not become entangled into an endless, self-reinforcing loop (heart skips a beat; I’m having a heart attack; heart rate spikes, repeat) and leap to the conclusion that some aspect of what you are feeling foretells doom. The trick is to keep your mind from ruminating in response to these internal cues. Rather than target the excessive Self-Awareness that comes from the insula, the idea is to reduce activity in the amygdala and the orbital frontal cortex, which form a circuit that assigns emotional value to thoughts and sensations. By reducing this circuit’s activity, the brain can start perceiving thoughts, emotions, and sensations less judgmentally and less hysterically, so that we are not hijacked by our internal chatter. You’re still very Self-Aware, but it’s not debilitating.

One of the most effective ways of reducing activation in the amygdala and orbital frontal cortex is through mindfulness meditation. In this form of mental training, you practice observing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations moment by moment and nonjudgmentally, viewing them simply as what they are: thoughts, feelings, sensations; nothing more and nothing less.

Prof. Davidson writes that the best mindfulness instruction he knows comes in a course of mindfulness-based stress reduction. You can find courses by checking out the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness Web site at
http://www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx”id=4152.

Should you want to give mindfulness meditation a try before taking a formal course, you can begin on your own with awareness of breathing.

1.Choose a time of day when you are the most awake and alert. Sit upright on the floor or a chair, keeping the spine straight and maintaining a relaxed but erect posture so you do not get drowsy (HM has found that the reason for this erect posture is to keep you from getting drowsy. HM has had many hundreds, if not thousands of hours of meditation in a reclining position in which he did not fall asleep.)

2. Now focus on your breathing, on the sensations it triggers throughout your body. Notice how your abdomen moves with each inhalation and exhalation.

3. Focus on the tip of the nose, noticing the different sensations that arise with each breath.

4. When you notice that you have been distracted by unrelated thoughts or feelings that have arisen, simply return your focus to your breathing.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Outlook

March 27, 2020

One way to strengthen connections between the prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum is the technique developed by Giovanni Fava, of the University of Bologna in Italy. It is called well-being therapy and is designed to enhance the components of well-being—autonomy, environmental mastery, positive interpersonal relationships, personal growth, purpose in life, and self-acceptance—well being therapy has been shown to move people toward the Positive end of the Outlook dimension, enabling them to sustain positive emotions. Although before-and-after brain scans have not been done, from everything we know about the brain circuitry underlying these components it’s a good bet that well-being therapy strengthens the prefrontal cortex and its connections with the ventral striatum.

Every day for a week, do these three exercises:

Write down one positive characteristic of your self and one positive characteristic of someone you regularly interact with. Do this three times a day. Ideally, you’ll write down a different trait each time, but if you’re stuck on how “helpful” your office colleague is, that’s okay.
Express gratitude regularly. Pay attention to times you say “thank you.” When you do, look directly into the eyes of the person you are thanking and muster as much genuine gratitude as you can. Keep a journal; at the end of the day, note the specific times you felt a genuine, even if brief, connection with another person during the act of expressing gratitude.
Complement others regularly. Keep an eye out for opportunities to do so, such as a job well done at work, a beautiful garden a neighbor created, or even a stranger’s gorgeous coat. Look directly into the eyes of the person you are complementing. In your journal, note the specific times you felt a genuine connection with someone you complemented.

After a week of this, spend a little time reflecting on what changes you noticed in your Outlook style. In all likelihood, you will find that positive emotions stick around a little longer and that your sense of optimism and possibility swells. Just as with physical exercise, you’ll probably need to find a practical maintenance routine. Once your Outlook has become as Positive or Negative as you wanted, it is important to sustain a level of exercise that is sufficient to maintain your set point in an optimal zone for you.

If your goal is to shift toward the Negative end of the dimension, then your goal is to lower activity in the nucleus accumbens or ventral striatum, or both, or weaken connections between them. If you feel that you are too Pollyanish, carrying a Positive Outlook to unrealistic extremes, then you should envision potential negative outcomes. If considering an expensive purchase, spend time reflecting on the possible negative outcomes of that choice. If you are tempted to buy a new car even though your current one runs fine, write down all the things that might go wrong with it or detract from its allure: the fact that its value drops by thousands of dollars as soon as you drive it off the dealer’s lot: how much more careful you will feel you need to be while driving or parking so you do not get even a tiny scratch on it (something you have stopped worry about with your current car); how the monthly payments will force you to curtail spending on other things you enjoy.

These are just some suggestions as to the kind of negative thoughts you need to generate.

Much more extensive guidance is provided in The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style
How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley.

Changing Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind

March 27, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The title of this post is similar to the title of the last section of the book, How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

We can change where we sit on each of the dimensions of emotional style. Fortunately, emotional styles vary across individuals or the world would be a very boring place indeed. However, should you want to change your current location on one or more of the dimensions of emotional style you can do so. Moreover, you can adapt your emotional style for different occasions, say work or home. The next posts will address techniques for modifying each of the dimensions:
Outlook
Self-Awareness
Attention
Resilience
Social Intuition
Sensitivity to Context

You will also see how you are actually changing your brain by transforming your mind.
There will be a separate post for each dimension. Understand that there is no requirement to do these techniques. But the option is provided so you have the avenue to explore.

Also understand that the guidance and instructions provided in Davidson and Begley is much more extensive.

Compassion Meditation

March 26, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

In 2007 Prof. Richardson’s group recruited forty-one volunteers for a study that would teach a technique to improve well-being. Volunteers were randomly divided into two groups: a compassion meditation group and a cognitive reappraisal group. The compassion meditation group was told to begin by visualizing a loved one—specifically, a loved one at a time in her life when she was suffering. With this image clearly in mind, they next concentrated on the wish that her suffering end, silently repeating a phrase such as “May you be free from suffering; may you experience joy and ease” to help them focus on the task. They were to try to feel the compassion emotionally and not to simply think about it cognitively. After doing this for a loved one, to expand the circle of compassion little by little, to yourself, then to someone you recognize but do not really know, then perhaps a neighbor or a person who works in the same building as you but whose life you know little or nothing about, then to a difficult person (someone who pushes your buttons and makes you angry), and finally to all of humankind. Using an online instructional program, this group practiced compassion meditation thirty minutes a day for two weeks.

Participants in the cognitive reappraisal group also began by visualizing the suffering of someone they love but were told to “reframe” the suffering. Reframing is a technique in which you adopt different beliefs about the causes of your behavior or of the circumstances of your life. In this case, you see that suffering might not be as extreme as other forms of suffering and that it could end up okay, or you focus on the fact that there are huge differences in the magnitude and severity of adversity. They were further taught to not attribute negative things to stable qualities in themselves but to see that suffering can occur as a result of external circumstances. For instance, the reason someone might be unable to find a life partner is not because of anything inherent in himself, but because his work keeps him from getting out and meeting people—the latter being something we can control and that we can change. The cognitive reappraisal group also received their instruction online, also for thirty minutes a day for two weeks.

Before the training began brain scans were performed of all participants. While a participant was lying in the MRI tube, pictures of human suffering were presented, such as a child who had been badly burned or a family in a horrific car crash. The researchers focused on the amygdala, which is known to be involved in feelings of distress. Perhaps counterintuitively, they predicted that after compassion training, this region would not be as active in response to images of suffering. The reason is that activity in the amygdala is associated with distress. Feeling distress interferes with the desire to help—the hallmark of compassion—because if you are in pain yourself, you have little reserve for others’ pain. In addition, they predicted that the prefrontal cortex would become more activated because, as the site of higher-order cognitive functions, it holds within its intricate circuitry the neuronal representation of the goals of compassion training—to alleviate suffering in others.

At the end of the two weeks of training, they again recorded brain activity with the fMRI while the volunteers looked at images of suffering. Those who had undergone training in compassion meditation showed striking changes in brain function, particularly in the amygdala: Participants in the compassion group tended to show less activation there in response to the images of suffering after the compassion-meditation training than they did before training. Might this be a habituation effect, a lab version of “compassion fatigue” people feel when they see one human tragedy after another? Not according to the control group, the people who underwent training in cognitive appraisal, amygdala activity in response to images of suffering was just as high as before their training.

The decrease in amygdala activation after compassion training had real-world effects, also. After their two weeks of training, each participant played an economic decision-making game designed to measure altruistic behavior. One might expect that someone who is not feeling much distress—as shown by low amygdala activity—in response to someone else’s “suffering” would not be moved to alleviate that suffering. But the opposite was the case. Participants who had undergone training in compassion meditation, and whose amygdala acuity in response to images of suffering had decreased, were more more like to fork over some money. On average, these folks forked over 38% more money that those who had undergone cognitive reappraisal training.

The conclusions regarding compassion meditation were:
it nudged practitioners toward the Positive end of the Outlook dimension
it strengthened connections between the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions important for empathy
Compassion meditation also likely facilitates Social Intuition.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

March 25, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. There have been previous posts on mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), which can be searched for in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

MBSR was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who learned meditation from a Zen missionary. Prof. Davidson writes, “MBSR is the most widely taught secular form of meditation in academic medical centers throughout North America and Europe. Developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, the eight-week course teaches people to engage in mindfulness, the form of meditation in which you practice nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness. Let HM take the three parts of that description in reverse order. By “awareness,” I mean that while sitting in a quiet place, you focus on whatever sensations your body is experiencing or whatever thoughts and emotions you mind is generating. You might start by feeling the pressure of the chair. Or the tension in your legs. Or how your elbow feels compared with your shoulder. Then you might move on to notice that as you conduct the mental inventory of your physical sensations, a thought about what to make for lunch pops into your mind. Or you notice that your brain feels suddenly quiet. The ‘moment-to-moment’ part describe how you take each sensation or thought as it comes. Finally, the ‘nonjudgmental’ part is key. If your legs feel tense, you do not scold yourself for having difficulty relaxing; your reaction is closer to ‘Huh, tense legs; interesting.’ Similarly, for any thoughts and emotions, you do not intentionally pursue a thought as you ordinarily might (Hmmm, lunch. I need to buy more mayo. Maybe I should have just a salad. I really need to eat less. Why am I thinking about this when I should be meditating? I’ll never get this.) If those thoughts arise, you observe them disinterestedly, as if from the perspective of a dispassionate observer, but do not take them to heart. They’re just the interesting exudations of your brain’s synapses and action potentials.”

By 2011, dozens of clinical trials had shown that MBSR can relieve psychological distress in breast cancer survivors, reduce side effects in organ-transplant recipients, relieve anxiety and depression in people with social anxiety disorder, and help people cope with chronic pain.

Prof. Davidson solicited volunteers, some of whom would learn a technique of stress reduction that was derived from Buddhist meditation, and some would be placed in a ‘wait-list’ control group,which meant undergoing the same assessments as their coworkers learning stress reduction, but not actually taking the classes. Which group some wound up in would be totally random. After the study was over, people in the wait-list control group would be given the opportunity to learn MBSR. The course consisted of one two-and-a-half session each week for eight weeks.

Before the first class baseline data was gathered on all the participants. Brain electrical activity was measured with EEG, focusing on the prefrontal cortex because that’s where left-right asymmetry is associated with positive or negative emotions and greater or lesser Resilience. Questionnaires were also administered that assessed how much anxiety and stress people felt, by asking them whether they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I worry too much over trivial things” and “I often have disturbing thoughts.”

Anxiety symptoms fell about 12% among the people who took the MSBR class but increased slightly among the wait-list control group. The MSBR group also shows a significant shift toward greater left-side frontal activation: Compared with what it had been before the course, the level of left-side activation had tripled after four months. The control group had less left-side activation at the end of the study than they had at the start. Blood samples showed that meditators produced 5% higher levels of antibodies to a flu vaccine, an indication that their immune systems responded more effectively than those of the control group. Participants who showed a large brain response to MBSR also showed a larger response to the flu vaccine. Prof. Davidson believes that positive emotions (being Fast to Recover end of the Resilience style and he Positive end of the Outlook style) boost the immune system, among other beneficial effects on bodily health.

Prof. Davidson writes, “We all have habitual ways of responding to emotional challenges, and these habits are complicated products of genetics and experience. Mindfulness training alters these habits by making it more likely that one neuronal pathway rather than another will be used. If the habitual response to a setback had been for neuronal signals to travel from the frontal cortex, which figures out the meaning of the experience, to the limbic system, where the amygdala attached an intense negative emotional valence to that experience, then mindfulness can create a different neuronal pathway. The same experience is still processed by the frontal cortex, but the signals do not reach the amygdala (or at least fewer of them do). Instead, they peter out, like a bad mood evaporating during a day when everything seems to go right, The result is that what had been a stressful experience or setback no longer triggers a feeling of anxiety, fear, or fatalistic capitulations. The habitual path traveled by neuronal signals has changed—much as water that had always followed one path along a stream can be diverted to a different course after a sudden storm, for instance, carving a new channel. Mindfulness meditation carves new channels in the stream beds of the mind.

More specifically, mindfulness trains the brain in new forms of responding to experience and thoughts. Whereas the thought of how much you need to accomplish tomorrow (driving children to school; going to an important meeting for work, etc.,) used to trigger a panicky sense of being overwhelmed, mindfulness sends thought through a new culvert. You still think about all you have to do, but when the sense of being overwhelmed kicks in, you regard that thought with dispassion.)

Physical and psychological benefits can be found with other types of meditation. The relaxation response provides the easiest means of getting into meditation and has significant benefits by itself. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog. The post “An Update of the Relaxation Response” documents the many benefits of this type of meditation.

More on Neuroplasticity

March 24, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

Pascal-Leone says, “Plasticity is an intrinsic property of the human brain. The potential of the adult brain to ‘reprogram’ itself might be much greater than has previously been assumed. This is what he and his colleagues concluded in 2005. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to break the bonds of its own genome, which dictates that one region of the brain will “see” and another will “hear,” that one spot on the somatosensory cortex will feel the right thumb and another the left elbow. Although this genetically guided blueprint is fine for most people under most conditions, but not for all of us all the time like when we lose our sight or suffer a stroke, or when we dedicate ourselves to mastering the violin. Nature has endowed the human brain with a malleability and flexibility that lets it adapt to the demands of the world if finds itself in. The brain is neither immutable nor static but continuously remodeled by the lives we live.

The brain can change the function of particular structures in response to the sensory and motor demands placed on it. Intense motor training induces the brains of stroke patients to reorganize in a way that allows healthy regions to substitute for disabled ones; intense musical practice expands regions responsible for the sensitivity of fingering digits. The absence of visual signals induces the visual cortex to process sounds or touch instead. In these cases the cause has been external to the brain—sensory or motor signals arriving with greater intensity (violinists, stroke patients in rehab) or not at all (the blind and the deaf).

The next post discusses signals that come from the brain itself? That is, its own thoughts.

Emotional Style and Physical Health

March 23, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and Live—And How You Can Change Them. The research to be discussed is quite complex and would take many pages to describe accurately. So a top level review will be provided to understand the important relationship between emotional style and physical health. A reading of the referenced text is needed for the complete characterization.

The research involve 20 undergraduates who had participated in earlier studies who had been found to have dramatically lopsided frontal activity, either extreme left-sided prefrontal activation or extreme right-sided prefrontal activation. Blood samples were taken and analyzed for natural killer (NK) cells, a type of white blood cell that constitutes a major component of our innate immune system. They attack tumors and kill tumor killing cells that have been infected by viruses. The frontal asymmetry pattern that characterizes a more positive emotional style—left frontal activation—was associated with higher NK cell activity. Participants with high left frontal activation had upwards of 50% higher activity than those with high right frontal activation. Since twenty is a daily small number of participants, this study was repeated several years later, with essentially the same results: greater left frontal activity brings greater NK cell activity.

Another study examined whether there was an association between prefrontal activity and the immune response to a vaccine. The findings indicated that people with great left-frontal activation, associated with a more positive emotional style, had the strongest immune response. The antibody levels of the most extreme left-siders averaged four times that of the most extreme right-siders. The greater the antibody level, the less likely the chance of catching the flu.

A study on the heart-brain connection. This study employed a “threat of shock” procedure. Participants were put into a MRI tube and had simple geometric shapes projected on the ceiling. One shape meant that they might receive an electric shock, while the other meant that all would be well. A mild shock was administer for 20 milliseconds, which felt like the zap you experience if you’ve ever touched a fully charged nine-volt battery with your tongue.

There were large differences in the pattern of activation when people saw the “shock alert” symbol compared with the “don’t worry” symbol. As the heart readings came in—contractility, or the strength with which the heart beats, it could be seen that, at least for some participants, emotions reached down into the chest and wreaked havoc. Contractility is influenced by the sympathetic nervous system, which is the key constituent of the fight-or-flight response and has been implicated in stress and distress. The stronger the brain activation in three key regions—a sector of the right prefrontal cortex, the insula, and the amygdala-the stronger the cardiac contractility. In response to the threat cue, some people had little change in their contractility while others had a dramatic change. More than 40% of the person-to-person variation in cardiac contractility was accounted for by how strongly the insula and the prefrontal cortex responded to the shape that was the harbinger of threat. This heightened brain activity was racing down the highways of the sympathetic nervous system making the heart pump harder. Prof. Davidson concludes “such changes in emotional style are likely to be consequential for health when they are played out over a long period of time.”

Prof. Davidson continues, “The brain circuits that underlie Emotional Styles have extensive two-way connections with the immune system, the endocrine system, and the autonomic nervous system. Through traffic in one direction, from brain to body, the mind influences our health. This suggests that knowing someone’s Emotional Style may be as important to a health-care provider, in terms of assessing health risks, as knowing whether the patient smokes, and that altering your Emotional Style can be beneficial to physiological systems and thus overall health. Through traffic in the other direction, from body to brain, changes in our patterns of movement can affect how our mind processes emotional information. That has implications beyond warning Botox users that paralyzing some of their facial muscles runs the risk of limiting their emotional range. It also suggests that the body can become an ally in transforming emotion, meaning practices that emphasize the body, such as hatha yoga, have the potential to modulate emotion. This research is barely off the ground, but there are tantalizing hints about how this body-to-brain connection might work.”

Mind Over Matter

March 22, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The title of this post is identical to the heading in an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley. The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

Brain-imaging studies show that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by activity in two regions: the orbital frontal cortex, whose main function is to notice when something is amiss; and the striatum, which received input from the orbital frontal cortex as well as the amygdala. Together the orbital frontal cortex and striatum form what is called the worry circuit. In people with OCD it is buzzing with activity.

Rather than just drugging his patients (antidepressants including Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft), neuropsychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz got the idea of using a technique he employed in his own Buddhist meditation practice. Called mindfulness, or mindful awareness, it involves observing your own thoughts and feelings from the perspective of a nonjudgmental third party. In The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, the Buddhist monk Nyanaponika Thera described it as attending “just to the bare facts of a perception as presented either through the five physical senses or through the mind…without reacting to them by deep, speech or by mental comment.” In the case of his OCD patients, mindfulness meant learning to experience an OCD symptom without reacting emotionally, and learning to realize that the feeling that something is amiss is just the manifestation of overactivity in the OCD circuit. A patient would think, My OCD circuit is producing another obsessive thought. I know it is not real but just static from a faulty circuit. After mainly hours learning this technique, patients were better able to resist OCD messages, reporting that their disease no longer controlled them. Neuroimaging also showed that activity in the orbital frontal cortex, the core of the OCD circuit, had fallen dramatically compared with what it had been before mindfulness-based therapy. Thinking about their thoughts in a new way had altered patterns of brain activity.

Prof. Richardson writes, “This finding is crucial to my belief that we can similarly alter the patterns of brain activity underlying Emotional Style, so let me offer one more example of how mental training can accomplish this. Clinical depression is characterized by overactivity in specific regions of the frontal cortex, the seat of reasoning, logic, analysis, and higher thought, in particular regions associated with anticipation—perhaps the cause of the endless rumination that grips people suffering from depression. There is, in addition, often under activity in parts of the limbic system (the brain’s emotion center) associated with reward and pleasure. That would seem odd if you thought of depression as being marked primarily by an overwhelming sense of sadness, which presumably would show up as heightened activity in the limbic system. In fact, however, people with depression report that they experience what’s called flat affect—an inability to experience soaring flights of joy, certain, but also the absence of feelings such as curiosity or interest in the world.”

In the 1960s cognitive-behavior therapy use a form of mental training that focuses on teaching patients to respond to their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in a healthy way and to reappraise dysfunctional thinking.

Scientists at the University of Toronto found that cognitive-behavior therapy has a powerful effect on the brain activity underlying depression. The therapy reduced activity in the frontal cortex and raised activity in the limbic system. Patients ruminated less and no longer felt emotionally dead inside. Their depression lifted, and in most cases stayed lifted: Rates of relapse with cognitive-behavior therapy are much lower than with medication, which in any case seems to be more effective than a placebo for anything but the most severe depression.

Prof. Davidson concludes this section as follows: “In short, the revolution in neuroplasticity has shown that the brain can change as a result of two distinct inputs. It can change as a result of the experiences we have in the world—how we move and behave and what sensory signals arrive in our cortex. The brain can also change in response to purely mental activity, ranging from meditation to cognitive-behavior therapy, with the result that activity in specific circuits can increase or decrease.”

Can Emotional Style Change?

March 21, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. The immediately preceding post ended “The brain signatures of each dimension of Emotional Style seem so fundamental to our being, it’s easy to assume they are innate, as characteristic of a person as his fingerprints or eye color, and equally unlikely to change.”

This assumption will be examined in the subsequent post.
Here is that examination. The nature nurture debate has a long history. The debate concerned how much of a person’s life is determined by genes versus experience. The new field of epigenetics should have ended that debate. Critical to the role of genetics is which genes are read out from the genome. If the gene is not read out, the gene cannot be expressed. So what determines whether a gene will be read out? That is determined by nurture, or the experience of the individual. So the nature nurture debate should have ended. As nothing can be ethically be done about nature, all the focus should be on nurture.

There is a wide variety of evidence showing the effects of epigenetic using both human and infra-human subjects. There is a suicide brain bank in Quebec, the Quebec Suicide Brain Bank to be specific. Samples from 36 brains were studied, one-third of which who had suffered abuse in childhood, one-third from suicides who had not been abused, and one-third from non-suicides. Analyzing the human brains the researchers found that , compared with non-suicide brains, the brains of people who had taken their own lives and had suffered child abuse contained significantly more methylation “off” switches on the gene for the glucocorticoid receptor. This was the gene that the research team had discovered was methylated in rats raised by neglectful mothers. When this gene is silenced the stress-response system is on a hair trigger, making it extremely difficult to cope with adversity. Abnormal activity in the stress-response system had long been linked to suicide.

Prof. Richardson writes, “The presence of a methyl group sitting on a piece of DNA is called an epigenetic change. It does not alter the sequence of the gene, denoted by he well-known strings of A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s, but it does alter whether the gene will be expressed. And it may explain puzzles like the low concordance for schizophrenia between identical twins. At birth, identical twins are very similar epigenetically; if a particular gene is silence in one twin, it is usually silenced in the other. But as we go through life, it turns out, we accumulate epigenetic changes. Either through random chance or because of experiences we have—something akin to being nurtured by a parent, perhaps, but almost certainly many others that reach down into our very DNA—our genes take on more and more epigenetic marks, silencing some genes that had previously spoken and lifting the gag order that others may had been under.”

Prof. Richardson cites research on the emotional development of children that reinforces this point.

The Attentive Brain

March 20, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. Prof. Davidson writes, “It is nothing short of miraculous that we can focus attention at all, given the profusion of information that enters the brain every moment, to say nothing of the countless thoughts that pop into consciousness. Our ability to focus even some of the time is a monumental triumph of attention, allowing us to select some external or internal objects for conscious awareness and ignore the rest.”

We have two related mechanisms for focusing attention. One is to enhance the strength of signals in the attended channel: that is, we can increase the strength of the visual signals carrying the image of the characters we are reading relative to the strength of the visual signals carrying the images of , say, our hands holding this iPad. The second mechanism is to inhibit the signals in the ignored channels. We use both strategies. When trying to converse with a companion in a noisy restaurant, we turn up the internal volume of his voice while simultaneously inhibiting sounds from the surrounding tables. Infants have a capacity for selective attention, being able to focus on their mothers’s faces and ignore distractions from other sensory sources.

Prof. Davidson writes, “Two forms of attention are relevant to Emotional Style: selective attention and open, nonjudgmental awareness. Selective attention refers to the conscious decision to selectively focus on certain features of the environment and ignore others. This capacity is a key building block for other dimensions of Emotional Style, since the failure to selectively attend can make it impossible to be Self-Aware or Tuned In. Open, nonjudgmental awareness reflects the ability to take in signals from the external environment as well as the thoughts and feelings popping up within our brain, to broaden our attention and sensitively pick up on the often subtle cues that continuously impinge upon us—but to do so without getting stuck on any one stimulus to the detriment of others.”

There is a test to assess Emotional Style with respect to selective attention and open, nonjudgmental awareness called the Tellegen questionnaire. At the Focused extreme of the Attention dimension, the prefrontal cortex exhibits strong phase-locking in response to external stimuli. At the unfocused extreme the prefrontal cortex shows little phase locking.

Prof. Davidson writes, “Emotion works with cognition in an integrated and seamless way to enable us to navigate the world of relationships, work, and spiritual growth. When positive emotion energizes us, we are better able to concentrate, to figure out the social networks of a new job or new school, to broaden out thinking so we can creatively integrate diverse information and to sustain our interest in a task so we can persevere. In these cases cases emotion is neither interrupting nor disrupting us; it is facilitating. A feeling permeates virtually everything we do. No wonder, then, that circuits in the brain that control and regulate emotions overlap with those involved injunctions we think of as purely cognitive. There is no clear, distinct dividing line between emotion and other mental processes; they blur into each other. As a result, virtually all brain regions play a role in or are affected by emotion, even down to the visual and auditory cortices.

These facts about the neural organization of emotion have important implications for understanding why our perceptions and thoughts are altered when we experience emotions. They also help to explain how we can use our cognitive machinery to intentionally regulate and transform our emotions as we shall soon see. But they raised a question. The brain signatures of each dimension of Emotional Style seem so fundamental to our being, it’s easy to assume they are innate, as characteristic of a person as his fingerprints or eye color, and equally unlikely to change.”

This assumption will be examined in the subsequent post.

The Outlook Brain

March 19, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.

It was discovered in 1982 that greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex underlies positive emotions, while greater activity in the right prefrontal cortex is associated with negative emotions. Early research was spent trying to identify the specific aspects of positive emotion that are lacking in people suffering from depression. Depressed people have little drive to accomplish goals. Sometimes they do not even notice, let alone perk up, when they encounter something novel, the way other people notice a new batch of flowers in a neighbor’s yard or a new coffee bar that just opened down the street. They also lack persistence. Many depressed people are aware that they have plans and to-do lists, but they lack the tenacity required to carry them out.

Depressed people do respond positively to humorous film clips. They report as much positive emotion in response to these clips as non depressed participants, so they are able to experience joy. They key difference between depressed and healthy people is how well they can sustain positive emotion, as opposed to how much they feel. So they feel the positive emotion but do not sustain it.

Prof Richardson and his staff conducted a study with twenty-seven people suffering from clinical depression and nineteen healthy volunteers. The goal was to measure brain activity while people looked at emotionally evocative pictures projected onto the ceiling of an MRI tube. All the pictures depicted something joyous, or at least something designed to bring a faint smile to the lips—children playing and clearly enjoying themselves, adults dancing, people eating food that looked good enough to make a mere observer salivate.

For each image the volunteers got one of two instructions: either to simply view the pictures as they normally would, with no attempt to modify their emotional response, or to try to enhance and sustain the positive emotion the picture induced for as long as possible (or up to 20 seconds) after the image vanished from the screen.

A clear pattern emerged from the data on all volunteers, depressed and healthy. When the volunteers first saw the pictures depicting happy situations, activation in what we think of as the brain’s reward circuit shot up. This circuit is centered on a region in the ventral striatum, which is located below the cortical surface in the middle of the brain and has been shown in other studies to become active when people anticipate receiving rewarding or pleasurable stimuli. What becomes active during such experiences is a cluster of neurons within the ventral striatum called the nucleus accumbens, a region critical for motivation and generating a sense of reward. It also happens to be packed with neurons that either release or capture the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a role in positive emotion, motivation, and desire; and endogenous opiates, which provide the famous runner’s high. Levels of activity in the nucleus accumbens were similar in depressed and non depressed volunteers looking at the smile-inducing pictures. Everyone was able to feel an initial uptick of sympathetic joy, but this did not last. Although healthy people were able to maintain an emotional high for the entire session, in depressed patients the positive feeling evaporated within minutes.

Prof. Davidson concludes, “These findings indicate that activity in the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex underly the ability to sustain positive emotion. The greater the activity in the nucleus accumbens—activity sustained by signals from the prefrontal cortex—the further toward the Positive end of the Outlook dimension on which someone falls. Lower activity in this region underlies a Negative outlook.

The Brain Basis of Emotional Style

March 18, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has revealed that the more white matter (axons that connect one neuron to another) lying between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, the more resilient that person is. Signals from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala, and from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex determine how quickly the brain will recover from upsetting evidence. But we know that the brain is fully able to increase connections between regions. In later posts it will be explained what you can do for these particular prefrontal-to-amygdala connections. It is eminently possible to raise one’s baseline activity in the left prefrontal cortex. How to do so will be explained in subsequent posts. Along the two extremes of the Resilience continuum people who are slow to recover, and are having great difficult bouncing back from adversity, have fewer signals traveling from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala. Those who are fast to recover from adversity and are extremely resilient show strong activation of the left prefrontal cortex in response to setbacks and have strong connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. By damping down the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex is able to quiet signals associated with negative emotions, enabling the brain to plan and active effectively without being distracted by negative emotion, in another words a high degree of resilience.

Timothy was a high-functioning autistic boy. His extremes of being puzzled and having low social intuition reflected clear differences in brain activity and connectivity. Although he was very intelligent and able to understand language and speak, his speech was quite monotonous and lacked the modulations called intonation contours—the stresses and changes in pitch, tone, and pacing that convey emotion. For example, when volume and pitch both increase, you can be pretty sure that your interlocutor is angry. When pace slows, volume decreases, and pitch flattens, the speaker is likely sad. Timothy’s voice sounded like a robot’s. From studies of children, adolescents like Timothy, Prof. Davidson concludes that the lack of social intuition and the resulting failure to grasp what is socially appropriate comes with low levels of activation in the fusiform and high levels of activation in the amygdala.

Oxytocin is a molecule that reduces activation in the amygdala. When oxytocin is spritzed into the noses of people, which allows it to go directly to the brain, it reduces activation in the amygdala. This suggests that quieting the amygdala is the mechanism by which oxytocin induces feelings of commitment and attachment, and quieting the amygdala by other means accomplishes the same ends, including laying the groundwork for the Socially Intuitive brain.

The ability to distinguish a familiar from an unfamiliar context comes from the hippocampus. The hippocampus is famous for its role in processing memories: It seems to act as a holding pen for short-term memories, getting some of them ready for transfer to long-term storage. In a recent study of rhesus monkey, it was found that the anterior hippocampus, the portion closest to the amygdala, is also involved in regulating behavioral inhibition in response to different contexts. People suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often have abnormal hippocampal function. PTSD can be thought of as a disorder of disrupted context. The anxiety and terror that people with PTSD feel is quite appropriate in certain contexts, such as a battleground, but the problem is that they experience these feelings in non traumatic contexts.

Prof Davidson writes, “Differences in the strength of the connections between the hippocampus and other brain regions, particularly the prefrontal cortex, underlie difference in Sensitivity of Context. The hippocampus communicates regularly with the brain’s executive—function areas in the prefrontal cortex. Stronger connections from the hippocampus to these regions increase sensitivity to context, while weaker connections underlie insensitivity to context.

A key region of the brain for self-awareness is the insula, which is located between the temporal and frontal lobes. It contains what is called a viscerotopc map of the body. This means the visceral organs—heart, liver, colon, sexual organs, lungs, stomach, kidneys—are each mapped to a specific spot within the insula The insula serves as the brain’s monitoring station for everything below the neck and within the body. The insula also sends signals to the organs, instructing the heart to beat more quickly or for the lungs to inhale more rapidly. In addition to the insula, the somatosensory cortex is also involved in perceiving internal sensations. Higher insula activation is associated with greater awareness not only of physical sensations but also of emotions.

To summarize, individuals with high level-awareness of Self-Awareness have great activation in the insula, while those with low levels of Self-Awareness have decreased activation.

The Outlook Brain and the Attentive Brain will be discussed in subsequent posts.

The Emotional Life of Your Brain

March 17, 2020

The title of this post is identical the to the title of an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. Through research Professor Davidson has identified the following six dimensions of emotional style:

*Resilience: how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity.
*Outlook: how long you are able to sustain positive emotion.
*Social Intuition: how adept you are at picking up social signals from the people around you.
*Self-Awareness: how well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions.
*Sensitivity to Context: how good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in.
*Attention: how sharp and clear your focus is.

One of the standard classification systems in psychology is the “big five” personality traits: openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Professor Davidson asserts.

*Someone high in openness to new experience has strong Social Intuition. She is also very self-aware and tends to be focused in her attention style.
*A conscientious person has well- developed Social Intuition, a focused style of Attention, and acute Sensitivity to Context.
*An extraverted person bounces back rapidly from adversity and thus is at the Fast to Recover end of the Resilience spectrum. She maintains a positive Outlook.
*An agreeable person has a highly attuned Sensitivity to Context and strong Resilience; he also tends to maintain a positive Outlook.
*Someone high in neuroticism is slow to recover from adversity. He has a gloomy, negative Outlook, is relatively insensitive to context and tends to be unfocused in his Attention style.

Unlike personality, Emotional Style can be traced to a specific, characteristic brain signature. To understand the brain basis of agreeableness, for example, we need to probe more deeply into the Emotional Styles comprising them.

Davidson writes, “While the combinations of Emotional Style that add up to each of the big five personality traits hold true, there will be exceptions. Not everyone with a given personality will have all the dimensions of Emotional Style that I described, but they will invariably have at least one of them.”

*Someone high in openness to new experience has strong Social Intuition. She is also very self-aware and tends to be focused in her Attention style.

*A conscientious person has well-developed Social Intuition, a focused style of Attention, and acute Sensitivity to Context.

*An extraverted person bounces back rapidly from adversity and thus is as the Fast to Recover end of the Resliience spectrum. She maintains a positive Outlook.

*An agreeable person has a highly attuned Sensitivity to Context and strong Resilience; he also tends to maintain a positive Outlook.

*Some one high in neuroticism is slow to recover from adversity. He has a gloomy, negative Outlook, is relatively insensitive to context, and tends to be unfocused in his Attention style.

We can look at traits that all of us think of when we describe ourselves or someone we know well. Each of these can be understood as a combination of different dimensions of Emotional Style.

*Impulsive: a combination of unfocused Attention and low Self-Awareness.

*Patient: a combination of high Self-Awareness and high Sensitivity to context. Knowing that when context changes, other things will change, too, helps to facilitate patience.

*Shy: a combination of being Slow to Recover on the Resilience dimension and having low Sensitivity to Context. As a result of the insensitivity to context, shyness and wariness extend beyond contexts in which they might be normal.

*Anxious: combination of being Slow to Recover, having a negative Outlook, having high levels of Self-Awareness, and being unfocused (Attention).

*Optimistic: a combination of being Fast to Recover and having a positive Outlook.

*Chronically unhappy: a combination of being Slow to Recover and having a negative Outlook, with the result that a person cannot sustain positive emotions and become mired in negative ones after setbacks.

In 1992 Davidson made two promises to the Dalai Lama: he would personally study meditation, and would try to make research on positive emotions, such as compassion and well-being, a central focus of psychology as research on negative emotions had long been.

Davidson writes, “My research on meditators has shown that mental training can alter patterns of activity in the brain to strengthen empathy, compassion, optimism, and a sense of well-being—the culmination of my promise to study meditation as well as positive emotions. And my research in the mainstream of affective neuroscience has shown that it is these sites of higher-order reasoning that hold the key to altering set patterns of brain activity.”

The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style

March 16, 2020

This post is based on an important book by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. with Sharon Begley, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.”The remainder of the title is How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel and LIve—And How You Can Change Them. It is important to understand that there is no average emotional style. Nor should one say that there is a preferred emotional style. Different emotional styles exist for different people. Of course, it is possible that someone might not like their emotional style, in which case they can change them, and this book will tell you how. In this post the different styles will be discussed so you can identify your emotional styles.

Your Resilience style: When you suffer a setback, do you usually shake it off easily, or do you suffer a meltdown? When faced with an emotional or other challenge, can you muster the determination to continue on, or do you feel helpless and simply surrender. Should you have an argument with your significant other, does it cast a pall over the remainder of the day, or are you able to recover quickly and put it behind you? Do respond to setbacks with energy and determination, or do you give up? People at one extreme of this dimension are Fast to Recover from adversity; those at the other extreme are slow to recover, crippled by adversity.

Your Outlook style: Do you seldom let emotional clouds darken your sunny outlook on life? Do you maintain a high level of energy and engagement even when things don’t go your way? Or do you tend toward cynicism and pessimism, struggling to see anything positive? People at one extreme of the Outlook spectrum can be described as Positive types; those on the other as Negative.

Your Social Intuition style: Can you read people’s body language and tone of voice like a book, inferring whether they want to talk or be alone, whether they are stressed o the breaking point or feeling mellow? Or are you puzzled by or blind to the outward indications of people’s mental and emotional states? Those at one extreme on this spectrum are Socially Intuitive types; those at the other end, Puzzled.

Your Self-Awareness style: Are you aware of your own thoughts and feelings and attuned to the messages your body sends you? Or do you act and react without knowing whey you do what you do, because you ask why you eve engage in introspection and wonder why you seem oblivious to the fact that you are anxious, jealous, impatient, or threatened? At one extreme of this spectrum are people who are Self-Aware; at the other, people who are Self-Opaque.

Your Sensitivity to Context style: Are you able to pick up the conventional rules of social interaction so that you do not tell your boss the same dirty joke you told your husband or try to pick up a date at a funeral? Or are you baffled when people tell you that your behavior is inappropriate? If you are at one extreme of the Sensitivity to Context style, you are Tuned In; at the other end, Tuned Out.

Your Attention style: Can you screen out emotional or other distractions and stay focused? Are you so caught up in your video game that you don’t notice the dog crying to go out, until he makes a mess on the floor? Or do your thoughts flit from the task at hand to the fight you had with your spouse this morning or the anxiety you feel about an upcoming presentation for work? At one extreme on the Attention spectrum are people with a Focused style; at the other, those who are Unfocused.

Professor Richardson writes, “Everyone has elements of each of these dimensions of Emotional Style. Because there are so many ways to combine these six dimensions, there’re countless Emotional Styles; everyone is unique.” People differ by a factor of thirty in the level of their prefrontal cortex activity associated with happiness and approach or with fear, disgust, anxiety, and withdrawal.

A Wealth Tax

March 15, 2020

This post is motivated by an article by Michael Birnbaum titled, “Warren, Sanders want a wealth tax. Swiss suggest their model for America” in the 4 March 2020 issue of the Washington Post. Economists advising Sanders and Warren point to Switzerland’s wealth tax as a successful one. And some deep-pocketed Swiss say their wealthy American peers should consider Switzerland’s system.

Peter Kurer, a former chairman of UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, and now head of the country’s second-largest phone and Internet provider, said, “Rich people can live with a wealth tax. There are many wealthy people in the United States who don’t pay any taxes at all, and this spoils social peace.”

“Hitting the wealthy based on their assets is an old practice here, dating to Switzerland’s origins as a unified confederation in the mid-19th century. In the country’s highly decentralized system, where most tax decisions are put directly to voters, wealth taxes have reaffirmed again and again by citizens, a sign of broad support.”

“Here in Solothurn, a German-speaking state about 50 miles west of Zurich, the wealth tax is so popular that residents opted to increase it by nearly a third in a Feb. 9 referendum, while also trimming corporate rates in a kind of compromise. Each of Switzerland’s 29 states gets to to pick its own tax rates, though all must have a wealth tax.”

Roland Helm, Solothurn’s top finance official, who presided over the tax compromise as a state councilor from the center-right Christian Democratic party said, “For the people, it’s normal that those who have more rich than others have to pay more than others. It’s a part of justice.”

In Europe, only Spain, Norway, Belgium, and Switzerland impose wealth taxes. France scrapped its wealth tax in 2018, after tens of thousand of millionaires were estimated to have left. But Americans are liable for US taxes regardless of where they reside. So the wealthy who left the United States could, along with their offspring, be prohibited from re-entering the US. They would be in permanent exile until they paid their taxes. There are many Russian billionaires affiliated with Russian mobs, who would like to enter the United States, but are prohibited. The US is a highly desirable country in which to reside or visit, so precluding tax owing citizens from reentering the country would provide a strong disincentive for owing taxes.

It important to make a distinction between earned wealth and inherited wealth. Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates have amassed fortunes by generating new businesses that benefited the economy. Warren Buffet generated a fortune through wise investing. These fortunes can be justified. It is interesting that Warrant Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates do not believe in leaving their wealth to their children. They believe that doing so would not be in the general interest of their children. Bill and Melinda Gates work developing a charitable corporation that uses operations research to find those populations and areas of the globe that are most needing of assistance. Warren Buffet is transferring his wealth to their foundation. Inherited wealth can be, and frequently is, pernicious.

At this point, please allow a digression to the royalty and peerage of Great Britain. At one time the King or Queen and the peerage controlled virtually all the wealth in the country. Over time, that has greatly decreased. But what was the justification for royalty and the peerage? It was by thuggish acquisition and warfare. Their aires inherited their wealth and power.

One can make an analogy between British royalty and the peerage to Americans who inherit wealth. This introduces distortions and inequities into the countries. In the United States

In 2010 the Top 1% had 35.4% of the wealth
The top 5% had 63% of the wealth
The top 20% had 88,9% of the wealth
And the bottom 80% had 11.1 % of the wealth

And the situation has become more unequal in 2020.

So why should this be a concern? As the share of the nation’s wealth going to the wealthy rises, the share going to everyone else falls. What else falls? The freedom that wealth can buy, and the power that wealth can buy. Technically, we may still have one person, one vote (but given the menacing Electoral College, not for Presidential elections). But the effect of one person on elections has gone way down.

Thomas Piketty makes a distinction between productive wealth and reinvestment wealth. Productive wealth is the wealth generated by work, by producing and selling things or services, and the kind of wealth Adam Smith talked about.

Reinvestment wealth is generated by receiving returns on investments and then reinvesting the returns over and over. This kind of wealth grows exponentially, like compound interest. The more you have, the more you invest, and the more you invest, the more you have.

Most inherited wealth is reinvestment wealth. Read the healthy memory blog post “The Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap” to understand why this is undesirable.

The most effective way and addressing this glaring inequality is to gradually chip away the inequality with a wealth tax.

Altruism: Doing What is Right

March 14, 2020

This post is based on content in a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. In 2003, a team of University of Massachusetts researchers led by Carolyn Schwartz reported that altruism, or what some call social interest, was associated with better life adjustment, better marital adjustment, and less hopelessness and depression. Both giving and receiving help from others predicted better mental health, although giving help to others was a stronger predictor. The researchers found that social interest moderated life stress and predicted physical health status. They developed the theory that the association between social interest, better mental health, and reduced stress may be related to a shift in attention from the self to others, enhanced self-confidence and self-acceptance, a reframing of one’s own disease experience, and a greater perceived meaning in life.

The authors write that altruism also appears to foster resilience among children who have survived highly stressful environments. In Israel, longitudinal study of physically abused children, Hanita Zimrin and colleagues found that those children who adapted well over time were more likely to assume responsibility for someone else, like a sibling or pet, than were those who fared poorly. In Emily Werner’s classic study of children living in poverty on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, children who helped others in a meaningful way (by assisting a family member, a neighbor, or some community member) were most likely to lead successful lives as adults.

The flip side of altruism is narcissism. Narcissistic individuals see themselves as the center of things, and constantly believe that they deserve more attention, understanding, and assistance than others. David Brooks in his book The Road to Character cites a survey by the Gallup Organization that “asked high school seniors if they considered themselves to be a very important person. In 1950, 12% said yes. In 2005, an astounding 80% said yes. Jean Twenge and colleagues in a book titled the Narcissism Epidemic reported that today’s young people score 30% higher on a test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory than their peers did 20 years ago.

To put this in the context of resilience, the relationship is the more altruistic the more resilient. And the more narcissistic, the less resilient. In other words, focusing on others, enhances resilience. Focusing on oneself can virtually eliminate resilience. A good example of this is Donald Trump. He has been consistently diagnosed for having the narcissistic personality disorder. Trump’s focus is entirely on himself. It is quite obvious that Trump puts himself before the country he is supposed to be leading. And he has virtually no resilience. He takes offense at extremely small matters, and responds with nicknames and insults one would expect from a schoolyard bully.

Practical Applications: Learning to Face Fear

March 13, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. The authors write, “Fear is ubiquitous. No one escapes its grip. Fear even strikes individuals who are widely admired for their courage. South African dissident Nelson Mandela reported that during his years of imprisonment and struggle against oppression, ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’”

With regard to learning and practicing the skills necessary to master the fear, West point instructor Col. Thomas Kolditz advises us to focus on our breath: “Of all the autonomic responses to the adrenalin rush—including heart rate, respiration, skin conductivity, and muscle tension—the one that we can best control consciousness is respiration. Deep controlled breathing is largely incompatible with the other elements of the fear response. Physical relaxation can get to the point where mental relaxation, and therefore outward focus, be re-established and maintained.”

Most people find it easier to face fear in the company of other people, especially those whom they know and trust. This helps in various ways. It may increase our ability to make a realistic approach of the feared situation. It may also reduce physiological stress responses, such as elevated heart rate and blood pressure, hyperventilations, and stomach “butterflies.” People tend to feel more confident and are better able to cope with problems by finding constructive solutions rather than avoidance with supportive friends or colleagues by their side.

Spiritual insight can fight fear. One practitioner writes, “I see fear as energy. I try to come into the body and feel where it is lodged, and breathe into it and allow it to flow. If it is not moving, I turn to my spiritual practices, which include chanting, meditation, body movement and yoga, to help the stuck energy move. Once it is moving, the essential self underneath—the inner spirit—is more accessible and the fear has no more power over me. Making the decision to face my fear rather than repress or run from it is half the battle. I believe we all have the capacity to do this; however, we need to know that we have the choice.

In his book Mindfulnesss in Plain English, the Buddhist monk Bhante H. Gunaratana notes that mindfulness and meditation require attention to reality. He writes: Meditation is running straight into reality. It does not insulate you from the pain of life but rather allows you to delve so deeply into life and all its aspects that you pierce the pain barrier and go beyond suffering…

In order to observe our fear, we must accept the fact that we are afraid. We can’t examine our own depression without accepting it fully. The same is true for irritation and agitation, frustration and all those other uncomfortable emotional states. You can’t examine something fully if you are busy rejecting its existence.

To deal with Fear Gunaratana writes, “Observe the fear exactly as it is. Don’t cling to it. Just watch it rising and growing. Study its effect. See how it makes you feel and how it affects your body. When you find yourself in the grip of horror fantasies, simply observe those mindfully. Watch the pictures as pictures. See memories as memories. Observe the emotional reactions the come along and know them for what they are. Don’t try to repress the memories or the feelings or the fantasies. Just step out of the way and let the whole mess bubble up and flow past. It can’t hurt you. It is just a memory. It is only a fantasy. It is nothing to fear,”

Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Buddhist monk who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in the Vietnam War Paris Talks, recognizes that all of us are afraid. He writes, “Fear is always there within us: the fear of getting old, the fear of getting sick, the fear of dying, the fear of being abandoned by our loved ones. It is very human to be fearful and to worry about it.”

But he also understands that hiding from fear is not the answer. “If you try to run away, instead of confronting or embracing your ill-being, you will not look deeply into its nature and you will never have the chance to see a way out. That is why you should hold your suffering tenderly and closely, looking directly into it, to discover its true nature to find a way out.”

He continues, “The Buddha advised us to invite these fears to the upper level of our consciousness, recognize them and smile at them. To do so was the daily practice for monks and nuns in the time of the Buddha, as it is for monks and nuns now. Every time your fear is invited up, every time you recognize it and smile at it, your fear will lose some of its strength. When it returns to the depth of your consciousness, it returns as a smaller seed. That is why the practice should be done even day, especially when you are feeling mentally and physically strong.

There are many healthy memory posts on meditation and mindfulness. Just enter “meditation” or “mindfulness” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com
If you are not familiar with the relaxation response, it might be good to begin with the “relaxation response”

The Neuroscience of Optimism

March 11, 2020

This title of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney has a chapter titled Optimism. This post is on the neuroscience of optimism section in this book.

The three brain regions that play a central role in optimism are : the prefrontal cortex; the amygdala; and reward systems including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), ventral-segmental area, and the nucleus accumbens. The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s executive center; it is essential for guiding behavior, regulating emotions, and understanding the difference between potential rewards and punishments. It is also necessary for imagining the future and setting goals, which are functions directly related to optimism. The prefrontal cortex enables us to engage in optimistic processes such as hoping for the best and imagining a bright future, anticipating and preparing to meet a challenge, and making plans to achieve and enjoy success.

The second brain area involved in optimism is the amygdala. The amygdala plays a role in triggering “raw emotions” such as fear or excitement. In this way the amygdala plays a role in our ability to experience positive emotions. There is evidence that the amygdala plays an important role in imagining future emotional events including positive events.

The reward circuitry—the ACC, ventral-segmental area, and nucleus accumbens also appear to play a role in optimism. These are associated with the rewarding effects of social attachment, eating, sex, and other pleasurable stimuli. Not surprisingly, reward circuitry is generally active when we are engaged in behaviors we enjoy. Acute stress tends to reduce activity in these circuits. The neurotransmitter associated with reward is dopamine. Alice Isen and her colleagues have found that dopamine improves cognitive flexibility and perspective-taking. These researchers, along with others, believe that the broadened perspective and flexible cognitive style that accompany positive emotions may be related to increased dopamine.

Psychologist Tali Sharot along with colleagues instructed subjects to imagine both positive (winning an award) and negative (ending a romantic relationships) future events while undergoing fMRI in order to understand how the brain generates the positive bias that characterizes optimism. When participants imagined a positive future event, activation of the amygdala and the ACC increased. The greatest activation of these regions occurred in participants with the highest scores on a measure of dispositional optimism, the LOT-R (Life Orientation Test-Revised).

Richard Davidson and his colleagues have found that optimism is associated with high activity in the left prefrontal cortex with prolonged engagement of subcortical reward circuitry. On the other hand, depression has been associated with low prefrontal activity and inability to sustain reward circuitry activation. Heller and his colleagues have said that the ability to savor and sustain positive emotion is “critical to daily function well-being and to health.

The authors conducted research in which fMRI was used to examine emotional responses to negative stimuli among three groups of women: 14 women who have been sexually assaulted and developed PTSD, 14 who had been sexually assaulted and had not developed PTSD, and 14 who had never been assaulted. Each participant was shown 60 emotionally negative pictures during the study. Immediately before viewing each negative picture, participants were given one of three instructions: to “enhance,” to “diminish,” or to “maintain” their emotional response to that picture. Non traumatized healthy controls were best able to decrease their emotional response to negative pictures as measured by subjective ratings and degree of PFC activation. Unexpectedly, the trauma-exposed resilient group had greater PFC activation following the “enhance” instruction than did the trauma-exposed PTSD group. The authors conclude that these findings suggest that the ability to focus effortfully on negative emotional responses and engage cognitive/linguistic ares of the brain in order to manage, diminish or extinguish the negative emotion may be an important component of resilience.

The authors offer these four ways to become more optimistic:

Focus attention on the positive things around us.

2. Intentionally think positive thoughts and do not dwell on negative thoughts.

3. Reframe the negative and interpret events in a more positive light.

4. Behave and take action in ways that build positive feelings.

Optimism

March 10, 2020

This title of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney has a chapter titled Optimism: Belief in a Brighter Future. It begins, “Optimism ignites resilience, providing energy to power the other resilience factors. It facilitates an active and creative approach to coping with challenging situations….Optimism is a future-oriented attitude, a confidence that things will turn out well.” They believe that good things will happen to them, and that with hard work, they will succeed.

Shelly Taylor and other psychologists have identified two styles of optimism: dispositional optimism, which is also called trait optimism, pervades the individual’s outlook and tends to be stable from one situation to another; and situational optimism, in which the individual may feel hopeful and expect a favorable outcome in one situation but not in another. Even under adverse circumstances these people manage to build on whatever small glimmer of optimistic thinking the can find.

The authors make the point that blind optimism does not work. They note that optimism as a resilience trait does not mean blindly ignoring life’s problems or viewing the world through “rose-colored glasses.” Realistic optimists pay close attention to negative information that is relevant to the problems they face. However, they do not remain focused on the negative. They tend to disengage rapidly from problems that appear to be unsolvable; they know then to cut their losses and turn their attention to solvable problems.

Diane Coutu discusses the importance of playing close attention to negative information in the context of business success: “That’s not to say that optimism doesn’t have its place: In turning around a demoralized sales force, for instance, conjuring a sense of possibility can be a very powerful tool. But for bigger challenges, a cool, almost pessimistic, sense of reality is far more important…Facing reality, really facing it, is grueling work. Indeed, it can be unpleasant and emotionally wrenching.”

Psychologist Sandra Schneider writes that realistic optimism is qualitatively different from the blind variety: “A realistic outlook improves chances to negotiate the environment successfully, whereas an optimistic outlook places priority on feeling good. But are realistic and optimistic outlooks necessarily in conflict?” She points out that in many cases, optimism and realism don’t conflict, but “there remain ‘optimistic biases’ that do involve self-deception, or convincing oneself of desired beliefs without appropriate reality checks.” Justin Kruger and David Dunning write that it tends to lead to “an underestimation of risk, an overestimation of ability, and inadequate preparation.”

Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf is a most remarkable case. She believed that her own brand of optimism was the product of years of deprivation. After suffering what was called “brain fever” when she was 19 months old, she suffered five years suffering “outbursts of passion”, screaming, daily (and sometime hours) temper tantrums and fits of violent and uncontrollable behavior. Fortunately in 1887 a most remarkable individual entered her life, Anne Sullivan. She taught Helen to understand letters and words, traced her hand and then to read Braille. Her progress was so rapid and extraordinary that within a few years she became a “phenemon,” reaching widespread publicity and meeting with world dignitaries, including Alexander Graham Bell and President Grover Cleveland.

After four years of study at the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, she applied to Radcliffe College. Keller was informed only a day or two before the entrance exam that the mathematic portion would be given in a style of Braille unfamiliar to her, so that she had to learn an entirely new set of symbols over night. She wrote,”I do not blame anyone. The administrative board of Radcliffe did not realize how difficult they were making my examinations, nor did they understand the peculiar difficulties I had to surmount. But they unintentionally placed obstacles in my way, I have the consolation of knowing that I overcame them all.”

A portion of her essay “Optimism” follows:
“Most people measure happiness in terms of physical pleasure and material possession. Could they win some visible goal which they have set on the horizon, how happy they would be! Lacking this gift or that circumstance, they would be miserable. If happiness is to be so measured, I who cannot hear or see have every reason to sit in a corner with folded hands and weep.”

and

“A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him. I know what evil is…I can say with conviction that the struggle which evil necessitates is one of the greatest blessings. It makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women. It lets us into the soul of things and teaches us that although the world is full of suffering it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism then does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and everyone, and make that Best a part of my life.”

One could easily call Helen Keller the most resilient person who has ever lived, so she constitutes proof that optimism does increase resilience. Barbara Fredrickson has developed what she calls the broaden and build model of positive emotions. She differentiates the functions of negative and positive emotions and notes that negative emotions such as anger, fear, and disgust help us to survive by preparing us for danger. They do this by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which increases physiological arousal. This “fight-flight” reaction narrows your visual focus and tends to restrict our behavior to those that are essential for attacking or fleeing.

Fredrickson also notes that positive emotions, in contrast, have been shown to reduce physiological arousal and to broaden our visual focus, our thoughts, and our behavior. Experiencing positive emotions results in an accompanying broadening of attention and behavior. Consequently, their thinking tends to become more creative, inclusiive, flexible, and integrative. Experiments have shown that inducing a positive mood (by showing participants a funny movie, or reading them a funny story) increases people’s scope of attention, their ability to solve problems actively, and their interest in socializing, and in strenuous as well as leisurely activities. So by broadening attention and action, positive emotions can contribute to our creativity, physical health, relations with family and friends, our ability to acquire new knowledge, and our psychological resilience.

There are many healthy memory post on optimism. The can be found by entering “optimism” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

Bouncing Back

March 9, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. The complete title is “Bouncing Back is a Choice—but the Choice is Easier for Some.” Many of us have learned that stress is bad. But when stress can be managed, it tends to be very good and even necessary for health and growth. The mind and body weaken without it. So if we can learn to harness stress it can serve as a catalyst for developing greater strength and even greater wisdom.

But the authors acknowledge that building resilience and bouncing back is easier for some than for others. People who are either temporarily or permanently unable to think clearly or regulate their moods will have difficulty putting into practice the advice in their book. For example, someone who is experiencing an episode of major depression will be handicapped by the sadness and sense of hopelessness, lack of energy, and loss of interest in life that characterize this disorder. Another example is someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury may have particular difficulties with cognitive strategies and/or emotional challenges. The authors advise people with these kinds of serious conditions who want to practice the skills associated with resilience to work with a professional who is trained in dealing with their specific condition.

Even for those who do not suffer from these problems, the path to bounce back is steeper for some than for others. Those with resources such as financial security, a high level of education, an interesting and rewarding career, and strong social networks are able to leverage these resources, whereas people who lack resources may fall into what psychologist Stevan Hobfoll calls a “loss spiral.” A family that loses its home in a hurricane will have no place to live, while another family has the option to move in with relatives, and yet another family will be fortunate enough to own a second house.

The authors conclude, “When we advocate for resilience, we believe that most of us can choose to fight back after a trauma and attempt to right ourselves. However, we must emphasize with some people who lack access to support and resources that make it easier, or even possible, to do so. This does not mean that those with scarce resources should give up, but rather recognize that they will have a more difficult road to travel. Understanding these limitations may allow us to be more patient with ourselves or with others who are striving to recover from trauma.”

Nevertheless there are practices and ways of thinking and living that help inoculate us from trauma, so that we are resilient and bounce back quickly. These practices and ways of thinking will be presented in the following posts based on this book.

Neuroplasticity

March 8, 2020

This post is based on portions of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. There have been many previous healthymemory posts on this topic. Neuroplasticity refers to “the ability of the nervous system to respond to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, function, and connections.”

For many years the brain was thought of as a fixed organ, but neuroplasticity means brain plasticity. Brain structure is highly plastic, and like muscles in the body, the brain can be strengthened or weakened depending on how it is used. When cells in the brain are actively used, they transmit their messages more efficiently and form more connections with other cells. However, when brain cells are not stimulated, they die and are pruned away. The well-known adage, use it or lose it, applies to the brain in spades.

Since the mid-1990s, brain changes in professional musicians have been identified and related to the instruments they play. Researchers have found that in professional players of string instruments (violin, viola, cello, and bass) “the cortical representation of the digits of the left hand (the fingering hand) was larger” than in control subjects, whereas the right hand (which holds the bow and is not involved in fingering) did not display such differences. Ruger, Lindenberg, and Schlaud studying brain activity in string players as well as keyboard players and non musicians found differences in the structure of not just gray-matter motor areas, but also in the white-matter fibers that connect brain areas. In string players these were larger in the right hemisphere (controlling the left hand), but inn keyboard players they were large in both brain hemispheres Choi and his colleagues studied wind instrument players and found enlargement in areas of the brain responsible for lip movement. Moreover, the greater the number of years of musical training, the more pronounced the brain changes.

Research on mindfulness-based stress reduction, a practice related to the mindfulness meditation, is part of some traditional Eastern religions. Omar Singleton and his colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine the brains of volunteers before and after an eight-week program of mindfulness-based stress reduction, “defined as the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.” They found an increase in the size of certain brain regions that produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, that are critically involved in regulating arousal, attention, mood, reward, and learning. Moreover, these volunteers scored higher on an assessment of psychological well-being after the eight-week program.

Each of us has, to some degree, the power to change the structure and function of our brain. As noted by well-known author Deepak Chopra, MD and Harvard neuroscientist Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D., “Neuroplasticity is better than mind over matter. It’s mind turning into matter as your thoughts create new neuronal growth. Activity is the key. By repeatedly activating specific areas of the brain, we can strengthen those areas.

Why Sleep Researchers Oppose Daylight Saving Time

March 7, 2020

The short answer is that it results in poor quality sleep, and readers of the healthy memory blog should be well aware of the importance of sleep to a healthy memory. Now for the more detailed reasons.

Phyllis Zee, a sleep researcher at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago says that time changes mess with sleep schedules, a potential problem when so many people are already sleep deprived. About 1 in 3 adults sleep less than the recommended seven-plus hours a night. More than half of U.S. teens don’t get the eight-plus hours on weeknights. One study in the U.S. found that in the week following the spring switch to daylight saving time, teens slept about 2.5 hours less than the previous week. Many people never catch up during the subsequent six months. Research suggests that chronic sleep deprivation can increase levels of stress hormones that boost heart rate and blood pressure, and of chemicals that trigger inflammation.

It has also been shown that blood tends to clot more readily in the morning. These changes underlie evidence that heart attacks are more common in general in the morning, and may explain studies showing that rates increase sightly on Mondays after clocks are moved forward in the spring, when people typically rise an hour earlier than normal. That increased risk associated with the time change is mainly in people already vulnerable because of existing heart disease, says Barry Franklin, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Health hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. Studies suggest that these people return to their baseline risk after the autumn time change.

There are numerous studies linking the start of daylight saving time in the spring with a brief spike in car accidents, and with poor performance on tests of alertness, both probably caused by sleep loss. Research includes a German study published this year that found an increase in traffic fatalities in the week after the start of daylight saving time, but no such increase in the fall.

Circadian biologists believe ill health effects from daylight saving time result from a mismatch between the sun “clock,” our social clock—work and school schedules—and the body’s internal 24-hour clock. Ticking away at the molecular level, the biological clock is entrained—or set—by explosion to sunlight and darkness. It regulates bodily functions such as metabolism, blood pressure and hormones that promote sleep and alertness. Disruptions to the body clock have been linked with obesity, depression, diabetes, heart problems, and other conditions. Circadian biologists say these disruptions include tinkering with standard time to move the clock ahead one hour in the spring. A mismatch of one hour-daily is enough for ill effects, especially if it lasts for several months, said Till Roennberg, a circadian rhythm specialist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

Federal law allows states to remain on standard time year-round, but only Hawaii and Arizona have chosen to do so.

Epigenetics

March 6, 2020

This post is based on portions of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. A common question that arises when discussing many topics is the nature nurture issue. That is how much of a person is determined by that person’s genes and how much by the environment. That is a naive question that is difficult to answer for two reasons. One is that there is natural confound here, and that is how to distinguish the effects of genetics and the environment. IQ measurements can be separated mathematically into a genetic component and an environmental component. Although this can be done mathematically it cannot be done empirically as these two components are confounded.
There is a true anecdote illustrating this confound. It tells of two sisters who are identical twins, yet one is academically and socially successful, whereas the other has the autistic spectrum disorder.

Epigenetics is the study of how genes are read out or expressed. It matters not if you have fantastic genes, but the information in these genes is not manifested. A variety of internal and external environmental events, such as stress, social support, and fear, can trigger biochemical reactions, such as methylation, that then turns genes on or of. Moreover, these processes are dynamic and potentially reversible. So when a gene is “turned on” it directs the making of gene products, such as proteins. But, when a gene is “turned off” these gene products are no longer produced.

Zang has conducted studies showing that if a mother rat provides only low levels of licking and grooming to her pups, which is analogous to neglectful parenting in the rat world, the pub will exhibit increased susceptibility to stress throughout their lives. But attentive maternal care, as reflected by high levels of licking and grooming, can contribute to later stress resilience. These effects of maternal licking and grooming appear to be mediated, at least in part, by epigenetic changes in gene expression. Research conducted in Michael Meaney’s laboratory has shown that variations in maternal care have been associated with variations in expression of glucocorticoid receptors and hippocampal sensitivity to stress. According to Nestler, similar epigenetic effects of maternal care, as well as other lifetime experiences, on later vulnerability or resilience to stress are likely to “hold up in humans.”

The authors write, “A variety of environmental events, including stress, social interactions, and drug use, can cause epigenetic changes in gene expression. Although much remains to be learned, the rapidly expanding field of epigenetics may soon help us to better understand the origins of stress vulnerability and discover ways to manage it. It may also help us to better understand resilience and the mechanisms by which training can enhance factors associated with resilience (e e.g. exercise, social support, cognitive reframing). And as noted by psychopharmacologist Steven Stahl, “psychotherapy can now be conceptualized not only by its classic psychodynamic principles, but also indeed as a neurological problem capable of inducing epigenetic changes in brain circuits, not unlike the ultimate actions of psychotropic drugs.”

Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges

March 5, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the title a book written by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney. This post is the first of a series of posts based on this book. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, threats and even significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stresses.”

Here are the key brain regions with respect to resilience:

The amygdala, which is associated with fear and alarm; it plays a central role in fear conditioning and in triggering raw emotions and the “fight or flight” response.

The prefrontal cortex, which is commonly referred to as the brain’s “executive center,” facilitates planning and rational decision-making; it helps regulate emotions and acts to keep the amygdala ( the “fear and alarm center”) in check.

The hippocampus, which plays a critical role in learning, forming new memories, and regulating the stress response; more so than many other brain structures, it is vulnerable to the effect of chronic stress.

The anterior cingulate cortex, which plays an important role in our ability to focus attention, detect and monitor errors and conflicts, assess the importance of emotional and motivational information, and regulate emotions; it is connected both to the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.

The anterior insula, which is located in the fold of the cerebral cortex that marks the boundary between the frontal and temporal lobes; it is involved in functions related to emotions, and aids in the brain’s awareness of the body’s internal physical state.

The nucleus accumbens, sometimes referred to as the “pleasure center,” plays a central role in the brain’s reward circuitry; in association with the ventral segmental area, it mediates the experience of reward and punishment, and is associated with the pleasurable effects of food, sex, and drug abuse.

The limbic system refers to the inner portion of the brain—located beneath the cortex—which is involved in emotion, memory and other functions. It includes the amygdala, hippocampus, and a number of other structures and regions. Although the limbic system is neither a system nor a structure, the term provides a useful shorthand for referring to this area of the brain.

The autonomic nervous system is composed of two parts. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS mobilizes the body under conditions of stress. The PNS conserves resources and maintains functioning under normal stressful conditions. During healthy functioning, it is beneficial for the SNS to have a robust response to stress and challenge, but also for the SNS to return to baseline rapidly after the stressful event is over. Another major system is the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis), which responds to stress with a complex set of reactions involving the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.

Here are the different hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in the stress response and resilience:

Cortisol is a stress hormone released through activation of the HPA axis. It produces energy by converting food into fat and glucose (a form of sugar). It also temporarily bolsters the immune system.
Epinephrine, also known as adrenalin, is part of the SNS. It is erased by the adrenal glands under conditions of stress and accelerates heart rate, constricts blood vessels and dilates air passages as part of the SNS fight-or-flight response.

Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is also part of the SNS. It facilitates alerting and alarm reactions in the brain and is critical for responding to danger and for remembering emotional and fearful events.

Serotonin is involved in the regulation of mood, as well as sleep, appetite, and other functions.

Dopamine is associated with pleasurable feelings and plays a key role in the reward systems of the brain. For this reason, it is an important factor in cravings and addictive behaviors.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is associated with decreasing anxiety and hastening return to baseline after the nervous system reacts to stress.

Oxytocin is associated with maternal behaviors, pair bonding, social communication, trust, social support, and anxiety reduction.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) acts in support the nervous system through the repair of existing neurons an growth of new ones.

Resilience

March 3, 2020

This post is based on a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. As we leaned in the post Longevity, resilience is a strong contributor to a longer life. Resilience also increases the success of our activities during this longer life.

There are a variety of factors contributing to resilience, but this post is focusing on those we can control. Ann Masten, a psychologist at the Center for Neurobehavioral Development at the University of Minnesota, calls the power of resilience “ordinary magic.” She thinks it is magic anyone can use. Nimbi Hutnik’s team at London South Bank University says resilience, although a complex mix of biology, psychology, and environment, has the potential to be taught. It is worth noting that exercises in mental resilience can be learned, and can be used to promote health and well-being..

Hooper writes, “The capacity to be super resilient may be there even in us normal people, but we need guidance and support to find it, maybe from psychotherapy, maybe from friends. We need help to be optimistic, encouraged to take control, and empowered to be responsible. We need a certain amount of self-love. A touch of narcissism is good! We need to stand up for ourselves so we are not mistreated at work or in relationships, we need to be assertive without devaluing others, and have a self-image that is positive without being conceited, This mixture of personality traits will drive you forward. Some of them can be constructed, if you do not have them naturally.”

HM adds, being super resilient is certainly desirable, but plain old vanilla resilience can be quite good. HM also adds that meditation is extremely useful in the pursuit of resilience.

Look forward to more posts on this important topic.

Longevity: How Long Will We Live

March 2, 2020

 

This post is based on a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. The longest lived person on record is Jeannae Calment who died in 1917 at the age of 122. It is recorded that she did smoke, but only one or two cigarettes per day. Her diet was rich in olive oil and chocolates (1 kilo per week).

Blue Zones is the name for areas were centenarians tend to cluster. The people on Okinawa’s western edge are the longest lived people in the world. Not surprisingly these people have been well studied for clues to their remarkable lifespan. Their diet is high in tofu, fresh vegetables, and fresh fish. Their social structure is tight-knit and supportive. Their lifestyle includes activities such a bashofu (a traditional form of fabric weaving) plus the habit of hara hachi, which is a Confucian practice of eating only until you are 80% full.

There are other blue zones such as Sardinia, in the Italian Mediterranean, and the Nicola peninsula of Costa Rica, and the Greek island of Ikaria.

There is one Blue Zone in the United States the city of Loma Linda, in California. HM’s sister-in law lives there. Men in Loma Linda have a life expectancy of 88, and women a year more. The town has been extensively settled by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Seventh Dayers don’t drink or smoke (smoking is banned in the town) and most are vegetarians. According to the scientist at the New England Centenarian Study, this is the baseline lifespan for the rest of us if only we ate well and took better care of ourselves.

Mental resilience is another important factor. According to the biographer of Jeannae Calment, she was biologically immune to stress. She had a saying, “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.” She also ascribed her longevity to her calm approach to stress.

There is a common Japanese expression, sho ga nai, which means “nothing can be done about it.” A variant, shikata ga nai, is similar meaning “it cannot be helped.”

If you’re counting on your genes carrying you well into old age, stop counting. Genetics do play a factor, but not as large as many think. Moreover, specific genes have been identified that contribute to aging, but each of these genes has a small effect, and there needs to be a large group to achieve a noticeable effect. The have also identified a disease-associated gene, but there have been long living individuals who managed to outlive this gene.

The reader can draw their own conclusions from this post. HM would suggest living as healthy a life style as one can tolerate. Maintain healthy social interactions. Shun stress and foster resilience. Meditation should be extremely useful in shunning stress and fostering resilience. There is a very large number of posts on meditation. Just enter “relaxation response” in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com. Follow this with entering “meditation” in the search block.

Happiness

March 1, 2020

This post is motivated by a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

Here is a famous poem by E.A. Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
‘Good-morning,’ and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

The following taken from Voltaire, Notebooks

“We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.”

So happiness appears to be an elusive concept. Actually, happiness is easy to achieve provided that one has an appropriate frame of mind. Take people with the locked-in syndrome, for example. In the extreme form of the locked-in syndrome, the sufferers have no means of interacting with the external world.

But Jean-Dominique Bauby was still able to blink his eyes after suffering a devastating stroke, He managed to write the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by blinking his eye. This book was made into a highly recommended motion picture. He died shortly after this book was published.

Brain imaging has identified living individuals who were locked in and had no means, even eye-blinking. This finding was extremely depressing. Yet, to the best of HM’s knowledge, none of these individuals requested that their lives be ended.

Hooper relates the stories of several individuals who are classified as being locked in as their means of interacting with the world are severely limited, yet who are happy in their lives. One of these individuals said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that my brain’s default setting is happiness.” Others, while not attributing their happiness to their brain setting, showed resilience in adapting to their condition.

It is likely that the majority of humans believe that wealth paves the road to happiness, although that was certainly not the case with Richard Cory; and there are wealthy people who do commit suicide.

Researchers Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers found that as income increases, so does happiness, although it increases at increasingly smaller amounts. This kind of measure of happiness is called lifetime evaluation.

A more accurate technique for measuring happiness is called experiential sampling. In this method, you buzz people randomly on their mobiles throughout the day, and ask them, “How happy are you right now, on a scale of 1 to 10. Using the experimental sampling measure there is no increase beyond $75,000. As that study was done a few years ago, that amount has obviously increased. The point is that what is commonly regarded as a good salary hits the effective maximum. In other words, a million dollars a year does not make you happier. This study’s done by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton of Princeton University that analyzed 450,000 experimental response from 1000 US citizens.

Yet there are billionaires still motivated to earn more and more billions. As these people can live only one life, and their extend families can only extend so far, one wonders why. Apparently, it is simply a matter of ego. These people do give money, but it is usually black money given to politicians or to organizations that support politicians that will fight tax increases and any laws they fill will restrict their growth of income. They also want to restrict and control the lives of fellow citizens so that they march to the drummer they want these citizens to march to.

One would think that via philanthropy, they can increase the well-being of others. Excellent examples of these people are Warrant Buffet, one of the world’s foremost capitalists, and William and Melinda Gates, who are using both their wealth and operations research to maximize the effects of their giving. Both Buffet and the Gates are against inherited wealth because they do not think it is good for their children. It is also not good for the health of the country. Inherited wealth has a pernicious effect.

There are also people who achieve happiness by working directly for the public and the needy. There is a post on this blog, Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk that argues that the Buddhist Monk is the happier of the two.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Focus

February 29, 2020

Be true to the thought of the moment and avoid distraction. Other than continuing to exert yourself, enter into nothing else, but go to the extent of living single thought by single thought.”

—Yamamoto Tsunetomo (c. 1710)

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity. Michael Easterman is a cofounder of the Boston Attention and Learning Lab at Boston University. He says, “The science shows that when people are motivated, either intrinsically, i.e., they love it; or extrinsically, i.e., they will get a prize, they’re better able to maintain consistent brain activity, and maintain readiness for the readiness for the unexpected.” Motivation means this consistency doesn’t fall off over time.

In one experiment, participants were shown a random sequence of photographs of cities and mountain scenes, one every 800 milliseconds, while in an fMRI brain scanner. They needed to press a button whenever they saw a city scene (which occurred 90% of the time) and avoid pressing the button when a mountain scene appeared (the remaining 10%). Sometimes the trials were rewarded, In these cases participants earned 1 cent for each city scene they responded to, and 10 cents for not responding to a mountain scene. They were also penalized for getting it wrong. Other trials had no reward or penalty. The results of their brain activity showed that without the motivation of reward, the participants acted as “cognitive misers”: they didn’t bother engaging the brain’s attentional resources until their performance had dipped. [‘cognitive miser] is a term that has been used many times in this blog; enter “cognitive miser” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com to see how many times and where] Until, in other words, they had dropped out of the zone. When they were motivated by reward, however, the participants were “cognitive investors,” happy to engage their brain and concentrate in order to stay focused on the task.

In 2015, Yi-Yuan Tang, Michael Posner at the University of Oregon, and Britta Holzel at the Technical University of Munich published a review of the evidence in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. They concluded that more than twenty years of research into meditation supports the idea that it is beneficial for physical and mental health, and that it improves cognitive performance. Basically, it improves brain power.

Joshua Grant at the University of Montreal scanned the brains of Zen practioners who had racked up more than a thousand hours of practice. These seasoned meditators show less activity in a few areas of the the brain than non meditators: in the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. These are areas are respectively concerned with (among other things) awareness of pain, the processing of emotions such as fear, and memory storage. But some parts of the brain process pain were thicker in the meditators. There is no contradiction here: meditators process the pain but let it bother them less.

Meditative practice leads to changes in the structure of the brain. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the insula, a deep fold in the cerebral cortex, two areas of the brain known to be key to our ability to focus attention, both grow in people who meditate. These regions, along with parts of the front midline of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus, are activated during cognitive tasks. For example, the ACC aids in the maintenance of focus by preventing other systems of the brain from barging in and demanding attention. Hooper writes, “When we are performing tasks that have been practiced over and over such as adjusting the sails on a trimaran or changing gears in a racing car, the autonomic nervous system plays a big part in carrying them out. That’s the part of the nervous system that acts automatically, performing functions such as regulating the heart rate and digestion. When we are in an effortless state of flow this occurs below the level of conscious awareness, and the ACC and the insula together help the autonomic nervous system achieve it.

There is a very large number of posts on meditation in the healthy memory blog. Just enter “meditation” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com. It might be a good idea to first enter “relaxation response” as the relaxation response provides the entry into more advanced meditation techniques.

Memory

February 28, 2020

Memory is the title of a chapter in a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity.

This is one of the quotes at the beginning the chapter:
“I’m more than my brain but my memories are what makes me, so if I don’t remember then who am I?…I don’t know when to say goodbye
-Nicola Wilson, Plaques and Tangles (2015)

This poor man is suffering from Alzheimer’s. One can infer this from the title, Plaques and Tangles, as amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles are the defining features of Alzheimer’s. Even though these are the defining features, many have died who have had autopsies showing this defining evidence of the disease, but who never experienced andy of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of the disease. The explanation is that these individuals had developed a cognitive reserve to protect them. The Healthymemory blog is dedicated to providing advice and content to help people develop cognitive reserve. Staying cognitively active throughout one’s life is important. Engaging in Kahneman’s System 2 processing, more commonly referred to as critical thinking is important. There are many posts on this topic including growth mindsets. This is a matter of growing your memory learning skills and topics throughout one’s lifetime. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful. And using mnemonic techniques to be discussed next provide for healthy memories. There is an entire category of posts for mnemonic techniques.

Memory champions are able to accomplish astounding features. There are annual World Memory Championships. The 2016 world champion was the first person to memorize in under 20 seconds the order of a deck of shuffled playing cards, and the first to memorize more than 3,000 single-digit numbers in one hour.

Joshua Foer won the 2006 World Memory Championships. Enter “Moonwalking with Einstein: the Bottom Line” in the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com
to read about these memory contest and what true mnemonists are able to accomplish. There is also an entire category of posts on this topic under the category Mnemonic Techniques

Martin Dressler of the Donders Institute of Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands has shown that anyone can use the techniques of memory athletes through a function magnetic resonance image (fMRI) scanner.

When Dressler put volunteers who were new to memory training through six weeks of instruction on the memory palace technique he found that they typically doubled their ability to remember words from a random list. Plus the activity patterns of their brains had started to converge with that seen in the champion memorizers.

People with Highly Successful Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) are also discussed in the chapter. There have been many previous HM blog posts on this topic. These are people who seem to be able to recall what they did and what happened when given da date such as 14 July 1996. The actress Marilu Henner has this ability, and she has found this ability to be helpful in her acting career. She is the only example that HM knows of that has used this exceptional capability in their careers.

The chapter covers the important category of eyewitness testimony. Unfortunately, the courts have put a high level of credibility on eyewitness testimony, but eyewitness testimony is extremely unreliable. Some have the misconception that this unreliability is restricted to people of different races. This is wrong. Eyewitness testimony is poor across the board.

HM is fascinated when watching crime shows and the police try to get information from witnesses. Even when these eyewitnesses are trying to help, their memories are more likely than not to be wrong. HM marvels that the police are able to solve crimes.

Felipe De Brigard says that memory isn’t just for remembering. He argues that misremembering is so common it shouldn’t be seen all the time as a malfunction. In his view, many cases can help us construct scenarios of past events that might have happened, so as to better simulate possible events in the future, An unreliable memory may also destabilize your personality. Although you may think that your personality is something unchangeably intrinsic to you, a study in 2016 that measure personality traits over a sixty-year period showed they can profoundly alter over a lifetime.

Felipe De Brigard’s view of memory is similar to that expressed in the healthy memory blog. Memory is for time travel so that we can travel back in time to what we’ve learned an experienced, to travel into the future to assess what types of action are required to deal with these new situations.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Intelligence

February 27, 2020

This post is inspired by a book by Rowan Hooper titled Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of our Capacity, but very little, if any, is taken from the chapter in that book titled Intelligence.

Unfortunately, intelligence is a much abused concept. Some of that abuse stems from trying to divide intelligence into genetic and learned components, that is nature vs. nurture. It is true that statisticians can break the IQ into genetic and nurtured components, but what people don’t realize is that this is a mathematical abstraction. It does not exist in the real world. Nature and nurture are always inextricably intertwined. This confound has been further magnified with the development of the field of epigenetic. Epigenetics is the study of how the genome is read out, and this readout is a function of interactions with the real world.

The IQ test itself has been used to segregate people into different groups of intelligence. This results in a bias in the effort that goes into educating lower IQ groups. One might think that greater attention should be given to these groups, but the usual result is that the quality of education is lower and teachers can end up spending less effort on low IQ groups.

What is worse yet, is that people can use the results of these tests to define themselves, and to limit the avenues they explore.

The basic problem, then, is not in the IQ test itself, but in how it is used. Nevertheless, the abilities tested by the IQ test should be expanded to better capture the future potential of the child or adult.

The goal of education should be to try to achieve the maximum potential of each child. So initial testing can indicate an initial level of achievement, but the effort should be to try to increase that level of achievement. The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in both fluid and crystallized intelligence test scores that were measured in many parts of the world over the 20th century. So not only can IQ increase, but it has been increasing over time. Some theorists argue that this is the result of advancing technology.

The argument here is not that every individual has unlimited potential, but that there should be no preconceptions about intelligence.

When difficulty is reached at a certain stage, the child can be moved into different areas of achievement. The goal should be to use technology to its best advantage in developing human beings for their own self-fulfillment and to benefit society as a whole.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Before Science, Meditation

February 26, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Hannah Natanson in the Metro Section of the 23 Feb 2020 issue of the Washington Post. The benefits of meditation and mindfulness are a common theme in the healthy memory blog. And, as the title indicates, meditation and mindfulness is highly beneficial in the schools. Self-reflective exercises such as meditation give students tools to handle stressful situations. If children can expend less energy to stay calm, they’ll have more gusto for learning.

Teachers report, “You can see the change in kids: They cool down, they relax, and they’re just a little bit more open to learning. Meditation and especially mindfulness exercises reduce behavioral problems in the classroom. Kids become kinder. After meditation students offer to help one another with assignments unprompted, tease their peers less and say “please” and “thank you” more often. Some even request good-morning hugs.

Other research has found that sometimes these meditation and mindfulness exercises in the classroom find their way back into their homes and interactions at home are less-stressed, happier and more beneficial.

There is also rigorous research showing that these activities are effective and beneficial to learning. Brain imaging research has found evidence for this in changes in the brains. So the evidence comes not only from behavioral science, but also from neuroscience.

Unfortunately, over the past five years some Christian conservative groups have begun speaking out against practices such as meditation in the schools. These activists argue mindfulness programs violate the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state because they expose students to Buddhists or Hindu ideologies.

This assertion is blatantly false. Although these practices emerged from Buddhist and Hindu ideologies, none of the teachings or beliefs of these ideologies are involved. The benefits of these practices are briefly outlined above. If these Christian groups have any practices that might have beneficial effects to education that have been documented in science, then they should offer them for evaluation.

It is useful to consider Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition here. This was reviewed in the immediately preceding post and has been reviewed many times in previous healthy memory blog posts. System 1 is fast and involves little, if any, mental effort. System 2 is slow, requires mental effort, and is commonly referred to as thinking. Thinking requires mental effort and many people, and these protesting conservative Christians in particular, do not like thinking. Believing is much easier. Unfortunately, these conservative Christians prefer believing, as it requires virtually no mental effort. They do not appreciate that God gave them brains for thinking and that he wants them to use them. Unfortunately, too many religious leaders do not like their members thinking. They want them to believe what they tell them to believe.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

The Cult of Trump

February 24, 2020

The Cult of Trump is the first part of a title of a highly pertinent book by Steven Hassan. The remainder of the title is A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control. He has written three previous books on cults: Combating Cult Mind Control, Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leaving Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs.

What makes Hassan’s book especially compelling is that he is a former Moonie in Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. So he is a former true believer, one who is intimately knowledgeable and proficient in the mind control techniques expounded by the Reverend Moon and other cults. He managed to free himself from Reverend Moon’s mind control, and, as his books indicate, works in freeing others from these cults.

Before proceeding further, there is a need to justify the title of this post. Justification can be found in the followers of Trump, the most dangerous being the Republican Party, who refused to recognize the overwhelming evidence made in support of the impeachment amendments, and convict the worst president this country has ever suffered. It is a president who places the future of this constitutional democracy at risk.

The most obvious point is that Trump is no Republican in the traditional sense. Indeed, his candidacy has transformed the Grand Old Party into a monstrosity that ignores the Constitution and could well lead to a free country becoming a de facto authoritarian dictatorship.

What makes Hassan’s thesis so compelling is that Trump, and the Russians, are employing the same techniques used by the Reverend Moon and other cult leaders. Assertions are made, regardless of the truth, by Trump and blindly followed. His record of lies is truly astounding, but what is even more astounding is that people believe these lies.

“Thinking Fast and Slow” is a best selling book by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman makes an important distinction between two types of mental processing. Not surprisingly, he names them System 1 and System 2. System 1 is our default mode of processing. It is the fast system we use for conversation and for mastered activities. This speed of processing comes at a cost. That cost is the thinking that is necessary to ascertain if a message is true or makes any sense. System 2 is what we commonly mean when we say, “let me think about that.”

Cults basically force their adherents not to think, to believe, and believe the assertions approved by the cult. Thinking is hard; believing is much easier. There is also a certainty in these beliefs so no thinking is necessary. Should there be any questions about what is true, it is what the cult leader, Trump, tells them to believe. Trump has repeatedly asserted that he is the source of truth and the only one to be believed.

Hassan goes into detail explaining how the same techniques are used by Trump that were used by the Moonies. He goes into detail about how Trump’s rallies follow the book of the Reverend Moon.

Hassan works to free cult followers from their cults and to think independently and critically. He explains how he broke himself from the Moonies. His technique was critical thinking. He was able to think of inconsistencies and how they indicated that the Moonie doctrine was a fraud. This took time and critical thinking.

Today he works deprogramming cult followers. This is slow painful work. Telling them that they are wrong does not work. First he needs to develop feelings of empathy with those he is trying to convert. He listens quietly as they expound upon their beliefs. Once empathy is established, he can raise points that are inconsistent with these beliefs. If the subject does not perceive the inconsistency, Hassan lets it go, until later another question can be raised.

Hassan argues that the cult member must convince himself that these inconsistencies are problematic. Only when he convinces himself, will he be able to leave the cult and transition back of a normal life.

Conclusion of The Plot to Betray America

February 23, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title of a book by Malcom Nance. The remainder of the title is How Team Trump Embraced Our Enemies, Compromised Our Security, and How we Can Fix It. This is his third book on how Trump is destroying democracy. Nance writes, “I have written numerous books on intelligence tradecraft, counterterrorism, the rise and fall of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, and the fundamentals of the Russian plot to hack the American elections. However, nothing done by the worst terrorists filled me with more horror than realizing that Alexander Hamilton’s “unprincipled man”—the American-grown autocrat that the founding fathers had warned the nation about some two hundred years earlier—had finally cheated his way into the Oval Office with the assistance of an ex-KGB officer. This was not only an insult to all Americans living in a democracy but to all of us who have served in America’s military and public service to defend her.” Nance continues, “The worst part of the story is how easily one-third of the nation has been brainwashed into backing a man who thought the pinnacle achievement of his life would be to construct a building emblazoned with the word Trump in Moscow, the capital of our enemy. This American story is a shameful, sorrowful tale the likes of which we should be seriously embarrassed about.”

It also appears that General Ulysses S. Grant had a certain prescience regarding the future of the United States: “If we are to have a contest in the near future of our natural existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s but between patriotism and intelligence on one side and superstition, ambition and ignorance on the other.”

Being less prescient than Grant, George Washington wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette about the separation of powers under the Constitution: “The general Government is arranged that it can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an Aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the People.” It is clear that there is no virtue in Trump or the Republican Party. How much virtue remains in the body of the people awaits judgment.

Nance notes that Trump has seemed hell-bent on destroying the pillars of national security while acting as if he was increasing them. Russia has been so pleased with Trump’s work that Alexander Dugin, Vladimir Putin’s extremist philosopher, claimed that “the peak of American dominance is behind us.” Nance writes, that “it would appear that Trump sought to ensure that this was made a reality.

In Helsinki Trump forbade the presence of any staff and once again met Putin for two hours privately with only their interpreters present. Trump took the notes of the interpreter and forbid her to reveal what was discussed.

Trump attacked and continues to attack the FBI and the world’s best intelligence agencies that have documented the support Russia provided to Trump. The Russians not only supported Trump but also fomented discontent among different groups in the United States. When not only the size, but also the sophistication of their campaigns is considered, it is clear that Trump would not have won (and remember he did not win the popular vote) without their aid. It is also clear that he is shutting down our intelligence agencies so that the Russians will have a free hand in his re-election.

Even if the Democrats manage to overcome this interference and manage to win the election, Trump will likely declare fraud and refuse to leave the White House. Shortly thereafter he will likely declare himself president for life. Remember all the charges and lawsuits he is subject to if he does leave office. Perhaps there will be negotiations for the dropping of all pending and future charges, so he will leave the White House for his own dacha in Russia.

So what measures might be deployed to prevent this disaster? Russian disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz wrote in her article The Disinformation Vaccination, “What we need is something familiar to many who have worked in foreign assistance: capacity building. But rather than mounting such an effort abroad, we should pursue it for our own people. It’s a harder, longer process, but one that seeks to move beyond band-aids and vaccinate against the virus, prioritizing the citizens who fall victim to disinformation.”

Finland has successfully deployed the following digital literacy solutions:
*Equip every citizen with digital skills and educate them in digital literacy.
*Strengthen and support an independent media and fact checkers.
*Adapt electoral laws that are sensitive and adaptive to the digital era.

Nance writes, “There can be only one solution when a tyrant like Trump raises his hand: Impeachment.” Unfortunately impeachment is insufficient. The Republican Senate, in spite of overwhelming evidence, refused to convict.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

New York has the Nation’s Lowest Suicide Rate

February 5, 2020

This post is based on an article by Michelle Andrews in the Health & Science section of the 4 February 2020 issue of the Washington Post. To be more precise, it is the entire state of New York, not just New York City.

Compared with the national rate of 14 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017, New York’s was just 8.1, the lowest suicide rate in the nation. Many are surprised that New York has the lowest suicide rate. New York City is all hustle and stress, tiny apartments and crowds of strangers. Upstate New York is often portrayed as bleak and cold.

Although there are a number of factors contributing to this result, the most conspicuous being access to guns. Low rates of gun ownership are likely key. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine guns are used in about half of suicide deaths, and having access to a gun triples the risk that someone will die by suicide . Someone who attempts suicide with a gun will succeed about 85% of the time, compared with a 2% fatality rated if some opt for pills, according to a study by researchers at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Catherine Barber who co-wrote the study and is a senior researcher at the Harvard Center wrote, “The scientific evidence is pretty darn good that having easy access to guns makes the difference whether a suicidal crisis ends up being a fatal or nonfatal event.” New York as some of the strongest gun control laws in the country.

People who own guns to protect themselves should consider the reality of the situation. Unfortunately, their reality is colored by what they see on television. There is a virtual guarantee that someone killed by gun violence will make the news. Add to this all the police shows and all the shooting that occurs on these police shows.

The reality is that the majority of police retire without ever having fired their weapons in the course of their duty. There are more suicides by guns than murders. As for intruders, it is likely that some innocent party or family member is being shot.

So except for a few extreme, unfortunate cases, personal safety does not provide justification for owning a gun. So people who own guns for this reason are not just fools, they are damn fools.

It is possible that people own guns and like hunting and shooting competitions. The United States is a free county so why should there be prohibitions against owning guns?

One argument is personal safety. Guns are lethal weapons. HM has previously related this incident which occurred in a friend’s family. On New Year’s Eve his son and a friend were playing around with a gun in the house. The friend of his son accidentally shot his son and killed him. My friend, who was a politician, said he was sure that justice would be done. HM asks, what justice? His son was dead and his son’s friend has to live the remainder of his life knowing that he killed his friend. There was no justice here, only stupidity. HM is sure that his friend instructed his progeny on gun safety and kept guns locked up.

Should HM ever decide that it was time to cast off his mortal coil, he will use a gun, as that is by far the most effective means of committing suicide. He will write a letter to the NRA thanking them for their efforts that allowed him to destroy himself. He will also send copies of this letter to the Washington Post and post this letter on his blog.

A Career Built on Distortion, Exaggeration

January 28, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Will Hobson on the front page of The Washington Post, 26 Jan ‘20. The article was on the science and selling of CTE. The subtitle was, “Omalu, of ‘Concussion’ fame, has claimed he discovered the disease, He didn’t.

There have been many healthy memory posts on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and on the extreme damages that can occur to the brain in playing contact sports. In the case of soccer the contact is not between individuals but of the ball contacting the head.

The article makes a very good argument that Omalu did not discover the disease and some of his diagnoses of CTE were questionable. It is important to understand that this criticism is technical and is being made by neurosurgeons and other neuroscientists. So they are arguing that some of his diagnosis of CTE were incorrect, not that serious brain damage had occurred that was at best lowering the quality of life or at worst risking life.

These criticisms of Omalu are valid and should be made. He is an absolute genius at self promotion. Yet he still deserves both attention and praise for drawing attention to the damage that can occur to the brain from contact sports. So previous warnings in the blog on CTE should be extended to brain images in general that occur during contact sports. Injuries that are below the concussion level can still cause damage due to cumulative effects of these insults. And research needs to continue on not only active athletes, but also on the effects during childhood that may manifest themselves during adulthood.

So no previous warnings or claims made on this blog, with the distinction of misclassifications at the technical level, are withdrawn. And HM still finds it ironic that educational institutions promote sports that risk injury to the brain.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Why Less Processing By the Hippocampus is Harmful to a Healthy Memory

January 25, 2020

 

Processing by the caudate nucleus is faster due to the processing of less information than the spatial information processing that occurs in the hippocampus. So there is a cost benefit trade here, speed and ease at the expense of much richer spatial information.

This is a good place to relate this information to Kahnehan’s System 1 versus System 2 Processing. It is the thesis of this blog that it is System 2 processing that builds cognitive reserve that greatly decreases, if not eliminates, the cognitive decline found in dementia and Alzheimer’s. The defining characteristics needed for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is the formation of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. But many autopsies have found these defining characteristics in the brains of people who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The explanation provided for these individuals is that they had built up a cognitive reserve as a result of the mental activity they had pursued during their lifetimes. The position of this blog is that mental activity was System 2 processing.

Remember this distinction: System 1 is fast and makes minimal use of cognitive resources.
System 2 is much slower, is what is commonly referred to as thinking (pardon me while I stop to think), and makes demands on cognitive resources.

To simplify regarding navigation.
Caudate processing is a System 1 process
Spatial processing is much richer and primarily involves System 2 processing.

Remember the previous post titled “Wayfinding.”

It discussed the remarkable navigation feats that enabled, what in popular parlance might be regarded as primitive people, to navigate thousands of miles of ocean to discover and populate islands.

It also discussed aborigines in Australia. Here there are vast landscapes, which are barren to the uninitiated, but which provide information to those who know how to read it. They have developed what the authors names dreamtime cartography. They form stories, dreams if you will, that describe the paths on voyages to different locations.

It discussed people in the Arctic and on how natives are able to read the subtle cues in the ice to navigate. Even today with GPSs being able to read these cues can reveal signs that there may be trouble ahead regarding, for example unsafe ice, which are not available from the GPS.

This so-called “primitive” people were using deep System 2 processing heavily involving the hippocampus. They were not just identifying visual cues, they were integrating this information with other information. This processing was quite sophisticated and involved processing beyond System 2 (See the healthy memory blog posts “Stanovich and the Rational Quotient, and “The Two Causal Reasoners Inside”) that involved large amounts of critical thinking.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. 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.

Less Hippocampus, More Caudate Nucleus

January 24, 2020

This post is based on text from Wayfinding, a book by M.R. O’Connor.
Bohbot is concerned that the conditions of modern Life are leading us to flex the hippocampus less while spurring us to rely on the caudate nucleus. She says, “Maybe in the past we never had to go on autopilot. Having jobs in one location and lives being more habitual is new. Industrialization learned to capitalize on the habit-memory-learning system.” HM is in strong agreement with Dr. Bohbot.

Chronic stress, untreated depression, insomnia, and alcohol abuse all can shrink hippocampal volume. Anxiety alone has been shown to impact the spatial learning and memory of rats. Stress and depression seem to affect neurogenesis in the hippocampus, whereas exercise seems to improve learning, memory and resistance to depression, which spurs a proliferation of new neurons. Patients with PTSD have been shown to have lower hippocampal volume. One of the consequences of effective treatment for this disorder such as the use of antidepressants and changes in environment, is increased hippocampal volume.

Bohbot has been led by the widespread prevalence of these conditions to be concerned that by the time children enter young adulthood, they might already have relatively shrunken hippocampal volume that makes them susceptible to cognitive and emotional impairments and behavioral problems. An over reliance on stimulus-response navigation strategies seems connected to a host of destructive yet seemingly unrelated behaviors. Because the circuit is located in the striatum, a brain area involved in addiction, Bohbot started to wonder: Would people who rely on a response strategy to navigate show any difference in substance abuse from those who relied on spatial strategies? In 2013 she published a study of 55 young adults that showed those who relied on response strategies in navigating had double the amount of lifetime alcohol consumption, in addition to more use of cigarettes and marijuana. In a different study of 255 children, she found that those with ADHD symptoms primarily rely on caudate nucleus stimulus strategies. Recently, Bohbot and Greg West showed that ninety hours of in-lab action video games will shrink the hippocampus of young adults who used their caudate nucleus. This is the first clear evidence that the activities we engage in can have negative impact on the hippocampus.

In 2017, Bohbot along with ten researchers published a report called, “Global Determinants of Navigational Ability,’ in which they looked at the performance of 2.5 million people globally on a virtual spatial navigation task. Then they broke the data down to understand whether there were similar profiles in cognitive abilities among countries. The data are that spatial navigation ability starts declining in early adulthood, around nineteen years of age, and steadily slips in old age. People from rural ares were significantly better at the game. When it came to countries themselves, Australians, South Africans, and North American showed generally good spatial orientation skills, but the real outliers were Nordic countries.

The Hippocampus and the Caudate Nucleus

January 23, 2020

This post is based on text from Wayfinding, a book by M.R. O’Connor. When Bohbot did her doctoral research with Lynn Nades, coauthor of The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map, the hippocampus was a fascinating brain structure to study, and it was the only structure known to be involved in spatial memory. But it was conjectured that there were other brain structures involved in different ways to navigate in the environment. At McGill in the mid 1990s fellow researchers Normal White and Mark Packard discovered one other brain circuit. That circuit was the caudate nucleus.

Bohbat wondered if it was possible that people use very different brain structures for different strategies in navigation. So she began to conduct experiments in humans designed to distinguish which strategies were dependent on the hippocampus and which involved the caudate nucleus. She found that there were different circuits with corresponding differences in strategy.

Bohbat explained that the hippocampus is involved in learning to navigate using the relationships between landmarks. Once one has learned the relationship between landmarks, she can derive a novel route to any destination from any starting position in the environment. Spatial memory is allocentric in that it’s independent of one’s starting position. We use spatial memory when we can picture the environment in our mind’s eye. That’s when we are using our internal map to find our way. The caudate nucleus is not involved in creating maps; it’s a structure of directional cues such as “turn right at the corner with the grocery, and turn left at the tall white building”. This creates what are called stimulus-response memories. Bohbot notes if every day we use the same route, at some point it becomes automatic. We don’t think about it anymore. We don’t ask, where do I have to turn? Autopilot takes over. We see the white building, it acts as a stimulus that triggers a response to turn left at the bakery.

Bohbot states that there are three types of stimulus-response strategies. The egocentric strategy involves a series of right and left turns that begin with the starting point. When one leaves home (the stimulus), one turns right (the response). There is also a beacon strategy where one can reach a target location from many different starting positions: the beacon, say a tall white building, is the stimulus and one heads toward it, turning at every corner in its direction (the response). The most common form of stimulus-response: a series of turns in response to various landmarks in the environment.

Even though the caudate nucleus uses repetition to navigate successfully, it’s actually not a spatial strategy. The key difference being that the response strategy does not involve learning the relationships between landmarks, so it becomes impossible to generate a novel trajectory in the environment. All the caudate does is signal—left or right—in response to a cue without engaging one’s active attention.

There is an evolutionary explanation for why nature invented this other circuit; it means we don’t have to retrieve a memory of a route or make spatial inferences every time we need to go home. It gives us the advantage of not needing to make calculations or decisions—or pay very much attention—to where we are going and how we are getting there. Autopilot is fast and efficient, and we don’t have to think.

Bohbot discovered a negative correlation between the two strategies: the human brain is using either the hippocampus or the caudate nucleus to get somewhere, but it never engages the two brain areas at the same time. So, the more we use one, the less we use the other, and the weaker it becomes.

Bohbot conducted a study of 599 children and adults and compared the hippocampal spatial strategies to increased automation. Each of our life histories traces this trajectory: we go from using hippocampal spatial strategies to increased automatization. Bohbot and her researchers compared the spatial strategies preferred to solve tasks. They found that children rely on hippocampal spatial strategies some 85% of the time, but adults over the age of sixty used this strategy just under 40% of the time. The critical question is whether the preferences of one strategy over the other led to physiological differences in gray matter density and volume in the hippocampus.

Bohbot and several researchers published two studies focused on measuring activity and gray matter in both the hippocampus and the caudate nucleus. They mimicked the classical spatial test for routes and applied it to humans by creating a radial maze in a virtual setting and asking participants to navigate it while they tracked their brain activity with fMRI. As expected, individuals who used spatial memory strategies shows increased activity in the hippocampus. Those who used the stimulus response strategy had increased activity in the caudate nucleus.

Then they measured the morphological differences in the two brain regions in each individual. They found a high probability that people who used a spatial strategy had more gray matter density in the hippocampus, and the inverse was also true: those who used a response strategy had more gray matter in the caudate nucleus.

So the big questions are what if we persistently prioritize the caudate nucleus over a hippocampal strategy? And what if this prioritization is happening at an endemic scale?

HM navigates with a response strategy. It is efficient as advertised. There are shortcomings with this strategy that are not made explicit in the text. What happens if there is an accident or heavy traffic that makes one want to alter the route? That can’t be done. HM not only uses a response strategy, he uses a lazy version of the response strategy. He just uses the visual references and pays no attention to street names. This make HM appear to be an idiot (and this might be more than an appearance) because he cannot very readily explain the directions to others.

But these dangers are relatively minor given the weaknesses that develop in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is one of the most important, if not the most important, organ relevant to a healthy memory. One both wants and needs a very healthy or extremely healthy hippocampus.

The Hippocampus

January 22, 2020

This post is based on text from Wayfinding, a book by M.R. O’Connor. The hippocampus was discovered by mistake. In the early 1970s John O’Keefe, a young American scientist, used the wrong coordinates and instead of placing micro electrodes in a rat’s somatosensory thalamus, he inserted the micro electrodes into the rat’s hippocampus. As the single cell O’Keefe was recording began to fire, its pattern struck him as unusual. The cell’s activity was strongly correlated with the rat’s locomotion. O’Keefe began recording single hippocampal cells of rats while they were eating, grooming, and exploring.

After months of recording, O’Keefe began to suspect that the activity of these cells didn’t depend so much on what the animal was doing or why it was doing it, but had something to do with where it was doing it. It didn’t matter which direction the rat was facing, or whether rewards were taken away or changed. The only stimulus that seemed to matter to these cells was the rat’s location. Instead of responding to the changes in stimuli, the cells were signaling the abstract concept of space. O’Keefe called them place cells.

The psychologist Tolman published a paper in 1948 in Psychological Review titled “Cognitive Maps in Rats and Men.” At the end of the paper he made the following conjectures. Was it possible that many people’s social maladjustments could be interpreted as the result of having too narrow and limited cognitive maps? In one example Tolman wrote about the tendency for individuals to focus their aggression on outside groups. He wrote that poor southern whites displace they frustrations with landlords, the economy, and northerners onto black American. Americans as a whole displace their aggression into Russians and vice versa. He wrote,

“My only answer is to preach again the virtues of reason—of, that is, broad cognitive maps…Only then can have children learn to look before and after, to see that there are often round-about and safer paths to their quite proper goals—learn that is, to realize that the well-beings of White and Negro, of Catholic and Protestant, of Christian and of Jew, of American and Russian (and even of males and females) are mutually interdependent. We dare not let ourselves or others become so over-emotional, so hungry, so ill-clad, and so over motivated that only narrow strip-maps will be developed.”

Remember that this was published in 1948.

Research has shown that the richness and complexity of an environment influences the quantity of neurons in the hippocampus. In 1997, researchers at the Salk Institute found that mice exploring enriched environments—paper tubes, nesting material, running wheels, and rearrangeable plastic tubes—had forty thousand more neurons than a control group. These additional neurons resulted in an increase in hippocamplal volume of 15% in the mice and significant improvements on spatial learning tests. The researchers concluded that a combination of increased neurons, synapses, vasculature, and dendrites led to the animals’ enhanced performance.

Eichenbaum believed that the hippocampus is capable not only of organizing physical space, but of creating “temporally structured experiences” into representations of moments in time. Eichenbaum has come to understand the hippocampus as the “grand organizer” of the brain. “It’s organizing and integrating all these bits and pieces of information in a contextual framework. It does create a map, I’m all for the cognitive map in the original sense that it’s a map where you put the stuff to remember where they are in relationship to each other. That is a specific, limited, concise sense of moving in geographic space . The other sense is this abstract term, how did I navigate to graduate school? What’s the path to the presidency?”

The most famous case of amnesia in the scientific literature is H.M., an epileptic who in the 1950s at the age of 27 had part of his temporal lobes removed, which included the hippocampus (actually we have two of these, one in each hemisphere of the brain). This caused him to lose his ability to acquire and recollect memories. Although he could recall the past, he could not store the present so he could recall any new information.

HM, not be be confused with H.M. had similar experiences with his mother when she was suffering from dementia. She reached a point when he visited her, and she needed to be taken to the restroom, when she returned she would not remember my visit and would think that I had just arrived. At this point HM realized that the dementia had destroyed her two hippocampi. This was a very sad time.

WAYFINDING

January 21, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new book by M.R. O’Connor. The subtitle is “The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World.” HM and his spouse enjoy cruising. One looks out at the vast ocean with nothing else in sight. With today’s geopositioning systems it is obvious how ships navigate these waters, even at night and in bad weather. For a long time sextants were needed for navigation. The primary use of a sextant is to measure the angle between an astronomical object and the horizon for the purposes of celestial navigation.

We enjoy cruising the Caribbean islands and visiting these islands, which are populated and have been populated for many hundreds of years. HM’s question is how did people in primitive boats manage to navigate to these islands, and for entire groups of people to relocate. There is nothing special about the Caribbean here. There are islands all over the Earth to which people managed to navigate and resettle. Wayfinding explains how they managed to do so. It turns out that people use not only the stars, but the movement of the sun through the day, sea currents, and the wind to navigate. These signs are very subtle and Wayfinding does not provide a guide as to how to do this. Rather it documents that humans did indeed learn to read and understand these subtle cues.

It is not only on the seas and oceans have humans been able to learn subtle environmental cues to navigate. There is a chapter on the Arctic and on how natives are able to read the subtle cues in the ice to navigate. Even today with GPS’s being able to provide directions, expert wayfarers can see signs that there may be trouble ahead regarding unsafe ice, which are not available from the GPS.

There also is a section on the aborigines in Australia. Here there are vast landscapes, which are barren to the uninitiated, but which provide information to those who know how to read it. They have developed what the author names dreamtime cartography. They form stories, dreams if you will, that describe the paths on trips to different locations.

Ms. O’Connor makes the argument that it is navigation that made us human and gave us the ability to develop advanced civilizations. She cites a portion from Carlo Ginzburg’s book Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method: Man has been a hunter for thousands of years. In the course of countless chases he learned to reconstruct the shapes and movements of his invisible prey from tracks on the ground, broken branches, excrement, tufts of hair, entailed feather, stagnating odors. He learned to sniff out, record, interpret, and classify such infinitesimal traces as tails of spittle, He learned how to execute complex mental operations with lightning speed, in the depth of a forest or in a prairie with its hidden dangers.”

To be sure, these are humble beginnings. But they are the beginnings of advanced thinking that continue to advance to where we are today. But there have been casualties. If any of us who are not hunters were left to survive for ourselves in the woods, most of us would likely fail.

What the Goal of Psychology Should Be

January 20, 2020

The development of Intelligence Quotients was one of the first utilized psychological topics. Unfortunately, it led to placing individuals in groups that indicated they were smart, average, or stupid. And, unfortunately, most accepted these labels as fact. They were attributed to genetic factors and the results were regarded as fixed. Worse yet, these results reinforced and exacerbated already existing social bias.

Further research indicated that there were mitigating factors. And research reported in this blog done by Carol Dweck and others made the important distinction between fixed and growth mindsets. People who believe that their intelligence and other abilities are fixed risk falling short of their true potentials. They tend to quit when they confront frustrations or obstacles. However, people with growth mindsets do not believe that their intelligence and abilities are fixed. When they confront obstacles or frustrations, they continue to grow their personal capabilities.

The same problem has confronted studies of gender. There were cultural beliefs, that initially were supported by psychological research. Further research indicated that these beliefs were in error and are slowly being repealed.

The goal of psychology should be to maximize each human’s potential. Cognitive science will facilitate this goal. Moreover, human potential includes more than cognitive skills. It also includes empathy and the care of our fellow human beings.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

The Future

January 19, 2020

This post is based on content in Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon. She writes, “Early forms of data and data analysis were too crude to offer any insights into individual differences, but we have moved on from them. It is now possible to generate functional connectivity profiles, patterns of task- or rest-related synchronized activity in the brain which, it is claimed, are like a fingerprint, unique to each individual sufficiently distinct that they could be linked to their owners with up to ninety-nine percent accuracy.” This allows us and should compel us to look at brains at the individual level. Evidence about what can affect brains, and when, further indicates that we should do so.

Rippon writes, “We need to really understand the external factors that shape individual differences, with social variables such as level of engagement in social networks and self-esteem, and opportunity variables such as sport, hobbies or video game experience alongside more standard measures such as education and occupation. Each of these can alter the brain—sometimes independently of sex and sometimes very much entangled with it, but they will contribute to the almost unique mosaic that we now know characterize each and every brain.

Individual differences, such as sex, have been studied via statistical approaches. But each human is an individual and there are risks categorizing people via statistical approaches. Intelligence was one example, and sex differences is another. In fairness, statistical approaches were the only techniques available. But brain science is developing, and will further develop, approaches for studying individual differences on an individual basis rather than being lumped into a category.

Ambiguous Anatomical Differences

January 18, 2020

This post is based on content in Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon, At first glance, nothing could be a clearer way of distinguishing the sexes than by anatomical differences. All one would need to do was to determine how the person urinated. Standing up, male, squatting or sitting down, female. An XX individual will have ovaries and a vagina; an XY individual will have testes and a penis. But there are individuals born with ambiguous gentalia or who later develop secondary sexual characteristics at odds with their assigned gender. These individuals were viewed as intersex anomalies or disorders of sex development (DSDs) requiring medical management, possibly including very early surgical interventions.

In a 2105 article in Nature by Claire Ainsworth called attention to the fact that sex can be more complicated than it at first seems. She found that individuals could have mixed sets of chromosomes (some cells XY, some XX). It was found that this was not a rare occurrence. The evidence that expression of the gonad-determining genes could continue postnatally undermined the concept of core physical sex differences being hardwired. This suggests that manifestations of biological sex occur on a spectrum, which would include both subtle and moderate variations, rather that as a binary divide.

In a 1993 article titled The Five Sexes Anne Faust-Sterling suggested that we need at least five categories of sex to cover intersex occurrences. She felt that this grouping should include males with testes and some female characteristics, and females with ovaries and some male characteristics, as well as “true” hermaphrodites, with one testes and one ovary. Some suggested that gender should not be determined by genitals, but certainly the existence of more than two categories (however defined) should be acknowledged.

Apart from ambiguous anatomical differences, there are behavioral and preference differences in homosexuality. Homosexuality is found across all cultures. What differs is the degree to which it is tolerated, persecuted, or accepted.

At one time it was thought that the hippocampus and the amygdala were larger in males than in females. Subsequent research has encouraged the revision of this position to one of there being no substantial differences when other factors are considered.

These comparisons occurred in a variety of areas and it became clear that there were neither black and white differences nor shades of gray. With further research the difference diminished and the dichotomies disappeared.

Gender and Our Brains

January 17, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book published in 2019 by Gina Rippon. Gina Rippon (born 1950) is professor of cognitive neuroimaging at the Aston Brain Centre, Aston University, Birmingham, England. The subtitle is How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds. The following quote by Stephen Jay Gould from The Mismeasurement of Man is offered: “Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.

The penultimate chapter of the book has the title: “Mars, Venus or Earth? Have We Been Wrong About Sex All Along?” The chapter begins with a quote by Amanda Montanez, “The more we learn about sex and gender, the more the attributes appear to exist on a spectrum.”

Here is the first paragraph in the chapter: “As we have seen, the hunt for differences between the brains of men and women has been vigorously pursued down the ages with all the techniques that science could muster. It has been a certainty as old as life itself that men and women are different. The empathic, emotionally and verbal fluent females (brilliant at remembering birthdays) could almost belong to a different tribe from the systematizing, rational, spatial skillful males (great with a map).”

Rippon reviews the claim that there are two distinct groups of people, who think, behave and achieve differently. She asks where might these differences come from. She has reviewed old arguments about the “essence” of males and females and the biologically determined, innate, fixed, hardwired processes that underpin their evolutionarily adaptive differences. And she has reviewed more recent claims that these differences are socially constructed, that men and women learn to be different, shaped from birth by the specific gendered attitudes, expectations and role-determining opportunities on offer in their environment. She mused on even more recent versions that acknowledge the entangled nature of the relationship between brain and culture in which they function, an understanding that our brain characteristics can be just as much a social construction as the printout of a genetic blueprint.

Regardless of the cause, the fundamental premise is that there are differences that need explaining. Whether we are filling empty skulls with birdseed, or tracking the passage of radioactive isotopes through the pathways of the brain, or testing empathy or spatial cognition we will find these differences. Both separately and together, through the centuries, psychologists and neuroscientists have pursued the question what makes men and women different? The answers have been extensively researched, widely reported, and either enthusiastically believed or heavily criticized.

However, in the twenty-first century, psychologists and neuroscientists are beginning to question the question. Exactly how different are men and women, not only at the behavioral level but at the fundamental brain level? Have we spent all this effort looking at two separate groups who aren’t actually that different, and might not even be distinct groups.

The Life Effects of Volunteering

January 15, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Jami Zaki in the Health & Science section of the 14 January, 2020 Washington Post. Saki begins by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

Dr. King also described a mistake that wastes many lives. He called it the drum major instinct, “a desire to be out front to lead the parade, a desire to be first.”

Human children remain helpless for years. They crave attention; without it they would die. Zaki writes,”But instead of subsiding with age, the drum major instinct spreads across our lives. We’ve even elevated it into an ideology, defining success as the ability to beat our enemies and outshine our peers—as though self-obsessed competition will make us thrive.

This notion is both comically and tragically backward. Decades of evidence demonstrate that social connections sustain us. Chronic loneliness increases mortality risk about as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We flourish not by besting others, but by being part of something greater than ourselves. By clamoring for status, we deprive ourselves of one thing that would actually help us—each other.”

Psychologist Jennifer Crocker and her colleagues asked freshman college students about their social goals. Some cared most about making a good impression: showcasing their strengths and hiding their weaknesses. Although this might appear to be a wise strategy among young adults sizing one another up, it wasn’t.

The more students focused on themselves, the more lonely, depressed and anxious they became, and anxiety, in turn, made students worry even more about their image.

Zaki writes, “Scratching the itch of their drum major instinct, they made it worse.”

The drum major instinct is poison, but there is an antidote. Zaki calls it the drummer’s instinct: an urge not to lead the parade, but to be part of it—in rhythm with others, creating something together that no one could alone. The drum major instinct zooms us in on ourselves, but the drummer’s instinct drives us to care for our bandmates, and it runs deep. HM, being a former drummer who marched in bands with a drum major, really appreciates this analogy. Zaki continues, “young children crave attention, but they also prefer kindness over cruelty, and spontaneously help others in need.”

Crocker measured not just the college students’ desire to stand out but also to be kind. Students who held these “compassionate goals” suffered less depression and loneliness. They received more support from their peers, but that is not what predicted their well-being. Those who helped others were more likely to thrive.

Zaki reports, “Children and adults draw joy from helping others. Doctors who feel compassion for their patients burn out less often. Colleagues who support one another perform more effectively and are more fulfilled at work. And older adults who volunteer live longer and remain healthier than those who don’t.

Given this uncontroversial evidence, why do we still want to be drum majors”? Zaki gives two reasons.

“Individualistic cultures like ours valorize selfish pursuits, and then teach us—wrongly—that whether we like it or not, selfishness is at our core. This turns up the volume on our desire for attention, making the drummer’s instinct harder to hear.”

“”People often help others to help themselves. We give to charity for that rush of “warm glow,” or to confirm our character in moments of doubt. We advertise our virtues by changing our profile picture, or donating just enough to get our names on the opera house wall. These acts are generous on the surface, but hide the drum major instinct underneath.”

There is a healthy memory blog post titled “Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk” that argues that the Buddhist Monk lives a happier and more fulfilling life than Donald Trump. Should you not agree with this title, please read this post.

“Eudaimonic” means conducive to happiness. There will be many future posts on this topic.

Coffee Actually Can Be Good to the Last Drop

January 14, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article from Consumers Reports published in the Health and Science Section of the 5 November, 2019 Washington Post. Edward Giovannucci, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says, “The most important thing we’ve learned about coffee in the past 20 years is that there’s very little indication that it’s bad for you. If anything, there’s more evidence that it might be healthy to drink.”

These benefits are likely because of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants found naturally in coffee: polyphenols (such as chlorogenic and quince acids) and diterpenes (such as cafestol and kahweol). These health perks probably extend to decaf, too, because with decaf only the caffeine, not these other compounds are removed.

Giovannucci states where the current research is solid and where more investigation is needed.

*Strongest evidence: Coffee lowers the risk of endometrial cancer, gallstones, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer, oral cancers and Type 2 diabetes.

*Moderate evidence: Coffee lowers the risk of colorectal cancer, coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers, Parkinson’s disease and respiratory disease; and it improves alertness, concentration, focus, energy level, and mood.

*Some evidence: Coffee lowers the risk of age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, depression, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer; and it increases the variety of healthy bacteria in the gut.

*Limited evidence: Coffee lowers the risk of weight gain and falls by the elderly, possibly because caffeine increases alertness or reaction time.

There are some people for whom too much coffee irritates the stomach, causes anxiety or the jitters, disrupts sleep and increases the frequency of heart palpitations. In some people prone to migraines three or more cups can trigger them. Pregnant women, people who are at risk of osteoporosis, and those taking certain drugs (including some antibiotics, antidepressants and antipsychotics) should limit their intake of caffeinated coffee.

The Evangelist

January 11, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the cover article of the Washington Post Magazine, 12 Jan, 2020. This article by Nick Tabor motivated this post. The subtitle of this article is “Can Shane Claiborne’s Progressive Version of Evangelical Christianity Catch On With a New Generation?” HM hopes that Claiborne’s version of evangelical christianity also catches on with the old generation.

It appears that Claiborne’s current focus is on gun violence. One can argue that violence was the tool of the first large scale Christian activity, the crusades. Christianity is the religion of love and of turning the cheek when one is struck. It stands in marked contrast to the Old Testament where it was a matter of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The most violent act Christ ever did was to drive the moneychangers out of the temple.

But what were the Crusades? They were attacks against Muslims where they murdered, robbed, and raped them. It was not a religious crusade of conversions. Subsequently, Christianity was advanced primarily by the sword conquering other countries. After Martin Luther there were violent wars between the protestants and catholics to determine who prevailed.

Claiborne is not the only person trying to persuade Christians to follow the teachings of Christ rather than the preaching that comes from certain evangelical pulpits. There have also been healthymemory posts on the Rev. Jim Wallis. He has written an important book Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus. He is exalting these evangelicals to do the work of Christ. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals have formed a moral police working through government and the courts to force other people to behave according the Evangelicals’ beliefs. Apparently they see their role much as the moral police in Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian country, not a supposedly free country like the United States.

It is remarkable how many evangelicals are supporting perhaps the most immoral President the United States has ever had. Apparently the largest reason for supporting this aberration is to make abortion illegal. They regard the killing of unborn children as something that should be illegal. And this is what is taught from their pulpits. There are a number of issues here, one is that the United States is a free country, and one of those freedoms is religious freedom. So the religious beliefs of certain religions should not be forced on the religious beliefs of other religions. Too many people say that this is a free country, but then go to reduce the freedoms of others. This is the height of hypocrisy.

Biological life should be irrelevant to religion. Souls are what is relevant to religion. Without going beyond biological life, all hopes of eternity go down the crapper. So the question is what happens to the soul when an abortion is performed.

Here is HM’s belief based on his thinking, meditation, and prayer. Each of us has the ability to meditate and pray to a spiritual entity, which is God. HM is well aware of the miserable lives lived by unloved children. And just loving a child is insufficient, the child must be attended to and cared for, and this has large costs in time and attention.

In about the middle of the 20th century a large uptick in violent crime was anticipated due to the large number of children being born. Surprisingly, that uptick did not occur. When searching for reasons, some seized upon Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion.

HM’s God is a merciful God. HM’s God would prefer for a potentially unloved fetus to be destroyed. He would save the soul until parents became available that offered a moving and caring upbringing. Only the sole is immortal.

So how does HM know this? It is via prayer and meditation. Each of us can communicate directly with God. In pantheism, God is present in all living beings. So it follows that God is in each of us. So one can pray up, or one can pray within oneself.

It should also be noted that abortions were commonly performed in Christ’s time, but nothing is written condemning abortions in the four gospels that are readily available.

HM also believes in a judgment day. Consider how you might feel if you found one of your religious leaders burning in hell, or a reasonable facsimile. It would be too late to file a malpractice legal suit.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Our Dangerous Fear of Pain

January 10, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by James D. Hudson in the Outlook section of the 1 December 2019 issue of the Washington Post. He writes, “It’s good to have a healthy fear of pain. It protects us from injury and reminds us to allow time for healing. Acute pain can be made more tolerable by a short course of opioid medication (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends only three to seven days, even after surgery or injury). And there is a good case for opioids over longer periods to treat end-stage cancer and other terminal ailments that can bring unbearable suffering. Palliative care in those situations is almost always necessary and compassionate.”

Dr, Hudson continues, but otherwise, the fear of pain, and the belief that a pain-free existence is optimal or even possible, has been a catastrophe for patients. Before the opioid revolution, doctors understood that pain was important to keeping us safe, to be lived with and managed. Even if this meant we bore frequent episodes of discomfort, that was better than the nationwide crisis America faces today. “Life isn’t ‘pain free.’ If we want to end the epidemic of addiction, we need to relearn that lesson.”

The opioid industry bears the ultimate responsibility for this epidemic. It did heavy lobbying of legislatures and of physicians. According to a study in the journal JAMA Network Open, this marketing correlated with overdose deaths. The CDC has thoroughly-documented the rapid rise in opioid prescriptions and deaths since 1999.

Dr. Hudson writes, “many doctors listened to the marketing campaign. In our hubris, we began to think we had the capacity to banish chronic pain. Pharmaceutical companies were developing ever stronger and longer-lasting opioids, and surgeons were replacing more and more worn-out joints. New techniques meant the pain anesthesiologists could block nerves, sever the signals to the brain, and insert catheters or electrodes into spinal columns and brains. Pain was to become a thing of the past, conquered by modern medicine.” This could have been true, but they ignored the addiction problem.

Obviously patients did not benefit. So who benefited besides the drug companies? “Physician experts” compensated by drugmakers hawked these medications at conferences, telling doctors that new and more potent analgesics were not addictive when prescribed for pain. They said that there was no upper limit on dosing, that patients would develop tolerance to medication and that some would need extremely high doses for their pain. But they said that physicians were not to worry, that this was normal. A new unsubstantiated ailment called “pseudo addiction” was offered as an explanation for patients who ran out of pills early and borrowed more from friends and family or got their drugs on the street. There is no such thing as pseudo addiction, only real addiction.

In addition to the drug companies, many got rich. There were new business opportunities. Physicians and health systems benefited from an explosion of diagnostic testing with CT and MRI scans. Unethical medical practioners were opening “pill mills,” often taking only cash for almost unlimited amounts of addictive medications with no real attempt to make a diagnosis or assess the need for such prescriptions.

The Medical Group Management Association, reported that anesthesiologists who specialize in pain management earn almost $530,000 on average annually, making this a lucrative speciality. By comparison, primary-care providers make less than half this (while the average physician makes $300,000).

Fortunately, the medical profession is maturing in educating patients about pain management However, the article makes no mention of hypnotism or meditation.

One of the most impressive surgeries HM has read about is the surgical removal of a scrotal tumor while the patient was under hypnotism.

Some research on pain perception has used buckets of ice water. This is called the cold presser task. It becomes extremely painful fairly quickly, and participants feel a need to pull their arm out of the ice water. During these experiments the participants make ratings of their pain. While hypnotized, participants were able to provide consistent ratings of their pain perception and they were able to keep their hands in the ice water at ratings they would have felt forced to pull their arms out. In fact, the experimenter had to tell them to remove their arms before tissue damage occurred.

Highly skilled meditators actually focus on the pain, but reinterpret it. Most of us deal with pain by trying to ignore it and think of something else. But if one is an experienced meditator they are likely to focus on the pain and reinterpret their perception as not being of pain.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

When tiredness, sleepiness can be warning signs

January 9, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the title of an article by Emily Sohn in the Health and Science section of the 17 December 2019 issue of the Washington Post. In conversation, people use the terms sleepiness, fatigue, and tiredness interchangeably. But their definitions do differ medically. Sleepiness is a need of sleep that makes it difficult to stay awake, even while driving, working, or watching a movie, and even after ingesting caffeine.

On the other hand, fatigue is a deeper sort of an inability, either physical or mental, to do what you want to do, such as get to the grocery store. In the middle is tiredness, a desire to rest that is less debilitative than fatigue and less dramatic than sleepiness. One can still be productive while tired.

In a 2014 survey by the nonprofit National Sleep Foundation, 45% of adults said they had been affected by poor sleep or not enough sleep in the previous week. As many as 20% of people report excessives sleepiness on a regular basis. A National Safety Council survey reported in 2017 that 76% of people felt tired at work. If you’re bothered by how tired you feel, there might be some simple explanations. The most basic is not enough sleep. A third of Americans don’t get the recommended seven or more hours a night, according toe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And as needs very widely, even seven hours isn’t enough sleep for many people. And one should not set their alarm for exactly seven hours of sleep, because nobody sleeps 100% of the time that they’re in bed. So it might take eight hours of pillow time to get seven hours of sleep.

Should tiredness be making it hard for you to get through most days or otherwise getting in your way, experts recommend visiting a primary-care clinic first to be evaluated for common causes of fatigue or tiredness, including depression, autoimmune diseases, vitamin levels, and thyroid issues. The article warns that this appointment might be frustrating because many doctors lack training in sleep medicine. Primary-care physicians don’t routinely ask patients about sleep. They also often miss the signs of insomnia, or they suggest ineffective treatments for it, a 2017 study found. Insomnia affects up to 15% of adults and studies show that behavioral therapies work better than medication. Primary-care physicians can identify problems such as iron deficiency, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, encephalitis, plus others.

If none of these causes turn up in the regular clinic, the article recommends seeing a sleep specialist, whose evaluation is likely to include screening for sleep apnea. This disorder, which causes people to periodically stop breathing in their sleep, affects up to 10% of adults. The rates are higher for people who are overweight. About 85% of people who have sleep apnea are undiagnosed and untreated.

The Man Who Sold America

January 7, 2020

The title of this book is identical to the title of a book by Joy-Ann Reid. The subtitle is “Trump and the Unravelling of the American Story.” It provides an excellent summary and a superb analysis of what Trump has done to the Republican Party, and, more importantly, to the United States. Regarding the goals of the healthy memory blog, it provides an ideal subject for growth mindsets. For American citizens it summarizes the damage that Trump has done to the United States and democracy and a summary of the risks Trump presents to the future of this democracy.

There is an excellent chapter for white people who are afraid of becoming a minority. It is a chapter titled “What America Can Learn from South Africa.” It will make clear that there is nothing to fear and that such a development will be beneficial to the United States. As expected, there is disinformation that contests this point. But HM has a professional colleague who is a citizen of South Africa, who is doing well, and will attest to a good and fulfilling life as a minority white person.

Regarding Russia, it notes that Donald Trump’s attraction to Russia has been on display since at least 1987, when he and his first wife, Ivana, traveled to Moscow to inquire about a potential real estate deal. It is widely believed to have been arranged by Soviet Intelligence services. The Soviets were reportedly alarmed by Ronald Reagan’s hawkishness and were looking to develop contacts with an American they might turn toward their point of view. Experts suggest the Soviet Union’s interest in Trump and his family likely stretches back much further. A November 2017 article for Politico Magazine by Harding, noted that the KGB may have opened a file on Trump as early as 1977, when he married Czech-born Ivana. Harding notes that Ivana, as a citizen of a communist country, would have been of interest both to the Czech intelligence service, the StB, and to the FBI and CIA. Craig Unser’s book, House of Trump, House of Putin: The Unfolding Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia was reviewed in an earlier healthy memory blog post.

Given this information, and given the evidence reported in this blog on how Russia helped Trump become president, it is surprising that people have difficulty understanding Putin’s influence on Trump. A question that needs to be asked here is where did Trump’s money come from for his developments and projects since no U.S. banks would provide funding given that he has had serial bankruptcies. His son has provided the answer to this question and the answer is Russia. It is obvious that Trump will not reveal his taxes or finances because they would indicate that Putin owns him. Democrats behave as lawyers rather than politicians by continuing to pursue this question in the courts. True politicians would make it incumbent for him to reveal his sources of finances to prove that he is not owned by Putin.

FANTASYLAND: HOW AMERICA WENT HAYWIRE: A 500-YEAR HISTORY

January 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Kurt Andersen. The title encompasses the nature of the book. It offers an explanation of how the United States ended up in this current crisis. The first English colony established in the United States was at Jamestown in what was to be Virginia (Virginia for the Virgin Queen of England). These settlers were bent on finding gold and becoming rich. But Andersen would explain the making the perilous passage to an unknown country to become rich was an example of magical thinking.

However, the colonists settling in New England were idealistic, not mercenary. They were in quest of religious freedom, but the freedom they sought was for their religion. They had low tolerance, if any, for other religions. Now all of these religions were Christian religions, dedicated to following the teachings of Christ. Religious differences were not due to differences in the teachings of Christ, but rather how men interpreted these teachings. Previous healthy memory blog posts have emphasized the difference between a belief in God, and a belief in a particular religion. Individual humans believed in God or some godlike sprit long before the creation of religions by religious leaders emerging who professed to be providing teaching and guidance from God. This conundrum exists today. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom as one of its freedoms. It does not specify any given religion even though there are Christian churches saying that the religion is Christianity, when it is definitely not. So here we have religious people violating one of the ten commandments.

It is both ironic and a conundrum. Apparently some evangelicals, rather than following the obvious teachings of Christ, are trying to impose their religious beliefs and laws that stem from their religious beliefs, via government. So most of their effort has been in the political arena, promoting politicians who advocate their beliefs, which obviously impose on the freedoms of others. These people would deny any resemblance between what they are doing and the religious police found in Saudi Arabia.

The new religion of Mormonism, founded by Joseph Smith, emerged in the 1800s. A new testament of the bible was promoted that described the religious activities in a much earlier time period. Religions and religious practices have emerged and are still emerging, but they differ primarily in religious dogma. Medical quacks became prominent and another Gold Rush in California occurred and quickly exhausted itself.

In the era between 1900 and 1960 , Andersen writes that there was Brand-New Old-Time religion. He also writes that the business of America became show business.

In the 1960s and ‘70s there were the hippies, the intellectuals, the Christians, politics and conspiracies, and Living in a Land of Entertainment.

Here are the chapter headings from the section ”1980s through the turn of the century”

Making Make-believe More Realistic and Real Life More Make-Believe

Foreover Young: Kids “R” Us Syndrome

The Reagan Era and the Start of the Digital Age

American Religion from the Turn of the Millennium

Our Wilder Christianities: Belief and Practice

America Versus the Godless Civilized World: Why Are We so Exceptional?

Magical but Not Necessarily Christian, Spiritual but Not Religious

Blue-Chip Witch Doctors: The Reenchantment of Medicine

How the Mainstream Enabled Fantasyland: Squishes, Cynics, and Believers

Anything Goes—Unless It Picks My Pocket or Breaks My Leg

The final section is titled : “The Problem with Fantasyland: From the 1980s to the Present and Beyond”
Here are the chapter headings:

The Inmates Running the Asylum Decide Monsters are Everywhere

Reality is a Conspiracy: The X-Filing of America

Mad as Hell, the New Voice of the People

When the GOP Went Off the Rails

Liberals Denying Science

Gun Crazy

Final Fantasy-Industrial Complex

Our Inner Children? They’re Going to Disney World!

The Economic Dreamtime

As Fantasyland Goes, So Goes the Nation

HM’s view, one that, in fairness, oversimplifies Anderson, is that he argues that our problems are due to magical thinking, and he implies that our situation in the U.S. is unique.

HM is skeptical about his claim that our problem is unique to us. And rather than use the term magical thinking, HM prefers to use psychological processes, such as lack of Kahneman’s System Two Processing, and the failure to think critically. These, in turn, can be explained in terms of serious shortcomings in mental effort or mental laziness.

Homo Sapiens

January 3, 2020

As the immediately preceding post said “Too many humans are not living up to the name of their species” readers might have drawn the conclusion that these humans are all Republicans. The objective of this post is to correct this possible misconception. First of all, not all Republicans are guilty, there remain a few Republicans who hold fast to their true Republican beliefs. The husband, if he is still the husband, of Kellyanne Conway is one of these individuals, who is both extremely intelligent and extremely articulate.

There are many Democrats and liberals who also do not live up to the name of their species. One concerns GMOs (genetically modified organisms). GMOs have been developed by scientists to solve the hunger problem in the world. Farmers are provided the information and technology needed to promote crop growth. Entirely new crops, that are not only safe, but also more healthy, have been developed. Many hundreds of studies have resulted in the consensus that GMOs are safe to eat. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine commissioned a comprehensive study of the science, and in 2016 their report declared GMOs both safe to eat and environmentally benign. Of the scientists in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 88% think it’s safe to eat GMO foods. This is almost exactly the same percentage of those scientists who say climate change is real and man-made, the latter a data point regularly used to demonstrate right-wing anti-science craziness. So people on the left also choose to ignore evidence and disbelieve important science they find upsetting. It is also the case, that there will never be 100% agreement on any topic. Rather one uses a measure of the strength of consensus.

Another example is the false belief that vaccines cause autism and other terrible illnesses derives from an excessive mistrust of experts, and the conviction that some vicious conspiracy is behind everything. The study that ignited the hysteria appeared in 1998, when diagnoses of autism had been increasing. A doctor studied ten children who showed autistic behavior after they were vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella, published research in a medical journal, and became the guiding light of a new movement.

Replication is the sine qua non of science. This research could not be replicated by other doctors and scientists. Nor could another article of faith, that a mercury-based preservative was the autism trigger, be substantiated. Major study after major study ever since has found stronger and stronger evidence that vaccines do not cause autism. Not until a dozen years after publishing the original paper—after the doctor was stripped of his medial license and found to have acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” did The Lancet finally retract his study calling it “utterly false.” The other major British journal called it an “elaborate fraud.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., had been the movement’s big star, repeating the argument that the U.S. government scientists were “involved in a massive fraud.” So even prominent liberals and Democrats provide doubts about belonging to Homo sapiens.

Other examples could be cited, but the basic point is that all of us can reason in a manner counter to Homo sapiens.

Hypnotherapy Can Aid Some With Surgery

December 12, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Debra Bruno in the Health & Science Section to the 12 November 2019 issue of the Washington Post. Some U.S. hospitals are offering hypnosis to patients to lessen preoperative anxiety, to manage postoperative pain, and even to substitute for general anesthesia for partial mastectomies in breast cancer. The article notes that hypnosis has been used of years to help people quit smoking, lose weight, get to sleep, and control stress.

Staff anesthesiologist Elizabeth Rebello of Houston MD Anderson Cancer Center uses hypnotherapy for segmental (partial) mastectomies and sentinel node biopsies, in which doctors identify and remove a lymph node in the underarm area as well as cancerous tumors in the breast.

Although there have been no published results yet of the hospital’s ongoing randomized control study comparing surgical patients who get either general anesthesia or hypnosis with local anesthesia, the feedback from the 60 hypnotized patients in the study has been positive. Before the surgery, patients have a 15 to 20 minute practice session with a hypnotherapist. During the breast surgery itself, the patients are awake and EEG monitoring of brain electric impulses show many patients responding to the hypnotherapy as if they were under sedation. When asked if whether they would undergo hypnotherapy again, the overwhelming response is “yes.”

The definition for hypnotherapy is “focused attention that allows a patient to enhance control over mind and body.” It can work for minor surgeries. It also could be an option for older patients who are more susceptible to delirium after general anesthesia.

Patients need to be able to expect that their pain can be controlled by a combination of local anesthesia and hypnosis. Anesthesiologists don’t want to compromise the procedure because the patient is suffering and in pain.

It is not surprising that hypnotherapy works with pain management. Pain perception, because it originates in the brain, can be different for every person. Hypnotherapy can alter how much pain a person feels. Stanford medical school offers patients classes in self-hypnosis to deal with a variety of medical issues, including pain, stress-related neurological problems, phobias, and side effects from medical treatments, such as nausea, vomiting, and cancer.

Dr. Elizabeth Rebello, an associate professor in anesthesiology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, notes that using hypnotherapy in place of sedating and pain medications in some breast cancer surgeries has resulted in less reliance on opioids for relief during and after the procedure. She says, “Hypnosedation will not completely replace general anesthesia, but in some cases when the standard of care is general anesthesia, hypnosedation might be a better plan. If this is the case we owe it to our patients to explore this option.”

the evolving self

December 11, 2019

the evolving self is a new book by mihaly csikszentmihalyi. He’ll be referred to in this post as mc. The subtitle is “a psychology for the new millennium.” mc sets a high goal for himself. He sees it critical for the evolving self to evolve to overcome the forces of entropy. Indeed this is an extraordinary objective to achieve.

As a scholarly work, the evolving self is impressive. He reviews the worlds of genes, culture, and the self. He discusses predators and parasites, and the competition between memes and genes. HM learned much in reading this book. While reading he was thinking that an enormous number of posts would be required to capture the meaning of this book. But he came to the conclusion that this work is seriously flawed, and that it would be a mistake to have readers reading these posts. Still, if you find this topic interesting, read the book.

Key to everything mc writes is the concept of flow. Flow is what one experiences when a skill or train of thought is proceeding well. Indeed, flow is a most enjoyable experience. The problem is that mc seems to regard flow as an end in itself. To the best of HM’s experience, mc never discusses what happens when flow ceases or is disrupted. Presumably this is something that most of us have experienced. And it is an experience that can readily be viewed on television. Watch the performance of a figure skater who is obviously experiencing flow in a beautiful, flawless experience. Then she suddenly falls splat onto the ice. Or the professional golfer who is hitting birdies and eagles on consecutive holes. Then suddenly, his game deteriorates. Double bogies and sand traps become the rule. These sudden cessations in flow are most unpleasant.

mc sets the seeking of flow as goal in itself. But this could be quite harmful. The easier the task, the easier it is to achieve flow. Seeking flow itself could lead one to become addicted to such tasks, in effect becoming addicted to flow.

More difficult tasks and bodies of knowledge require extensive periods of learning which can be quite frustrating. Using the lingo of this blog, flow is a System 1 process. System 2 processing, more commonly known as thinking, requires the expenditure of mental effort.

Our personal development requires extensive System 2 processing. There are times when this becomes easy and flow is achieved. But this is not the end in itself. Indeed, it signals that the time has come to advance and to take on more difficulty.

This is what is advocated by this blog. Growth mindsets and continuous growth of these mindsets throughout one’s life. This results in a more fulfilling life and in the decrease in the likelihood of falling prey to Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Growth mindsets benefit not only the individual, but society as a whole. The advancements of science and technology require growth mindsets.

Moreover, one’s goals should not be on the acquisition of wealth and possessions. We must all feel responsible for all our fellow humans and for the development and advancement of society as a whole.

It is astonishing that despite all mc’s knowledge, there remains an enormous lacuna This gap is meditation. There have been many posts about meditation in the HM blog. There are more than 100 posts on this topic (search for meditation in the blog’s search box which is found at https://healthymemory.wordpress.com/?s=meditation.

Meditation is central because it helps us develop our powers of attention, which are central to cognitive achievement. Meditation can also lead to appreciation for and love of our fellow humans.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Gravity and the Dunning-Krueger Effect

December 10, 2019

Ask someone what they think gravity is and they will remember Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple. And they will think that gravity is something that keeps us attached to the earth. But it is unlikely that they understand the truly remarkable contribution of Newton. Newton realized that gravity was operating in space and in the interactions of objects in space. He studied the data and over many years of data collection and mathematical developments he described how gravity affected the entire universe. And these descriptions were precise enough so that predictions could be made.

Most people think of gravity as a force of nature, but it is not necessarily a force. Newton thought of gravity less as a force than as something mysterious that acts across space. Einstein also thought of gravity less as a force than as something mysterious that acts across space. Quantum physicists agree with both Newton and Einstein: Gravity is something.

The author of Gravity said we he initiated conversations on the subject of gravity, the conversations tended to fall into one of two categories.

Category One:

Author: Nobody knows what gravity is.
Civilian: (Pause). What do you mean, nobody knows what gravity is?
Author: I mean nobody knows what gravity actually is.
Civilian: (Pause.) Isn’t it a force of nature?
Author: Okay, fine—but what does that even mean?
Civilian: (Silence.)

Category Two:

Author: Nobody know what gravity is.
Scientist: That’s right.

The author concludes, Nobody knows what gravity is, and almost nobody knows that nobody knows what gravity is. The exception is scientists. They know that nobody knows what gravity is, because they know that they don’t know what gravity is.

The author continues. “We know what gravity does, of course. In the heavens, gravity tethers the Moon to Earth, other moons to other planets, moons and planets to the Sun, the Sun to the stars, stars to stars, galaxies to galaxies. On our own planet, we know that gravity is what planes have to overcome. We all know what gravity does.”

The author is Richard Panek and the title of the book is The Trouble with Gravity: Solving the Mystery Beneath Our Feet.

Readers of the healthymemory blog should know that the Dunning-Krueger Effect consists to two components. We humans tend to think we know much more than we know. However, true experts in a field are painfully aware of how much they don’t know.
The understanding of gravitation provides an ideal example of this effect.

Physicists have estimate how much they know. The estimate is that about 4% of the universe is understood. The remaining 96% is referred to as Dark Matter and Dark energy.

Think of this estimate as an accomplishment, not as a shortcoming. It is important in every endeavor to have some grasp of what is known and what still needs to be learned. And consider what has been accomplished with the 4% that is understood. Also consider what will be accomplished as more and more of the Universe is understood. Research continues. Notions and theories are being advanced, and some highly sophisticated experiments are being designed and conducted.

This blog recommends growth mindsets. Lifelong learning encompassing new topics. HM recommends Panek’s book as a vehicle for cognitive growth. Fear not. There is no math in this book. Still it is quite challenging. One might want to skim the earlier chapters and start concentrating when Newton arrives on the scene.

Misinformation and Morality

December 9, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title of an article by Daniel A. Effron and Medha Raj in the journal Psychological Science (2019). The subtitle of the article is Encountering Fake-News Headlines Makes Them Seem Less Unethical to Publish and Share.

The rapid spread of “fake news” has some of us worried that misinformation has become the major moral crisis of out times. When people find misinformation permissible, they should be less inclined to take action to stop it, less likely to hold its purveyors accountable, and more likely to spread it themselves. 14% of U.S. adults and 17% of UK adults admitted to sharing news that they thought was fake at the time.

The present research investigated what shapes moral judgment of fake news, “articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers.” Among fact-checked news fake articles were more likely than real articles to “go viral” on social media. When a fake news article goes viral, people may encounter it multiple times. Previous research raised the concern that people are more likely to believe a fake news headline if they have seen it before. The authors of the research write. “regardless of whether one believes a piece of fake news, prior encounter with it can reduce how unethical one thinks spreading it would be. This prediction is based on the idea that previously encountered information makes it feel more fluent. People also judge repeated statements as more accurate. This is called the “illusory-truth effect.”

Four experiments were conducted. Experiment 1 tested whether four previous encounters with a fake-news headline would make the headline seem less unethical to publish. Experiment 2 tested whether a single encounter would suffice. Experiment 3 tested the following boundary condition: If previously encountered (vs. new) misinformation seems less unethical to spread because it felt more intuitively true, then encouraging people to think deliberatively instead of intuitively should attenuate he effect. Experiment 4 addressed whether repeatedly encountering the same headlines could affect moral judgments above and beyond judgments of their accuracy, likability, and popularity. These experiments examined whether prior encounters with headlines would increase people’s intentions to share and “like” them, reduce their inclination to censor the people who posted them, and increase actual sharing behavior.

Experiment 1 found that repeatedly encountering a fake news headline can reduce people’s moral condemnation for publishing it, increase their inclination to promote it on social media, and decrease their inclination to block or unfollow someone who posted it.

Experiment 2 found that encountering a fake news article once is sufficient to reduce people’s moral condemnation of publishing this information when it is encountered again.

Experiment 3 found that among participants instructed to think intuitively, previous encounters with fake-news headlines made those headlines seem less unethical to publish, which correlated in a mediation analysis with a stronger inclination to ‘like” and share those headlines and a weaker inclination to block or unfollow someone who shared them, which is consistent with the results of prior experiments, And the authors concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to conclude that instructing people to think deliberatively attenuated these effects.

Experiment 4 extended the generalizability of the previous three experiments. It showed that repeated encounters with a fake news headline can reduce moral condemnation of sharing it when people are not informed that the headline is fake. The effect was robust when analyses controlled for known consequences of repetition (judgments of accuracy, liking, and popularity), casting doubts on alternative explanations. This suggests that a relationship exists between moral judgments and social-media behaviors, a mediation analysis again showed that reduced moral condemnation of previously seen vs. new headlines correlated with stronger intentions to share the headlines. Beyond intentions, people were more likely to actually share repeated headlines than new headlines.

The authors conclude that efforts to curb misinformation are difficult to achieve. Future research is needed to understand whether moral intuitions causally affect sharing behavior in real social-media environments. The authors conclude, “The wider misinformation spreads the more likely individuals will be to encounter it multiple times. And encountering it multiple times could reduce the moral condemnation of it, and license them to spread it further.

The Use of Unproven Supplements

November 30, 2019

This post is based on an article titled “Study shows half of middle-aged Americans fear they’ll get dementia, use unproven supplements, in the Health & Science section of the 26 November 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The article begins, “About half of middle-aged Americans believe that they’re “very likely” to develop dementia a survey suggests, and many try to beat the odds with supplements such as ginkgo biloba and vitamins that aren’t proven to help.”

Data from the University of Michigan’s 2018 National Poll on Healthy Aging consists of a nationally representative survey of adults 50 to 80. 44.3% of the respondents said they were at lease somewhat likely to develop dementia, and 4.2% said they were very likely to develop dementia. Just 5.2% of the respondents said they had discussed dementia prevention with their doctors.

Regardless, 31.6% said they took fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids hoping that it would help lower the risk, and 39.2% took other vitamins or supplements. More than half of participants also believe doing crossword puzzles could help stave off dementia.

Study leader Donovan Maust of the University of Michigan wrote in the journal JAMA Neurology, “Given repeated failures of disease-preventing or disease modifying treatments for dementia, interest to treatment and prevention have shifted earlier in the disease process.”

These unproven supplements don’t work. Those who are solving crossword puzzles are on the right track, but more, prolonged cognitive effort is needed to stave off the disease. Similarly, certain computer games might be helpful, but playing them alone is insufficient.

The Alzheimer’s Association and drug developers are working on drugs to stop or eliminate the neurofibrally tangles and amyloid plaque, which are the defining characteristics of the disease. A former researcher into these drugs has argued that such drugs will never be discovered or developed. His arguments can be found in the healthy memory blog post titled The Myth of Alzheimer’s as well as in a book by the same title authored by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D, and and Daniel George, M.Sc.

Moreover, many people have died and their autopsies have shown that their brains with these defining characteristics of the disease, but who never realized they had the disease, because they never had any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms.

The reason offered for this result is that these individuals had built up a cognitive reserve. Cognitive activity had built up their brains so that, when they had these physical manifestations, their brains were able to work around them.

This is why the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets where active reading and learning is maintained throughout one’s lifetime. This must also be supplemented by a healthy lifestyle. The practice of meditation and mindfulness can facilitate this healthy lifestyle.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

The Single Most Important Activity

November 14, 2019

This is the final post based on the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. HM fears he has not done justice to this volume, so if your interests warrant please read the book.

The reader is likely overwhelmed by all the suggestions and recommendations made in these posts. According to one’s predilections, pursue what seems warranted. However, there is a single activity that both HM and the author agree upon, and that activity is meditation. The author titles this activity TEN (RICH) MINUTES A DAY and writes, “Researchers at Stanford, Massachusetts General and UCLA have found that ten minutes a day of mindfulness meditation for six months doubles the gray matter in the regions of the brain related to emotional well-being and executive. This means that our brains can heal themselves; and on the way to doing this, we can learn to be still and get grounded and can strengthen our internal locus of control.”

However, one should not stop after six months, nor limit this activity to ten minutes. If done properly, you should find this a very rewarding and lifelong activity.

Here are the instructions the author provides in the text:

Assume a posture of Alert restfulness. For many people, this is seated in a chair with both feet firmly on the floor. For others, it might be sitting on the floor or on a prayer or meditation cushion. Lying on your back is fine (this is HM’s practice). The goal, however, is restful alertness, not sleep (HM has never fallen asleep and emerges with increased alertness).

Breathe. Try focusing on how it feels when breath enters and exists your body. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth (“smelling the roses and blowing out the candles”) allowing your diaphragm to expand on the inhale and fall on the exhale. You can add words to your breathing if it helps. Try “releasing stress” on the exhale and “taking in space” on the inhale. You can also imagine your body as a closed system. Any time your take something new into an already-filled closed system, something must be removed to make space for the new. As you breathe in spaciousness, you must release tension. Use your imagination to try to fill more than 50% of the closed system of your body with spaciousness.

Create space in your mind for simply being. As you focus on your breath, remind yourself that this ten minutes is simply for you to be within. There is nothing that needs your attention for the next ten minutes (ten minutes should be regarded as the minimum time for the meditation. One can extend well beyond ten minutes).

Direct distractions and Draw attention back to being. When you are beset with distractions, as we all constantly are, simply notice them, name them, and then do what you can to draw your attention back to your breathing.

This same basic technique can be found in the healthy memory blog by searching for “relaxation response.” HM also uses “loving kindness meditation.” Typically, he begins with the relaxation response and then transitions to a much longer loving kindness meditation. Together this usually exceeds one hour in length. Use the search block in the healthy memory blog (healthymemory.wordpress.com) to find these topics.) There is a book by Kathleen McDonald titled “How to Meditate: A Practical Guide”). This is a practical guide to many different types of meditation, and Ms. McDonald is a true expert. Some meditations are Buddhist and they provide interesting insights to the Buddhist religion.

Practicing Living an Embodied Life (Cont.)

November 6, 2019

This is the fifth post in the book by doreen dodgen-magee titled “DEVICED: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.” This is a continuation of the points being advanced for living an embodied life.

Smell

*Pay attention to scents. Notice how naturally occurring smells in your daily life impact your sense of awareness and attention. Are there fragrances in your home/office/classroom that distract you or overly direct your attention? Are there any that enhance? Try plugging your nose when you take a bite of food. How does the lack of olfactory stimulation affect your awareness of the texture and taste of your food?

*Try essential oils. Olfactory stimulation is often encountered by chance rather than by attention. We tend to notice smells when they occur naturally, and we encode them with emotion in our memories. It can be powerful to use olfactory stimulation by design—engaging fragrances to stimulate or soothe, to heighten awareness or to set a mood. To do so, use them on pulse points on the body in essential oil form or throughout your living/work/learning spaces with infusers or candles. As a very general rule, citrus scents (lemon, lime, orange) invigorate and stimulate, while plant-based scents (rosemary, clary, sage, eucalyptus) soothe and relax.

*Go international. Go to an international market or restaurant. When and as you can, close your eyes and focus only on the smells. How do these new smells make you feel? What do you become aware of?

*Grow fragrant plants. Experiment with growing a fragrant plant where it can be easily accessed. Rosemary and lavender are relatively easy to grow. Once the plant is mature enough, break off a small piece and rub it between your fingers. Take the smell in as you breath deeply to create a sense of calm. Work to actively link the fragrance with the embodied experience of feeling calm.

Taste

*Spice it up. We often gravitate toward cases we know and with which we are comfortable. Periodically stretch yourself to try new flavors and textures. Do this in small and manageable ways. Try a new spice. Buy a small bag of uniquely flavored potato chips or an unusual (to you) piece of candy at an international market. If you naturally gravitate towards toward sweets, try something savory or vice versa. This can be done with drinks such as tea as well as with food. If you have access to a good tea shop, stop in and try a smokey blend. Notice how you anticipate and then taste the flavor.

*Go bland. Try food that has not been flavored or seasoned. If you drink coffee or tea with sweeteners, try the drink without. If you are use to processed foods, seek out a meal or food experience that is preservative and enhanced-flavor free. Notice the differences, even if you don’t prefer them.

Touch

*Mix it up. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, our skin is constantly perceiving what it touches or is touched by. “Waking up” this perception can lead to greater sensory awareness. Provide yourself opportunities to feel things that are rough, smooth, wet, dry, hot, cold, and more. Pay real and focused attention on how they feel and what kinds of sensation you experience as a result.

*Add touch to learning. Some individuals can increase their focus and attention in life simply having something to touch or play with during learning experiences. For these people, knitting or crocheting, a handful of Silly Putty, a bowl of Kinetic Sand, a small scrap of carpet or AstroTurf, or a rock might become important tools for maintaining focus and attention. Individuals who are kinesthetically/body smart benefit immensely from attending to the body in this way. When they do not actively work at getting the kinesthetic/physiological stimulation they need, they are at risk of using substances and people outside themselves to stimulate them. Drug and alcohol use, sexual acting out, and self-injury can become serious issues for these individuals.

*Experiment with weight and swaddling. Sometimes our bodies can benefit from feeling “contained.” If we don’t have others to hug or hold us, we can wrap a blanket around ourselves and pull it snugly. Warmed, rice-filled compresses also can be used over closed eyes or the chest to create a sensation of calming. Therapeutic weighted lap pads and blankets are also available for sale in a variety of stores and can be found online through a Google search.

The Problem with Some Religions

October 24, 2019

The preceding post raised the question as to why some Christians are not following the teachings of Christ. For if they were, Trump would not be president, there would be much less hatred and animosity, and the needs of all citizens, especially health care, would be addressed. The answer is that some Christian churches ignore many of the teachings of Christ and pander their messages to keep their parishioners happy.

HM remembers receiving a solicitation from one of his mother’s Christian charities that was soliciting contributions to support the contention that the United States is a Christian country. Now any competent historian and any well read citizen will know that our founders were strict about guaranteeing religious freedom to all and not adopting any religion. They did not want to repeat the mistakes made in Europe.

So here we have a charity claiming to be Christian breaking one of the ten commandments, lying or bearing false witness. Such hypocrisy! That’s when HM realized that these so called churches were, in truth, businesses. And religion is a good business, indeed. They are tax free. They collect money from their parishioners from whom they also garner political power as they instruct their people how to vote.

Being a true Christian is hard work and is personally challenging. But rather than reminding their followers of Christ’s teaching, these churches take another role. They develop political policies that are contrary to Christ’s teachings and that also endanger American freedoms. They become a moral police for the country, somewhat analogous to what occurs in Saudi Arabia. So they work to make what they regard as improper sexual practices illegal. They work to make abortion illegal, not realizing that forcing a woman to bring a child into the world who is unloved and cannot be supported puts that child in jeopardy. This ignores the fact that biological life should be irrelevant, that it is the soul that is immortal. There is no reason to assume that killing a fetus would also endanger the soul. HM believes that a merciful God would want a prospective mother to be ready and able to be a loving mother, and if she were not, an abortion could be in order.

Moreover, at the time of Christ both abortion and homosexuality were practiced and Christ never mentioned these as problems. It is the gospels of Christ that should be of primary concern to Christians. HM has never bought the justifications for the Old Testament being included in the Christian bible, and he still has reservations about some parts of the New Testament. And he is furious that there are other gospels of Christ that have not been widely disseminated.

So rather than doing the actual difficult work of Christ, these churches give their parishioners the role of being the country’s moral police. They forget that the United States is supposed to be a free country. That is, people can do anything they want as long as it does not do harm to others. Working to make abortions, sexual practices that do not harm others, and other activities that some regard as unacceptable is un-American. Such people are not only un-American, they are hypocritical Christians, who prefer having a feeling of moral superiority to doing the hard work of Christ.

Christ in Crisis

October 23, 2019

The title of this post is the title of an extremely important and relevant book by Jim Wallis. The subtitle is “Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus.” All who are interested in Christianity will find this book enlightening. People who claim to be Christians but who support Donald Trump need to read this book.

Many people wonder how someone can claim to be a Christian yet still support Donald Trump, who is evil incarnate. This issue will be addressed in two posts. This post focuses on Jim Wallis’s outstanding book. Wallis writes, “If we are truly followers of Jesus, then our identity as Jesus followers is first before any other identity—racial, ethnic, cultural, national, class, or gender. It means belonging to his “body,” a beloved multiracial and international community—with everything else put down the line. It means that “America First, or any other arrogated version of the phrase, is literally a heresy. For example, when the operative in the phrase “white Christian” is “white” instead of “Christian,” the gospel message of Jesus Christ that reconciles us to God and to each other is in great jeopardy.”

Virtually Trump’s entire message is based on lies. During his first 993 days he made 13,435 misleading claims. That’s an average of 13.53 false or misleading claims a day.
His presidential campaign was based on illegal immigrants entering the country to sell drugs and other illegal crimes. He led people to believe that they were not safe. He has continued his message justifying his pledge to build a wall. Even if there were a true problem here, a wall is an ineffective way of addressing it.

The vast majority of these illegal immigrants are coming to this country either to avoid violence in their homeland, or to earn a living and a better life for themselves and their families. Trump has addressed this problem by separating children from their families and placing them in cages with inadequate food and blankets.

The true solution to the illegal immigrant problem is to hold the people and companies hiring these poor people responsible. Heavy fines and imprisonment of these employers would resolve this problem. Trump himself is one of these employers. He prefers to hire illegals because he can underpay and exploit them. So Trump himself is one of those causing this problem.

Jesus ministered to the sick and those regarded as undesirable. The Parable of the Good Samaritan epitomizes this.

The problems in the United States cannot be addressed by charities alone. It needs to be understood that budgets are moral documents in that many of these problems need to be addressed through budgets by the government. A good example is health insurance. Many previous healthy memory posts have stated that every advanced county besides the United States has government provided health insurance. The health statistics in these countries are quite good and much better than those of the United States. Moreover, medical costs in these countries are much less in the United States. The United States has pulled off the astonishing feat of having the largest medical expenditures with the health results of a third rate country. Moreover, many of the religious followers of Trump would regard these foreigners in contempt as being secular humanists. Here the irony is that these secular humanists are better at Christian practices that these people who regard themselves as Christians.

If only Americans followed the teachings of Christ we would live in a much better country. Not only would health statistics be better, but our interpersonal relations would be governed by caring for one another.

Many believe in the following paragraph:

We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe that the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake. This paragraph is taken from The “Reclaiming Jesus” Declaration which can be found at http://reclaimingjesus.org/. Readers are encourage to read and reflect upon this declaration.

Healthy Memory’s Response to Deep Work

October 22, 2019

And that response is disappointment. The first problem is with the title, Deep Work. Deep Processing, or Deep Thinking would have been both more appealing and more accurate.

Professor Newport uses the word “Work” because work can lead to both professional success and many dollars. This is especially disappointing because he is a university professor, but a book focusing on professional and monetary success is more likely to sell books. Many factors affect both professional and financial success, so deep work cannot guarantee success.

However, in the context of a healthy memory deep processing leads to both a healthy memory and a fulfilling life. Deep processing involves sustained System 2 processing and even higher. It fosters growth mindsets, which lead to personal fulfillment and a healthy mind.

Moreover, deep processing is the best activity to engage to drastically decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Previous posts have explained how many have died with the defining features of Alzheimer’s, the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, without ever being aware of their having Alzheimer’s because they never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Deep processing, along with a healthy lifestyle, not only makes for a healthy memory, but along with growth mindsets provides the route to a fulfilling life.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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 conte

Embrace Boredom

October 21, 2019

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” His second rule, which is perhaps surprising, is to embrace boredom. He writes “Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.

Clifford Nass, the late Stanford communications professor conducted research revealing that constant attention switching online has a lasting negative effect on the brain. Here is Nass summarizing these findings. “So we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage working memory. They’re chronically distracted. The use much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to to the task at hand…they’re pretty much mental wrecks.”

When asked whether the chronically distracted recognize the rewiring of their brain, Nass responded, “The people we talk with continually said, ‘look, when I really have to concentrate, I turn off everything and I am laser focused.’ And, unfortunately, they’ve developed habits of mind that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused. They’re suckers for irrelevancy. They just can’t keep on task.”

Author Newport advises, don’t take breaks from distraction, instead take breaks from focus. He continues, if you’ve scheduled your next Internet break thirty minutes from the current moment, and you’re beginning to feel bored and crave distraction, the next thirty minutes of resistance becomes a session of concentration calisthenics. A full day of scheduled distraction becomes a full day of mental training. Scheduling Internet use at home can further improve your concentration training.

And don’t forget meditation. Newport calls productive meditation in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering, and focusing one’s attention on a single well-defined problem. One must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls. The healthymemory blog has many posts on meditation. Use the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter “meditation” and the “relaxation response” to find relevant posts.

Newport also recommends mnemonic techniques. The healthy memory blog has a whole category of posts on mnemonic techniques. The category can be found at
the URL previously listed.

There is also an interesting post about memory competitions titled “Moonwalking with Einstein” which can be found by entering this title into the search block.

Work Deeply

October 20, 2019

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” It is not surprising that the first rule is to work deeply. He writes that you need your own philosophy for integrating deep work into your professional life. Newport feels strongly that attempting to schedule deep work in an ad hoc fashion is not an effective way to manage your limited willpower. He warns us to be careful to choose a philosophy that fits one’s specific circumstances, since a mismatch here can derail one’s deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify. He presents four different depth philosophies he’s seen work exceptionally well in practice for our consideration.

One is the monastic philosophy of deep work scheduling. This philosophy attempts to maximize depth efforts by eliminating radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have well-defined and highly valued professional goals that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. This clarity helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up the whose value proposition in the working world is more varied. Science fiction writer Neal Stepheson who follows this philosophy summarizes his communication policy as follows: Persons who wish to interfere with my concentration are politely requested not to do so, and warned that I don’t answer e-mail…lest [my communication policy’s] key message gets lost in the verbiage, I will put it here succinctly. All of my time and attention are spoken for—-several times over. Please do not ask for them.

To justify this philosophy, Stephenson wrote an essay titled “Why I am a Bad Correspondent.” At the core of his explanation for his inaccessibility is the following decision: The productivity equation is a non-linear one, in other words. This accounts for why I am a bad correspondent and why I very rarely accept speaking engagements. If I organize my life in such a way that I get lots of long, consecutive, uninterrupted time -chunks, I can write novels. But as those chunks get separated and fragmented, my productivity as a novelist drops spectacularly.

Author Newport writes regarding this philosophy, “…the pool of individuals to whom the monastic philosophy applies is limited—and that’s okay. If you’re outside this pool, its radical simplicity shouldn’t evince too much envy. On the other hand, if you’re inside this pool—someone whose contribution to the world is discrete, clear,and individualized”—-then you should give this philosophy serious consideration, as it might be the deciding factor between an average career and one that will be remembered.

It is useful to ritualize practices for deep work. Consider the following:
*Where you’ll work and for how long.
*How you’ll work once you start to work.
*How you’ll support your work. Your ritual should ensure your brain gets the support it needs to keep operating at a high level of depth. For example, the ritual might specify that you start with a cup of good coffee, or make sure you have access to enough food of the right type to maintain energy, and integrate light exercise such as walking to keep the mind clear.

Keep in mind the importance of downtime.
Downtime aids insights
Downtime helps recharge the energy needed to work deeply

Ericsson’s paper, “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance reviewed research about an individual’s capacity for cognitive demanding work. For a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit. For experts this number can expand to as many as four hours, but rarely more.

A Neurological Argument for Depth

October 19, 2019

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on book by Cal Newport titled “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in this book. The science writer Winfred Gallagher stumbled onto a connection between attention and happiness after an unexpected and terrifying event. The event was a cancer diagnosis and Gallagher noted, “not just cancer, but a particularly nasty, fairly advanced kind.” In her book “Rapt” (there are many healthy memory blog posts on this book and on this topic) she recalls as she walked away from the hospital after the diagnosis she formed a sudden and strong intuition: “This disease wanted to monopolize my attention, but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead.” She focused on what was good in her life, “movies, walks, and a 6:30 martini” and it worked surprisingly well. Instead of being mired in fear and pity during this period, she was instead often quite pleasant.

After five years of science reporting she came away convinced that she was witness to a “grand unified theory” of the mind:

“Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics, and family counseling similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.”

Newport writes, “This concept upends the way most people think about their subjective experience of life. We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this misunderstanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same. As Gallagher summarizes: “What you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.’”

Research has shown that the elderly tend to be happier than their younger brethren. This seems paradoxical as the elderly are closer to their final exit; But Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen used an FMRI scanner to study the brain behavior of participants presented with both positive and negative imagery. She found that for young people, their amygdala, important for emotion, fired with activity at both types of imagery. But when she scanned the elderly, the amygdala fired only for the positive images. Carstensen conjectured that the elderly participants had trained their prefrontal cortex to inhibit the amygdala in the presence of negative stimuli. So these elderly participants were not happier because their life circumstances were better than those of the young subjects; instead they were happier because they had rewired their brains to ignore the negative and savor the positive. By skillfully managing their attention, they improved their world without changing anything concrete about it.

Author Newport picks up on Gallanger’s grand theory. “This theory states that your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicate significant time to deep endeavors. There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work.” Gallagher’s theory predicts that if you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance. Newport adds a hidden but equally important benefit to cultivating rapt attention. Such concentration hijacks your attention apparatus, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.

Learning How to Think and Process is Deeply

October 16, 2019

This post is the second in a series of posts on a book by Cal Newport. The title of this book is “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracting World.” “Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea,: is advice from Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy. He argues that to advance your understanding of your field you must tackle the relevant topics systematically, allowing your “converging rays of attention” to uncover the truth latent in each. In other words, “To learn requires intense concentration.”

In the early 1990s, a psychologist K. Anders Ericsson conducted research on the difference between expert performers and normal adults. He denied that the difference in the two groups was immutable. He argued, with data to support him, that the differences between expert performance and normal adults was the result of a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

So what does deliberate practice actually require. Its core components follow:
your attention is focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to master;
you receive feedback so you can correct your approach, to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
So deliberate attention cannot exist alongside distraction; instead it requires uninterrupted concentration.

Ericsson emphasizes, “Diffused attention is almost antithetical to the focused attention required by deliberate practice.”

Since Ericsson’s first major papers on this topic, neuroscientists have been researching the physical mechanisms. These researchers believe that part of the answer includes myelin—a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons. The myelin acts like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner. Keep, in mind that skills, be they intellectual or physical, eventually reduce down to brain circuits.

Of course, more than myelin is involved, especially for cognitive tasks. In additional to strengthening brain circuits, learning involves establishing new brain circuits. Learning new information and cogitating about this information establishes an increasingly new number of brain circuits.

Concentration is focused. Say you are trying to learn a new skill such as SQL database management. In a state of low concentration or while you are doing any additional tasks, you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen. To learn things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.

The following formula law of productivity has been offered:
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

HM again stresses that this formula is not restricted to work. It is good for any type of physical or cognitive enhancement. It applies also to hobbies and recreational activities. Perhaps it is unfortunate that it is defined in terms of work, as work itself can become more palatable or enjoyable if is not regarded as work, but rather as furthering a worthwhile goal, hobby, or intellectual achievement.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Deep Work

October 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Cal Newport. The subtitle is “Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.’” There have been many previous HM posts on the distracted world in which we live and how this distraction is extremely harmful. This book provides strategies for coping effectively with this distracted world. Here is the definition of Deep Work provided by the author: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

HM finds this definition and the book title to be inadequate. What is being addressed is deep cognitive processing. So although work is important, it would be a mistake to restrict this activity to work. A better definition for the activity is deep cognitive processing. It is important also to engage in deep processing that is not restricted to work. Indeed one of the important activities encouraged in this blog is to have growth mindsets and growth mindsets need to include deep cognitive processing. It is likely that the book wanted to aim at professional development and restricts its recommendation and guidance to professional work.

In contrast to Deep Work, the definition for Shallow Work: Noncognitively demanding logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend not to create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Here is a definition of Shallow Free Activities: Activities that are not cognitively challenging and do not result in cognitive growth.

It should be understood that there is a need for shallow free activities as it would be cognitively exhausting, indeed impossible, to always engage in cognitively challenging activities. These cognitively challenging activities are critical for a health memory and involve the engagement of System 2 processing, more commonly known as thinking and reasoning as opposed to daydreaming and System 1 processing. Note that most activity on social networks is not cognitively challenging and primarily involves System 1 processing.

The author offers this Deep Working Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it a core of their working life, will thrive.

HM heartily endorses this hypothesis, but he also contends that engaging in cognitively challenging activities also leads to healthy memories. Moreover, there should be transfer between work related challenging cognitive activities and leisure time challenging activities. So leisure activities can be beneficial to the effectiveness of one’s professional work.

The author ends his introduction to his book with the statement: A deep life is a good life.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Adaptive Genius

October 14, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Ted Anderson in his book Biology of the Ubiquitous House Sparrow writes that the sparrow came into its own as a species only since the advent of agriculture in the Middle East, approximately ten thousand yeas ago. Other theories place its origin yet earlier. In any case, so highly skilled has the house sparrow become at adapting to any environment occupied by humans that it has been called the ultimate opportunist, our avian shadow.

The first sixteen sparrows are said to have been introduced to Brooklyn in 1851 to control a plague of moths may not have taken immediately to the New World, but another bigger shipment imported from England the following year did, and in big way. The birds did get some help from individuals and naturalization societies ban on populating their gardens and parks with plants and animals from the Old World, which accelerated their expansion. Ms. Ackerman writes, “the success of their spread is staggering.” She continues, “The transplants found a land much to their liking, rich in grain and horse droppings. They multiplied and dispersed rapidly, spilling into farming districts, where they exploited every source they could find—grains, small fruits, and succulent garden plants, such as young peas, turnips, cabbage, apples, peaches, plums, pears, and strawberries. Soon they were considered a serious pest. In 1889, just a few decades after the house sparrow’s introduction sparrow clubs were formed with the sole objective of destroying the birds, and county and state officials were offering two cents a head for each sparrow killed.

Before long, the birds had spread across the United States and Canada, adapting to environments as extreme as Death Valley, California at 280 feet below sea level, and the Colorado Rockies at more than10,000 feet above sea level. They moved southward into Mexico through Central and South America as far as Tierra del Fuego, and along the Trans-Amazonial Highway deep into the rainforests of Brazil. In Europe, Africa, and Asia, they dispersed to northern Finland, the Arctic, South Africa, and clear across Siberia.”

The house sparrow is the world’s most widely distributed wild bird, with a global breeding population of about 540 million. It’s on every continent except Antarctica and on islands everywhere, from Cuba and the West Indies to the Hawaiian Islands, the Azores, Cape Verde and New Caledonia.

So what accounts for the success of the House Sparrow? Daniel Sol and Louis Lefebvre decided to see if brain size and intelligence might have anything to do with its success. When they studied the characteristics of the nineteen introduced species that “took” and those that failed to establish, two pronounced differences emerged, The more successful invaders have larger brains. They also had more innovative, flexible behavior of the kind Lefebvre documented in his avian IQ scale.

The pattern held when Sol later looked at 428 bird species that invaded areas around the world. Successful colonizers were brainy and inventive. Well represented among the intruders were the corvids; the house crow in Africa, Singapore, and the Arabian Peninsula; the jungle crow in Japan; the common raven in the American Southwest. All are big brained and considered pests in the regions they have invaded.

According to Ms. Ackerman here is a recipe for the house sparrow’s success:
*A taste for novelty
*A pinch of the innovative
*A dash of daring
*And, perhaps, a penchant for hanging out in mixed gangs

One wonders whether these traits will help the house sparrow cope with global warming. The 2014 Christmas Bird Count in Seattle totaled just 225 house sparrows within the city limits. Freeman says, “That’s the lowest total ever, and one piece of evidence that house sparrows may be declining. Around the globe, the bird is experiencing rapid and massive declines—in North America, Australia, and India, but especially in some towns and cities across Europe.

According to Vladimir Pravosudov, if the weather is warmer, winter will provide less selection pressure, so the birds may lose their edge, in both hippocampus size and intelligence. “If maintaining better memory has costs,” he argues, “smarter” birds will be at a disadvantage. Also, these populations will be quickly invaded by more southern, not-so-smart birds, which will lead to overall reduction in cognitive ability.”

A Mapping Mind

October 13, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The Arctic tern, a bird who lives by his love of long daylight and bent for high mileage, circles the world in orbit with the seasons. It flies from its nesting grounds in Greenland and Iceland to its wintering grounds off the coast of Antartica. This is a round-trip of almost 44 thousand miles. So in an average 30 year lifetime a tern may fly the equivalent of 3 trips to the moon and back.

Pigeons are famous for their ability to navigate. Homing pigeons can be taken far distances from their homes and still find their way back. Indeed there are competitions among pigeons, or rather pigeon owners, to see how quickly and well their birds manage to return.

In a variety of areas, nest building for example, pigeons do not do well and may even appear dim-witted. But they are handy with numbers, capable not only of counting but also of grasping the arithmetic loss and gain and learning abstract rules about number, abilities Ms. Ackerman notes, on a par with primates. They can put images picturing to nine objects in proper order from lowest to highest number. They can also determine relative probability.

Pigeons are better than most people—and even better than some mathematicians—at solving certain statistical problems. One example is their ability to solve the Monty Hall Dilemma. Monty was the host of the televised game show Let’s Make a Deal. In the show a contestant would be asked to guess which of three doors concealed a grand prize, such as a car. The other two doors harbored a booby prize, such as a goat. After the player chose a door, one of the remaining doors was opened, revealing no prize. The contestants are then given the option of staying with the initial choice or switching to the other unopened door. The correct choice here is to switch. This very point has been argued among statisticians, but switching the choice doubles the chances of winning. An explanation of why this is so can be found online, as well as simulations that will demonstrate that this is so. Just enter Monty Hall Dilemma into the search box of your browser. Better yet, go to the Wikipedia.

During both world wars, pigeons were used for the quick conveyance of intelligence. Pigeons were suited up with ciphered papers and sent across enemy lines to relay news of troop movements or to communicate with resistance workers in occupied countries. At its peak in WW II, the U.S. Pigeon service possessed 54,000 birds. The most celebrated of these messengers was called G.I. Joe. Dispatched by the British to abort a scheduled bombing of a German-held town because a brigade of a thousand or more British troops was already occupying it, Joe made the 20 mile flight in 20 minutes, halting the bombers just as they were warming up for takeoff. Jungle Joe, a gallant four-month old bronze cock flew 225 miles against strong wind currents and over some of the highest mountains in Asia to deliver a message that led to the capture of large parts of Burma by Allied troops.

Officials in Cuba still use birds to transmit election results from remote mountainous areas, and the Chinese have recently built a force of 10,000 messenger pigeons to deliver military communications between troops stationed along their borders, in case of “electromagnetic interference or a collapse in our signals,” as explained by the officer in charge of the pigeon army.

In the 1940 the psychologist Edward proposed that mammals might possess a “cognitive map” of their spatial environment. Humans, being mammals, are also included here. Birds can also be included as it is clear that they are using a complex of cues, some of which we can imagine with the addition of electromagnetic fields to accomplish astonishing feats of navigation.

What structure in a bird brain could be critical to navigation? The same one that humans use, the hippocampus. This has been discussed in previous healthy memory blog posts including the anatomist John O’Keefe who won the 2014 Nobel Prized for demonstrating how this structure is used to navigate.

Not surprisingly, homing pigeons have a heftier hippocampus than other pigeon strains bred for their fancy features, such as fantails, pouters,, and strafers. This hippocampus prowess is not genetic, it is developed through learning. This has also been confirmed in humans with studies done of London cab drivers with The Knowledge, the memorization of all streets and notable places in London.

Aesthetic Aptitude

October 12, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. When early European naturalists found beautiful creations deep in the Australian forest they thought they had stumbled on fanciful dollhouses made by aboriginal children or their mothers. Actually these artistic creations where the product of birds designing their homes and enhancing their beauty with artistic creations.

Birds are visual creatures. They make quick decisions based on visual information from heights at great speed. Pigeons shown a series of landscape photographs taken successively can detect slight visual differences that are hard for humans to pick up. They can also recognize other pigeons by sight alone. So can chickens. Just because the powerful small central nervous systems of these birds are organized very differently from our own does not mean that they are less capable of exceptional visual perception and fine discriminations.

Shigeru Watanabe of Keio Univereity in Japan studies how other creatures may experience aesthetics. He has tested the ability of birds to discriminate between human paintings of different styles. For example, the ability to discriminate cubist paintings from impressionistic paintings. In an early study he trained eight pigeons to distinguish between the works of Picasso and Monet. The pigeons came from the Japanese Society for Racing Pigeons. The paintings came from reproductions in an art book. The experimenters trained the pigeons to spot ten different Picassos and ten different Monets by rewarding them when they correctly pecked at the pictures. Then they tested the birds with new paintings by the artists, never seen during training as well as paintings by different artists in the same style. Not only could the pigeons pick out a new Monet or Picasso, they could also tell other impressionists (Renoir, for example) from other cubists (such as Braque).

Vocal Virtuosity

October 11, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The vocal virtuosity of birds is evident. What was only discovered fairly recently was special organ birds have that enables this virtuosity. This unique instrument is called a syrinx. It took a long time for scientists to learn its details because the syrinx is buried in the bird’s chest, where the trachea splits in two to send air to the bronchi. Only recently did a researcher produce a stunning high-resolution three dimensional image of the organ in action, using magnetic resonance imaging and microcomputer tomography.

The syrinx is made of delicate cartilage and two membranes that vibrate with airflow at super fast speeds—one on each side of the syrinx—to created two independent sources of sounds. Gifted songbirds such as the mockingbird and canary can vibrate each of their two membranes independently, producing two different, harmonically unrelated notes at the same time—a low-frequency sound on the left, a high-frequency sound on the right. These birds can shift the volume and frequency of each with breathtaking speed to produce some of the most acoustically complex and varied vocal sounds in nature. In contrast, when humans talk, all of our pitch, all the harmonics of our vocalizations, move in the same direction.

Songbirds such as European starlings and zebra finches can contract and relax these tiny vocal muscles with sub millisecond precision at more than a hundred times faster than the blink of an eye. The winter wren is a bird known for its swift song delivery. It sings as many as 36 notes per second, which is much too fast for our ears or brain to perceive or absorb. Some birds can manipulate their syrinx to mimic human speech.

Not surprisingly, birds with a more elaborate set of syringe muscles can produce more elaborate songs. The mockingbird has seven pairs that allow him to perform his vocal gymnastics over and over with little effort. This can be 17, 18, 19 songs per minute. Between the notes, he takes tiny breaths to replenish his air supply.

Of course, more than the syrinx is involved. Songs must be initiated and coordinated with the bird’s brain. Nerve signals from an elaborate network of brain areas control each of the muscles, coordinating nerve impulses from his left and right brain hemispheres to the muscles of the two halves of his syrinx, creating just the right airflow in each necessary to produce the hundreds of different imitated phrases he sings.

Scientists use sonograms or spectrograms to assess the accuracy of this sounds. These are visual printouts of sound (with frequency or pitch on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis) that scientists use to detect subtle differences in birdsong. Sonograms comparing a prototype song and the mockingbird’s copy show that the imitator sings nuthatch and thrush and whip-poor-will with almost perfect fidelity. When a mockingbird sings a cardinal’s song, it actually mimics the muscular patters of the cardinal. If the notes of his model fall outside his normal frequency range, he substitutes a note or omits it, lengthening other notes to match the song in duration. If he’s facing a too-rapid-fire delivery of notes such as a canary’s, he clusters the notes and pauses to breathe while maintaining identical song length.

The mockingbird is not the only mimic. A cousin Mimidae, the brown thrasher, can mimic ten times the number of songs a mockingbird sings, thought not with as much accuracy. European starlings are also accomplished mimics, as are nightingales, which can imitate some 60 different songs after hearing each only a few times. Marsh warblers sing a wild, urgent, international pastiche of a song peppered with the tunes of more than one hundred other species.

Some birds, the African grey parrot, the mynah, and the cockatoo excel at imitating human speech. There are a few others in the corvid and parrot families, parakeets being one example.

It’s quite an accomplishment for birds to imitate human sounds. Humans form vowels and consonants with their lips and tongue, which are among the most supple, flexible, and indefatigable parts of the human body. For birds, with no lips and with tongues that generally aren’t used for making sounds, it is a tall order indeed to take on the nuances of human speech. Parrots are unusual in that they use their tongues while calling and can manipulate them to articulate vowel sounds.

Parrots have been known to teach other parrots to talk smack. People have reported wild cockatoos swearing in the outback. An ornithologist speculated that the wild birds had learned from once-domesticated cockatoos and other parrots that had escaped and survived long enough to join a flock and share words they have picked up in captivity. Ms. Ackerman comments, “if true, a fine example of cultural transmission.”

Social Savvy

October 10, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Ms. Ackerman writes, “Many bird species are highly social. They breed in colonies, bathe in groups, roost in congregations, forage in flocks. They eavesdrop. They argue. They cheat. They deceive and manipulate. They kidnap. They divorce. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They play keep-away and tug-of-war with twigs, strands of Spanish moss, bits of gauze. They pilfer from their neighbors. They warn their young away from strangers. They tease. They share. They cultivate social relationships. They vie for status. They kiss to console one another. They teach their young. They blackmail their parents. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. They may even grieve.

The expression “pecking order” comes from studies of the social relations among chickens by the Norwegian zoologist Thorlief Schjelderup-Ebbe, who found that a pecking order are ladder like, with the top rung conferring great privilege in the form of food and safety, and the bottom rung fraught with vulnerability and risk.

In 1976, Nichols Humphrey, a psychologist at the London School of Economics developed the idea that a demanding social life might drive the evolution of brainpower. Humphrey was working with monkeys, but now scientists believe that many bird species are not so different. Birds living in social groups have to sort out social contacts, smooth ruffled feathers, and avoid squabbles. They need to monitor the behavior of others to make decisions about whether to cooperate or compete, whom to communicate with, and whom to learn from. They have to recognize many individuals, keep track of them, remember what this or that confederate did the last time—and predict what he or she will do now. Since many species of birds share the same kind of social challenges that may have fueled intelligence in primates, their brains, like ours, may be “designed’ to manage relationships.

Reciprocity in the form of gift giving is another kind of social behavior unusual in nonhumans but fairly common among certain birds, including crows. Tales have one in of crows offering gifts of jewelry, hardware, shards of glass, a Santa figurine, a foam dart from a toy gun, and a Donald Duck Pez dispenser.

Crows and ravens balk at doing work for less reward than a peer is getting. This sensitivity to inequity had previously been thought to exist only in primates and dogs and is considered a crucial cognitive tool in the evolution of human cooperation.

Corvids and cockatoos will delay gratification if they think a reward is worth waiting for. This is a form of emotional intelligence involving self-control, persistence and the ability to motivate oneself. It is an important skill for human success. Consider the famous marshmallow test. The first studies were done by psychologist Walter Mischel during the 1960s at a preschool on the Stanford University campus. The test involve placing a marshmallow before a four year old. The child was told that the researcher was going to leave for 15 to 20 minutes, but if they child could save the marshmallow until he retired, she would be rewarded with another marshmallow. Some children managed to resist and got the second marshmallow reward, and some didn’t. The ramifications of this study did not become clear until 12 to 14 years later. Those who had resisted temptation at 4 were now, as adolescents, more socially competent: personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to cope with the frustrations of life. They were less likely to go to pieces, freeze, or regress under stress, or become rattled and disorganized when pressured; they embraced challenges and pursued them instead of giving up even in the face of difficulties. The children who had grabbed the marshmallow were just the opposite. The children who were able to delay gratification were also much better students. But, perhaps what was most astonishing were SAT scores. The third of the children who at four grabbed for the marshmallow most eagerly had an average verbal score of 524 and a quantitative scorer of 528. The third who waited the longest had average scores of 610 and 652, respectively—a 210 difference in total score.

Some birds species have remarkable memories for social relationships. Thomas Bugnyar, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Vienna found that ravens remember their valued friends even after a separation of as long as three years. Corvids recognize and recall not only fellow corvids, but humans too. They can pick out familiar human faces from a crowd, particularly those that represent a threat and remember them for long periods of time.

There is also much evidence that there are birds that have a theory of mind, that is they can think like another bird or animal is thinking. Two scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Chey argue that even the most complex human forms of theory of mind have their foots in what they call a subconscious appreciation of others’ intentions and perspectives.

Birds are Technical Wizards

October 9, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds”, a book by Jennifer Ackerman. There are many accounts of birds using found objects as tools—to contain water water or scratch their backs, wipe themselves down or lure prey. For example, white storks bring water to their chicks in a clump of damp moss and then wring it out to fill their beaks. African greys arrest bail water from their dish with a tobacco pipe or bottle cap. American crows ferry water in a Frisbee to dampen its dried mash, and another one secured a plastic Slinky toy onto its perch and used the free end to scratch its head. A Gila woodpecker fashioned a wooden scoop out of tree bark to carry honey home to its young. A blue jay used its own body as a napkin to rid ants of their noxious formic acid spray, making them fit for eating.

Birds also use objects as weapons. An American crow lobbed three pinecones at a scientist’s head as he climbed up to its nest. A pair of ravens defending their nestlings from two intruding researchers used similar tactics but harder weaponry. A raven took a rock in its beak and with a quick flip of its head tossed the rock down to the target. It was followed by six more one after another, assaulting the scientists who were trying to study them.

Several kinds of birds use objects as lures to draw fish. Green herons are expert bait fishers, drawn to entice their prey with bread, popcorn, seeds, flowers, live insets, spiders, feathers, and pellets of fish food.

For the burrowing owl, dung is the decoy of choice. These owls scatter clumps of animal feces near the mouth of their nest chambers and wait motionless like muggers for unsuspecting dung beetles to scuttle toward their trap.

Nuthatches hold bark flakes or scales in their bills to level the bark from trees, exposing the bugs beneath.

Black palm cockatoos regularly use sticks, twigs, and branches as drumsticks to thrum a hollow tree for territorial display or to direct a female’s attention to a possible breeding holes. These items are used as back scratchers (as well as head, neck, and throat scratchers by yellow-crested cockatoos and African grey parrots. Bald eagles used a stick to bludgeon a turtle with a stick held in its bill.

Behavioral biologist Sabine Tebbich did a detailed study of a woodpecker finch to see how birds acquire their use of tools. At first the finch showed little interest in objects. When he was almost two months old, he began to play with flower stems and small twigs, twiddling them in his beak and holding them at right angles to his bill. He soon was investigating everything around him with great curiosity, tweaking buttons, nibbling pencils, yanking hair through the small ventilation holes in a slouch hat, prying apart toes with his beak and tools inspecting ears and earrings. Within three months, he was an accomplished tool user and had broadened his toolkit, probing cracks with twigs, a feather, fragments of water-worn glass, wool slivers, shell pieces, and the hind leg of a large tree grasshopper. He also inserted a twig between a sock and a boot.

The New Caledonian crow leads in terms of artful toolmaking and tool use in the wild. Ms. Ackerman writes, “when it comes to the nuts and bolts of too crafting, only chimps and orangutans match or exceed the sophistication of the New Caledonian crow, and not even these hotshot primates can make hook tools, These crows make not one but two kinds of hook tools—one from live twigs and the other from the barbed edges of leaves of pandas trees, or screw pines.

One wonders whether birds play? Do they do things just for fun? Nathan Emery and Nicola Clayton suggest that larger-brained, altricial species of birds do play as do many mammals. It does seem to be relatively uncommon in birds, seen in only 1% of the approximately 10,000 species and is largely restricted to species with an extended developmental period, such as crows and parrots. Emery and Clayton say that play may reduce stress, aid social bonding and induce pleasure. They explain “Birds, like us, may also play because it is fun; it produces a pleasurable experience—releasing endogenous opioids.”

Bird Minds

October 8, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds,” a book by Jennifer Ackerman. Like humans, birds are kingdom Animalia; phylum Chordata; subphylum Vertebrata. There the common descent ends. Birds are class Aves; humans are Mammalia. Aristotle wrote in his History of Animals that animals carry elements of our “human qualities and attitudes,” such as “fierceness, mildness or cross-temper, courage or timidity, fear or confidence, high spirits or low cunning, and with regard to intelligence, something akin to sagacity.”

When HM was a graduate student anthropomorphizing, claiming that an animal had anything like human intelligence, consciousness, or subjective feeling was a mortal sin. But if HM imposed this standard on his fellow humans he would have been unable to communicate or interact with them effectively. Although one needs to tread carefully in this area, wouldn’t it be a mistake to assume that because bird brains are fundamentally different from us and ours, that there is nothing in common between our mental abilities and theirs? Darwin in his book The Descent of Man argued that animals and humans differ in their mental powers only in degree, not in kind. As was discussed in previous posts, many have strong feelings regarding the possibility of kinship. Primatologist Frans de Waal calls this “anthropodenial,” blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other species. He says, “Those who are in anthropodenial try to build a brick wall to separate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.”

There are many ways of measuring birds’ intelligence And there is a very wide range of intelligence across the species. It ranges from the extremely slow, to some that appear to verge on genius. Lefebvre thought that a good way of estimating bird intelligence would be to look at occurrences of birds doing unusual new things in the wild. This notion had been proposed three decades earlier by Jane Goodall and her colleague Hans Kummer. They made a plea for measuring a wild animal’s intelligence by looking at its ability to find solutions to problems in its natural setting. This can be found in an animal’s ability to innovate in its own environment, “to find solutions to a novel problem, or a novel solution to an old one.”

So the task becomes finding which kinds of birds are the most innovative in the wild. Lefebvre said, “Experimental and observational studies of cognition are important, but a taxonomic count like this would provide a unique opportunity and would avoid some of the pitfalls of animal intelligence studies,” such as using testing devices that are far removed from what an animal does in its natural environment.

Lefebvre reviewed seventy-five years worth of bird journals for reports featuring key words like “unusual,” “novel,” or “first reported instance,” and came up with more than 2300 examples from hundreds of different species. Some of these were discoveries of strange new finds such as a roadrunner sitting on a roof next to a hummingbird feeder and picking off the hummers; a great skua in Antartica snuggling in among newborn seal pups and sipping milk from their lactating mother; herons holding down a rabbit or a muskrat; a pelican in London swallowing pigeon; a gull ingesting a blue jay; or a normally insectivorous yellowhead in New Zealand seen for the first time time eating bush lily fruits.

Taken from “The Genius of Birds:” Other examples involved ingenious new ways of getting at food. There was the cowbird in South Africa using a twig to pick through cow dung. Several observers noted instances of green herons using insects as bait, placing them delicately on the surface of the water to lure fish. A herring gull adapted its normal shell-dropping technique to nail a rabbit. Bald eagles ice fishing in northern Arizona discovered a cache of dead fathead minnow forces under the surface of an ice-covered lake. They were seen chipping holes in the ice, then jumping up and down on the surface, using their body weight to push the minnows up through the holes. There was a report of vultures in Zimbabwe that perched on barbed-wire fences near minefields during the wars of liberation, waiting for gazelles and other grazers to wander and detonate the explosives providing a pulverized ready-made meal.

The smartest birds according Lefevbre’s scale.
Corvids with ravens and crows as the clear outliers along with parrots. Then came grackles, raptors (especially falcons and hawks, woodpeckers, hornbills, gulls, kingfishers, roadrunners and herons. Also high on this totem pole were birds in the sparrow and tit families. Owls were excluded because they are nocturnal and their innovations are rarely observed directly. Among those at the low end were quails, ostriches, bustards, turkeys, and nightjars.

Lefebvre examined if families of birds that show a lot of innovation behaviors in the wild have bigger brains. In most cases, there was a correlation. Two birds weighing 320 grams: the American crow, with an innovation count of sixteen has a brain of 7 grams, while a partridge , with one innovation, has a brain of only 1.9 grams. Two smaller birds weighing 85 grams: the great spotted woodpecker, with an innovation rate of nine has a braining weighing 2.7 grams, and the quail with one innovation, only 0.73 gram.

The Avian Brain

October 7, 2019

This post is based on “The Genius of Birds,” a book by Jennifer Ackerman. The chickadee is more than just a bird of verve and agility. It’s also acrobatic in its aptitudes, curious intelligent, and opportunistic with a prodigious memory. It is a bird masterpiece beyond in the words of Forbush. The chickadee family rates right up there with woodpeckers on Lefevbre’s IQ scale. Chickadees stash seeds and other food in thousands of different hiding places to eat later. They can remember where they put a single food item for up to six months. And they do this with a brain roughly twice the size of a garden pea. The chickadee has double the brain size of birds in the same body-weight range, such as a flycatcher or swallow. Many bird species have surprisingly large brains for their body size. Scientists call them hyper inflated, much like our brains.

Birds have condensed genomes, which may be an adaptation to powered flight. Birds have the smallest genomes of any amniote, the group of animals, including reptiles and mammals, that lay their eggs on land. The typical mammal has a genome ranging from 1 billion to 8 billion base pairs, whereas in birds it hovers at around 1 billion. This is the result of fewer repeat elements and a large number of so-called deletion events, in which DNA has been expunged over evolutionary time. This more compressed genome might allow a bird to regulate its genes more rapidly to meet the requirements of flight.

Birds evolved from dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, 150 million to 160 million years ago. Paleontologist Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh says that we find that there is no clear distinction between ‘dinosaur’ and bird.’ A dinosaur didn’t just change into a bird one day. The bird body plan began early and was assembled gradually, piece by piece over 100 million years of steady evolution.

Birds have their eggheads and their pinheads. Not all birds have big brains for their body size. For example, birds of a similar size, a crow (with a brain of 7 to 10 grams) and a partridge (only 1.9 grams) have different sized brains. But two smaller birds, the great spotted woodpecker (with a brain of 2.7 grams) and the quail (0.73 gram) have different sized brains.

Reproductive strategy plays a role in brain size. The 20% of bird species that are precocial—born with their eyes open and able to leave the nest within a day or two—have larger brains at birth than altricial birds. These are born, naked, blind, and helpless and remain in the nest unit they’re as big as their parents, and only then do they fully fledge. Precocial birds, such as shorebirds, typically take to life straightaway. Though their brains are relatively large at hatching—allowing them to catch and eat an insect or run short distances when only days old—they don’t grow much after birth, so they end up smaller than the brains of altricial birds. So, nest sitters end up with bigger brains than nest quitters.

Brain size is also correlated with how long a bird stays in its nest to apprentice with its parents after fledging. The longer the juvenile period, the bigger the brain, perhaps so that a bird can store all it learns. Long childhoods are characteristic of most intelligent animal species.

Birds experience the same cycles of slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) that humans do. Scientists believe that these patterns of brain activity play a crucial role in the growth of big brains. Birds rarely have REM sleep longer than 10 seconds, packaged into hundreds of episodes per sleep period, while humans have several bouts of REM sleep per night, each lasting ten minutes to an hour. For both mammals and birds, REM sleep might be especially needed for the early development of the brain. Newborn mammals such as kittens have much more REM sleep than adult cats. Human babies may spend up to half their sleep in the REM stage, whereas for adults, it’s about 20%. Similarly young owlets have more REM sleep that older owlets.

Both birds and humans have periods of deep, slow-wave sleep in direct proportion to how long they’ve been awake. And in both birds and humans, the brain regions used more extensively in waking hours sleep more deeply during subsequent sleep.

A research team headed by Niels Rattenborg at the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology made use of a bird’s ability humans do not have. Birds can modulate their deep sleep by opening one eye, limiting the slow-wave sleep to only one half of the brain while keeping the other half alert. It takes very little thought to understand how such a capability is beneficial to birds. The team built a little movie theater for several pigeons, blocked one eye in each of them. and showed them David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds. After staying awake watching the film for eight hours with a single eye, the birds were allowed to sleep. Studies of their brain activity showed deeper slow-wave sleep in the visual processing region of the brain connected to the stimulated eye.

Rattenborg says that both humans and birds showing this kind of localized brain effect suggest that slow-wave sleep may play a role in maintaining optimal brain functioning. “overall, the parallels between mammalian and avian sleep raise the intriguing possibility that their independent evolution may be related to the function served by the pattern of sleep: the evolution of large, complex brains in both birds and mammals.”

Erich Jarvis says, “About 75% of our forebrain is cortex and the same is true for birds, particularly species of songbirds and parrots. They have as much ‘cortex’, relatively speaking, as we do. It’s just not organized the way ours is.” The author continues, “Whereas the nerve cells in a mammal’s neocortex are stacked in six distinct layers like plywood, those in the bird’s cortex like structure cluster like cloves in a garlic bulb. But the cells themselves are basically the same, capable of rapid and repetitive firing, and the way they function is equally sophisticated, flexible, and inventive. Moreover, they use the same chemical neurotransmitters to signal between them. And perhaps most important, bird and mammal brains share similar nerve circuits, or pathways between brain regions—which turns out to be vital for complex behavior. It’s the connections, the links between brain cells, that matter in the matter of intelligence. And in this regard, bird brains are not so different from our own.

Irene Pepperberg offers this computer analogy. Mammalian brains are like PCs, she says, while bird brains are like Apples. The processing is different, but the output is similar.

The Genius of Birds

October 6, 2019

“The Genius of Birds” is a book by Jennifer Ackerman. There will be many posts based on this book. Readers may well ask why is the Healthymemory Blog devoting so many posts to this topic The answer is learning new topics helps build a healthymemory and there are many useful concepts to be learned. Unfortunately, most of what has been learned about birds is relatively new, and the rest has been buried in academic tomes. And, unfortunately, birds have a bad press and many misconceptions to overcome, bird brain being the first. This slur came from the belief that birds had brains so diminutive they had to be devoted only to instinctual behavior. Ms. Ackerman notes, “the avian brain had no cortex like ours, where all the “smart” stuff happens.” We thought that birds had minimal noggins for good reason: to allow for airborne ways; to defy gravity, to hover, arabesque, dive, soar for days on end, migrate thousands of miles, and maneuver in tight spaces.

Research, however, has taught us otherwise, Bird brains are very different from our own. This is not surprising as humans and birds have been evolving independently for a very long time, since our last common ancestor more than 300 million years ago. However, some birds have relatively large brains for their size, as do we. And when it comes to brainpower, size seems to matter less than the number of neurons, where they’re located, and how they’re connected. And some bird brains pack very high numbers of neurons where it counts, with densities akin to those found in primates, and links and connections similar to ours. As will be seen in subsequent posts, certain birds have sophisticated cognitive abilities.

Ms. Ackerman writes, “In judging the overall intelligence of animals, scientists may look at how successful they are at surviving and reproducing in many different environments. By this measure, birds trump nearly all vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. They live in every part of the globe, from the equator to the poles, from the lowest deserts to the highest peaks, in virtually every habitat, on land, sea, and in bodies of freshwater.

As a class, birds have been around more than 100 million years. They are one of nature’s great success stories, inventing new strategies for survival, their own distinctive brands of ingenuity that, in some respects at least, seem to far outpace our own.”

Birds possess ways of knowing that are hard to understand, which we can’t easily dismiss as merely instinctual or hardwired. Ms. Ackerman writes, “What kind of intelligence allows a bird to anticipate the arrival of a distant storm? Or find its way to a place it has never been to before though it may be thousands of miles away? Or precisely imitate the complex songs of hundreds of other species? Or hide tens of thousands of seeds over hundreds of square miles and remember where to put them six months later?

Anthropic Principle vs. Creationism vs. Intelligent Design

September 29, 2019

The anthropic principle is a philosophical consideration that observations of the universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes the universe. The physical conditions that enabled the creation of the universe are very precise. Absent these conditions there would be no universe for humans to observe much less live in.

The strong anthropic principle (SAP) states that this is the case because the universe is in some sense compelled to eventually have conscious and sapient life emerge within it.

The weak anthropic principle (WAP) states that the universe’s fine tuning is the result of selection bias (survivor bias) in that only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing and reflecting on the matter. Most often these arguments draw upon some notion of the multiverse for there to be a statistical population of universes to select from and from which selection (our observation of only this universe, compatible with our life) could occur.

Understand that what is being presented in this post is an enormous simplification of this issue. If interested, go to the Wikipedia and proceed from there.

However, it is hoped that enough has been written to compare the strong anthropic principle (SAP) with creationism and intelligent design.

It seems that creationists could adopt the SAP arguing that God is necessary for these conditions to occur, hence God is the creator of the universe. Although it is unlikely that most physicists would agree with this argument, creationists might argue that the law of parsimony (the simplest explanation is the best) argues for the SAP.

However, proponents of intelligent design could not employ this argument. Previous healthy memory blog posts have pointed to the flaw in intelligent design. Although one can find specific examples of intelligent design within nature, there are many more examples of failed species who died out and did not survive. So to argue for intelligent design one needs to accept a flawed entity or one who needs to learn by doing.

It would be good to teach the two anthropic principles along with creationism and intelligent design. The goal would not be to force students regarding what to believe, but rather to provide information on how science proceeds.

Unfortunately, there are many times when religions make war upon science. This is unfortunate. A religious leader who has an enlightened view of science is the Dalai Lama. He uses science to inform his religion. He sends his priests to seminars and schools to become well versed in science.

The problem with wars between science and religion is that science ultimately wins. The reason for this is that science changes as data and logic indicate. Unfortunately, dogmatic religions ultimately lose and humanity and civilization suffer.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Truth-Default Theory (TDT)

September 28, 2019

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. It has been noted in previous posts that we all have an initial default to believe what we read or are told. If we questioned everything our process through life, particularly at the beginning, would be enormously slow. Truth-Default Theory, by psychologist Tim Levine, capitalizes on this tendency to explain why we are vulnerable to lies. According to Levine we are normally in the truth-default mode. To snap out of this mode requires a trigger. “A trigger is not the same as a suspicion, or the first sliver of doubt. We fall out of the truth-default mode only when the case against our initial assumption becomes definitive. We do not behave, in other words, like sober-minded scientists, slowly gathering evidence of the truth or falsity of something before reaching a conclusion. We do the opposite. We start by believing. And we stop believing only when our doubts and misgivings rise to the point where we can no longer explain them away.”

A Harvard Economist, Sendhil Mullainathan, three elite computer scientists and a bail expert conducted an interesting experiment in the courts of New York City. They gathered up the records of 554, 689 defendants brought before arraignment hearings in New York from 2008 to 2013. This involved 554,689 defendants. The same information the prosecutors had given judges in these arraignment case was fed into a computer and analyzed with a program developed by these three elite computer scientists. It is presumed that these judges know how to evaluate this information. The judges decided to release just over 400,000 of the 554,689 defendants. The computer program made its own decisions regarding whom to release. So who made the best decisions? Whose list committed the fewest crimes while out on bail and was most likely to show up for their trial date? The people on the computer’s list were 25% less likely to commit crimes than the 400,000 people released by the judges of New York City. So in this contest of man versus machine, man clearly lost.

The main shortcoming of these judges was that they were human beings. Humans do not do that good a job of integrating numerical information without the aid of machines. And humans are strongly influenced by the behavior and status of the subjects they are evaluating. Gladwell reviews the case of Amanda Cox.

Amanda Cox was an American living in Italy who was falsely accused of murdering Meredith Kercher. In hindsight, it is completely inexplicable how she was convicted. There was never any physical evidence linking either Cox or her boyfriend to the crime. Nor was there ever a plausible explanation for why Cox—an immature, sheltered, middle-class girl from Seattle—would be interested in engaging in a murderous sex game with a troubled drifter she barely knew. Gladwell’s explanation is that Amanda’s behavior and the things she said convinced some people of her guilt, in spite of the hard evidence that she was innocent. So appearances, can get you in trouble, but they also provide the basis for successful lying.

The opposite case is Bernie Madoff. Bernie Madoff was the hedge-fund manager who ran a pyramid scheme that ended up defrauding many wealthy and prestigious clients. In addition to his status as the leader of a large fund, he was a genius at convincing people that all was above board. Gladwell analyzes many other interesting cases.

So what is to be learned from this book? A default mode of belief is practical, but be aware that appearances can be deceiving. So be careful about new interactions. Also be careful regarding established relationships if something questionable develops.

There are good tips on how to deceive. Simply act like you are telling the truth and stick with it.

Although Gladwell does not mention this in his book, we have an example of an extraordinary liar. He is the President of the United States, Donald Trump. And his many, many lies have been documented. He lies just as often as he tells the truth. And when caught in a lie, he doubles down. He never admits that he was wrong. This provides quite a challenge to government officials who he tries to force to back up his lies. Of course, he has no credibility with foreign leaders. How American citizens can still support him is mind boggling. And he is planning to run for re-election!

Suicide and Coupling

September 27, 2019

Part Five of “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know” by Malcom Gladwell is titled Coupling. Coupling theory argues that there are certain places or conditions that increase the likelihood of committing suicide. Many think that people who commit suicide are so depressed that they will eventually commit suicide, even if it takes multiple attempts. John Bateson has written a book titled, The Final Leap, which makes the argument, and provides data, to indicate that the effect of the Golden Gate Bridge on some people is to tempt them to commit suicide.

Psychologist Richard Seiden followed up on 515 people who had tried to jump from the bridge between 1937 and 1971, but had been unexpectedly restrained. Just 25 of those 515 persisted in killing themselves some other way. Overwhelmingly, the people who want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at a given moment, want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at that given moment.

But when did the municipal authority that runs the bridge finally decide to install a suicide barrier? In 2018, more than eighty years after the bridge opened. John Bateson points out that in the intervening period the bridge authority spent millions of dollars building a traffic barrier to protect cyclists crossing the bridge, even though no cyclist has ever been killed by a motorist on the Golden Gate Bridge. It spent millions building a media to separate north- and south-bound traffic, on the grounds of “public safety.” On the southern end of the bridge, the authority put up an eight-foot cyclone fence to prevent garbage from being thrown onto Fort Baker. A protective net was even reinstalled during the initial construction of the bridge—at enormous cost—to prevent workers from falling their deaths. This net saved nineteen lives, then it was taken down. But it took eighty years to provide the means of preventing suicides from the bridge.

Having a gun in the household is another example of suicide and coupling. If someone is depressed and considering suicide, a gun provides the best means. It’s fast and efficient. Other means of suicide, such as taking pills or slashing one’s wrists often fail. But only rarely do guns fail. It is ironic. Presumably, people keep a gun in their homes for protection, to protect themselves. But it is more likely to result in a mistaken killing or in a suicide. There are many more suicides that murders.

One of HM’s best friends was affected by this coupling. One New Year’s Eve, when HM’s friend was away from home, his son and a friend of his son were playing with a gun in the house. His friend’s son accidentally shot and killed his son. HM’s friend, who was a politician, said justice would be done. What justice could be done? His son was dead and his son’s friend had to live with this killing for the rest of his life. Justice, no. Stupidity, yes.

The Effects of Alcohol

September 26, 2019

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. Psychologists Claude Steele and Robert Josephs developed the myopia theory to explain the psychological effects of alcohol. What they mean by myopia is that alcohol’s principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental fields of vision. In other words, “it creates a state of shortsightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion. Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the thing in the background less significant. It makes short-term considerations loom large, and more cognitively demanding, longer-term considerations fade away.”

When we get drunk what happens to us is a function of the particular path the alcohol takes as it seeps through our brain tissue. The effects being in the frontal lobes that govern attention, motivation, planning, and learning. The first drink “dampens” activity in that region. We become a little dumber, and are less capable of handling competing complicated considerations. It hits the reward centers in the brain, the areas that produce euphoria, and gives them a little jolt. It affects the amygdala. One of the amygdala’s jobs is to tell us how to react to the world around us. Are we being threatened? Should we be afraid? Alcohol turns the amygdala down a notch. These effects are what produce myopia. We don’t have the brainpower to deal with more complex, long-term considerations. The pleasure of alcohol distracts us. Our neurological burglar alarm turns off. Alcohol finds its way to our cerebellum, at the very back of the brain, which is involved in balance and coordination.

Under certain very particular circumstances—if we drink a lot of alcohol very quickly—something else happens. Alcohol hits our hippocampi that are responsible for forming memories. At a blood-alcohol level of 0.08—the level threshold for intoxication—the hippocampi begin to struggle. When you wake up the morning after and remember meeting someone but cannot remember their name or the story they told you, that’s because the two shots of whiskey you drank in quick succession reached your hippocampi. The gaps get larger when you drink a little more and the gaps get larger to the point where you remember pieces of the evening but other details can be summoned only with great difficulty.

Aaron White of the National Institutes of Health is one of the world’s leading experts on blackouts. He says that there is no particular logic to what gets remembered and what doesn’t. He says, “Emotional salience doesn’t seem to have an impact on the likelihood that your hippocampus records something. What that means is you might, as a female, go to a party and might remember having a drink downstairs, but you don’t remember getting raped. But then you do remember getting the taxi.” At the next level—roughly around a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, the hippocampus simply shuts down entirely. White said, “In the true, pre blackout, there’s just nothing. Nothing to recall.”

Unfortunately, heavy drinkers today are drinking much more than heavy drinkers fifty years ago. Alcohol researcher Kim Fromme says “When you talk to today’s students they think that four or five drinks is just getting started. She says that the heavy binge-drinking category now routinely includes people who have had twenty drinks in a setting. Blackouts have become common. Aaron White surveyed a group of more than 700 students at Duke University. Over half the drinkers in this group had suffered a blackout at some point in their lives. 40% had a blackout in the previous year, and almost one in ten had had a blackout in the previous two weeks.

Unfortunately, white women, particularly, are also drinking heavily. For physiological reasons, this trend puts women at a greatly increased risk for blackouts. If an average male of average weight has eight drinks over four hours, he would end up with a blood alcohol level of 0.107. Although that’s too drunk to drive, it is still below the 0.15 level typically associated with blackouts. If a woman of average weight has eight drinks over four hours, she’s as a blood-alcohol level of 0.173. So she’s blacked out.

Date Rape

September 25, 2019

 

This post is based on content in Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcom Gladwell. Of course, whether it is rape or consensual sex depends upon what the participating parties think. The following 2015 poll of one thousand college students taken by the Washington Post/ Kaiser Family Foundations reveals the problem. Students were asked whether they thought that any of the following behaviors “establishes consent for more sexual activity”

Takes off their own clothes
Men Women
Yes 50 44
No 45 52
Depends 3 3
No Opinion 2 1

Gets a Condom
Men Women
Yes 43 38
No 51 58
Depends 4 4
No Opinion 4 1

Nods in Agreement
Men Women
Yes 58 51
No 36 44
Depends 3 3
No Opinion 3 3

Engages in foreplay such as kissing or touching
Men Women
Yes 30 15
No 66 82
Depends 3 3
No Opinion * *

Does not say “No”
Men Women
Yes 20 16
No 75 80
Depends 4 2
No Opinion 1 1

A final question was ,Please tell me if you think the situation IS sex assault, IS NOT sexual assault, or is unclear. The situation is when when both people have not given clear agreement.

Men Women
Is 42 52
Is not 7 6
Unclear 50 42
No Opinion 1 0

Apparently, what is required is a consent form signed by both parties.
Alcohol makes the problem even murkier.
The following post will discuss alcohol.

My sincere apology for the pathetic formatting. They say a poor craftsman blames his tools. Obviously, HM is the poorest of craftsmen.

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

September 24, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

As AD progresses from earlier to later stages, atrophy starts in the medial temporal lobe, extends to the parietal lobe, and finally includes the frontal lobe. The long-term memory impairment in early AD patients can be attributed to the disrupted processing in the hippocampus and parietal cortex, to regions that have been associated with this cognitive process. As the disease progresses, other cognitive processes are disrupted such as attention and language, which both depend on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

In early AD patients, as atrophy begins in the parietal cortex and the frontal cortex, there have also been reports of increases in fMRI activity within cortical regions. It is unknown whether these increases in cortical fMRI activity reflect a compensatory mechanism, which is often assumed to be the case, or reflect non-compensatory hyperactivity due to neural disruption.

In addition to brain atrophy, AD patients have abnormal high levels of proteins in different brain regions. In the medial temporal lobe, the accumulation of tau protein leads to neurofibrillary tangles. In cortical regions, such as the parietal cortex in early AD, the accumulation of amyloid-B protein leads to amyloid plaques. The neurofibrillary tangles in the medial temporal lobe and amyloid plaques in cortical regions can be assumed to disrupt neural processing in these regions.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “There is an influential hypothesis that there is a causal relationship between default network activity that leads to deposition of amyloid that results in atrophy and disrupted metabolic activity, which impairs long-term memory in AD patients. The regions in the default network are active when participants are not engaged in a task and include the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the inferior prefrontal cortex and the medial parietal cortex. In AD patients, amyloid deposition occurs in the same regions, which suggest the default network activity may lead to amyloid deposition. Dr. Slotnick suggests that perhaps higher level of amyloid deposition, which occurs in late AD patients, is necessary to produce atrophy in the frontal cortex.

Healthy memory readers should recognize the similarity between the default network and Kahneman’s System 1 processing. System 1 processing is the default network that needs to be disrupted to engage in System 2 processing, better known as thinking.

Dr. Slotnick continues, “If high amyloid deposition is a causal factor in developing AD, older adults with low levels of amyloid should be at decreased risk for developing this disease. There is some evidence that cognitive engagement and exercise throughout life may reduce the amyloid level in the brains of healthy older adults as a function of cognitive engagement (System 2 processing), and this was compared to the cortical amyloid levels . Participants rated the frequency which they engaged in cognitively demanding tasks such as reading, writing, going to the library, or playing games at five different ages (6, 12, 18, 40, and their current age). Healthy older adults with greater cognitive engagement throughout their lifetime, as measured by the average cognitive activity at the five ages, had lower levels of amyloid in default network regions. Moreover, the healthy older adults in the lowest one-third of lifetime engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to AD patients, and the healthy older adults in the highest one-third of lifetime cognitive engagement had amyloid levels that were equivalent to young adults.

It should also be noted that many have died who upon autopsy had levels of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles definitive of AD, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms characteristics of the disease. The explanation typically offered for these individuals is that they had built a cognitive reserve as a result of the mental activities they had engaged in during their lifetimes.

There is a wide variety of products sold to prevent AD, such as computer games and pills that increase short-term memory. But it should be clear from the posts on cognitive science that the entire brain is involved. That is why the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets with continual learning throughout the lifespan. These make heavy use of System 2 processing. Of course, a healthy lifestyle that includes physical exercise must also be part of the mix.

Transient Global Amnesia (TGA)

September 23, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

The criteria used to diagnose follow:
There is clear anterograde amnesia.
The attack must last no longer than 24 hours.
The individual must not have clouding of consciousness (drowsiness) and they must know their personal identity.
The attack must be witnessed by another person.
There should be no other neurological symptoms during or after the attack (problems speaking or partial paralysis).
There should be no recent history of head injury or epilepsy.

TGA patients often have retrograde amnesia for hours before the attack and have anterograde amnesia for 1 to 10 hours. They usually repeat the same questions, such as “where am I?” and “why am I here?” because they forget that they had already asked a question and received an answer. The most common events that precipitate an attack are emotional stress, physical effort, contact with hot or cold water, or sexual intercourse. TGA patients are usually middle-aged or elderly adults. Accompanying symptoms can include headache, nausea, and dizziness. After diagnosis, the course of treatment is to wait for the amnesia to resolve on its own.

Research provides compelling evidence that TGA is caused by a temporary lesion in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. This is consistent with the important role of the hippocampus in long term memory. The mechanism underlying hippocampal lesions in TGA patients remains unknown. One hypothesis is that TGA patients have blood flow problems due to vascular blockage, but TGA patients do not have greater vascular risk
factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, than healthy control participants.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “The only identified risk factor is a history of migraine headaches. As emotional or physical stress almost always triggers TGA attacks and stress can produce changes in blood flow, it may be that hippocampal CA2 lesions are due to stress-induced decreases in blood flow to this sub-region. The hippocampal CA1 sub-region may be particularly susceptible to reductions in blood flow because it is supplied by one large artery, while the other hippocampal sub-regions are supplied by one large artery and many small arteries. The temporary focal lesions in the hipocampas CA1 sub-region of TGA patients provide a unique opportunity for future collaborations between cognitive neuroscientists and neurologists to investigate the specific role of this region in long-term memory.

Mild Traumatic Brain Imagery (mTBI)

September 22, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Patients with mTBI do not have any brain abnormalities, as measured using structural neuroimaging methods such as anatomic MRI. The diagnosis of mTBI includes loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes and post-traumatic amnesia for less than 24 hours. Patients with mTBI can have attention and memory deficits, but these typically resolve within a few weeks.

The performance between mTBI patients and control participants did not differ on the memory task they were performing, but the mTBI patients had a greater extent and magnitude of fMRI activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex than control participants.

Fifteen mTBI patients with concussions due to sports-related injuries were tested 2 days, 2 weeks, and 2 months after the injury. Only one of the 15 patients still had symptoms 2 months after the injury. Consistent with the previous research, there were no differences in the performance of the memory task between the patients and the control participants, but there was greater fMRI activity in the mTBI patients than the control participants within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex at all three time points and within the parietal cortex at the first two time points. This greater fMRI activity 2 months after injury is concerning because they indicate there are differences in brain processing even after behavioral symptoms have been resolved. So there can be persistent brain disruptions even though there are no behavioral symptoms or brain abnormalities observable with anatomic neuroimaging methods.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “As mTBI patients may be more sensitive to repeated head trauma, it is arguable that they should not be allowed to continue participating in impact sports until their fMRI activity returns to normal.

There is also evidence that the magnitude of fMRI activity decreases in mTBI imagery with more severe or repeated head injuries. One working memory fMRI study had mTBI patients with more severe sports-related head injuries. These not-so-mild mTBI patients were tested 1 to 14 months after the most recent head injury. The large majority of participants had multiple previous concussions, and 15 of the 16 participants had persistent symptoms. As before, behavioral measures did not differ on the memory tasks between the mTBI patients and the control subjects. There was greater activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for the control participants than in mTBI patients, in direct opposition to the previous findings for less severe mTBI patients. Additionally, participants with greater post-concussive symptoms had a smaller magnitude and extent of firm activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during visual working memory blocks. The same pattern of fMRI results was obtained in a subsequent study that employed the identical visual working memory task and a similar group of not-so-mild mTBI participants. It is important to realized that repeated mTBI and sub-concussive head injuries ( due to boxing or football, for example) can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

There are eleven previous posts addressing chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment

September 21, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) occurs in a small but significant percentage of adults who are older than 60 years of age, with incidence increasing as a function of age. Approximately 50% of these cases will become Alzheimer’s sufferers. Individuals with aMCI have a selective impairment in long-term memory as compared to healthy age-matched control participants, and are unimpaired in other cognitive domains. There is an increasing body of evidence indicating that the long-term memory impairment in aMCI patients is due to atrophy of medial temporal lobe sub regions that is increased by a paradoxical increase in fMRI activity within the medial temporal lobe.

Structural MRI was used to compare the size of the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex in aMCI patients and control participants. aMCI patients had a smaller hippocampal value and a smaller entorhinal cortex volume in both hemispheres as compared to age-matched control participants, indicating atrophy of these regions. In addition, the white matter pathway between the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus had a smaller volume in aMCI patients than control participants, and this was the only white matter region in the entire brain that differed in volume. These results indicate that the long-term memory impairments in aMCI patients are due to isolated atrophy in the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus.

A relatively higher magnitude of fMRI activity within the CA3/DG sub-region during a pattern separation task reflects a non-compensatory change in processing related to neural disruption in aMCI patients.

Memory and Other Cognitive Processes

September 20, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Memory is involved in all cognitive processes. Neuroscience is a new emerging, field and the research into other cognitive processes is just beginning. Much further research is needed before it is ready for public consumption.

The few definitive facts on this topic appear in the Chapter Summary, which follow:

“*Visual attention increases activity in visual sensory regions and is also associated with activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex control regions.

Visual working memory is associated with the same sensory regions and control regions associated with attention, which likely reflects attention to the contents of working memory.

*Visual long-term memory is associated with the same regions associated with visual attention in addition to the medial temporal lobe, which indicates this cognitive priocess is distinct from attention.

*Imagery and working memory share the same cognitive operations and are associated with the same brain regions (i.e., the sensory cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (i.e., Broca’s area) and the left posterior superior temporal cortex (i.e., Wernicke’s area).

*Memory for emotional information is thought to be enhanced through the interaction of the amygdala and the hippocampus.”

False Memories

September 19, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

False memories often stem from memory for the general theme of previous events, called gist. The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm is commonly used to study false memory. In the DRM paradigm, lists of associated words are presented during the study phase (e.g.,”web’, ‘insect’, ‘fly’,) and then during the test phase old words, new related words (e.g., ‘spider’), and new unrelated words are presented and participants make “old” — “new” recognition judgments. Not surprisingly, participants have very high levels of false memories for new related words in these paradigms (they usually respond “old” to “spider” in the example above). It is thought that when the associated words are presented during the study phase in such paradigms, participants learn the gist of the list, and this leads to a false memory for the related item. Schacter and others have argued that remembering gist is an important feature of our memory system. Memory for gist is useful as it allows us to remember general information without getting bogged down by useless details. For example, when a person sees a friend (or an enemy) it makes more sense for them to remember the gist of that person rather than retrieve all of their previous interactions. The brain regions associated with true memory and gist-based false memories are very similar.

There are differences in brain activity between true memory and false memory. There was greater activity for true memory than false memory in more posterior early visual processing regions, including V1. These findings indicate that activity in early sensory regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory. The same pattern of visual area activity was reported in a subsequent study that used words as stimuli. So the question is if early visual regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory, why don’t participants use this information to respond “new” to related items? Slotnick and Schacter reasoned that if participants had conscious access to this information they would have used it to correctly reject new related items and, therefore, activity in early visual processing regions may reflect non consciousness. So our conscious mind remains ignorant of what our brain could tell us.

This research is important for neuroscience. However, the research on false memories in the cognitive literature is highly relevant to the law and legal issues. False memories have lead to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of too many individuals. And there is ample research showing how false memories can be implanted into our brains. The leading researcher in this area is Elizabeth Loftus. Entering “Loftus” into the search box of the healthy memory blog will locate ten posts describing her research.
This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

False memories often stem from memory for the general theme of previous events, called gist. The Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm is commonly used to study false memory. In the DRM paradigm, lists of associated words are presented during the study phase (e.g.,”web’, ‘insect’, ‘fly’,) and then during the test phase old words, new related words (e.g., ‘spider’), and new unrelated words are presented and participants make “old” — “new” recognition judgments. Not surprisingly, participants have very high levels of false memories for new related words in these paradigms (they usually respond “old” to “spider” in the example above). It is thought that when the associated words are presented during the study phase in such paradigms, participants learn the gist of the list, and this leads to a false memory for the related item. Schacter and others have argued that remembering gist is an important feature of our memory system. Memory for gist is useful as it allows us to remember general information without getting bogged down by useless details. For example, when a person sees a friend (or an enemy) it makes more sense for them to remember the gist of that person rather than retrieve all of their previous interactions. The brain regions associated with true memory and gist-based false memories are very similar.

There are differences in brain activity between true memory and false memory. There was greater activity for true memory than false memory in more posterior early visual processing regions, including V1. These findings indicate that activity in early sensory regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory. The same pattern of visual area activity was reported in a subsequent study that used words as stimuli. So the question is if early visual regions can distinguish between true memory and false memory, why don’t participants use this information to respond “new” to related items? Slotnick and Schacter reasoned that if participants had conscious access to this information they would have used it to correctly reject new related items and, therefore, activity in early visual processing regions may reflect non consciousness. So our conscious mind remains ignorant of what our brain could tell us.

This research is important for neuroscience. However, the research on false memories in the cognitive literature is highly relevant to the law and legal issues. False memories have lead to the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of too many individuals. And there is ample research showing how false memories can be implanted into our brains. The leading researcher in this area is Elizabeth Loftus. Entering “Loftus” into the search box of the healthy memory blog will locate ten posts describing her research.

Motivated Forgetting

September 18, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Like retrieval-induced forgetting, motivated forgetting refers to an active process where retrieval of an item from memory is suppressed. Unlike retrieval-induced forgetting process, motivated forgetting is an intentional process.

So the research paradigm is obvious, present lists of words where words are designated to be remembered or forgotten. But the behavioral results of such an experiment would be obvious, and many would wonder why the study was done. Participants simply ignored the words designated to be forgotten and would study the words to be remembered.

Although a simple behavioral experiment would be silly, the same experiment measuring brain regions would be informative. The first study that investigated the brain regions associated with motivated forgetting employed fMRI. During the study phase, pairs of words were presented. During the think/no think phase, the initial words of some pairs were shown in red, which meant the associated word should not be thought about. The initial words of some pairs were shown in green, which meant that the associated word should be rehearsed. The initial words of some pairs were not shown, which served as a baseline measure of memory performance. During the final recall phase, all of the initial words pairs were shown.

The percentage of associated words recalled in the no-think condition was lower than the percentage of associated words recalled in the baseline condition, which reflected motivated forgetting. The percentage of associate words recalled in the think condition was higher than baseline performance, which was expected due to additional rehearsal.

Brain activity associated with motivated forgetting was identified by contrasting non-think trials (which were assisted with subsequent forgetting) and think trials (which were not associated with subsequent forgetting). Motivated forgetting was associated with an increase in activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and a decrease of activity in the hippocampus.

A literature review has shown that motivated forgetting consistently produces an increase in activity within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and a decrease of activity within the hippocampus. In addition, motivated forgetting of visual information produces a decrease in activity within the visual sensory regions. This overall pattern of brain activity during motivated forgetting is identical to that of retrieval-induced forgetting. These findings provide convergent evidence that active forgetting, whether retrieval-based or motivated, is cause by a top-down signal within the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that inhibits the hippocampus and sensory cortical regions.

Retrieval-Induced Forgetting

September 17, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Retrieval-induced is an active process where retrieval of an item from memory inhibits the retrieval of related words. For example, if the word “banana” is recalled, the memory representation of the related word “orange,” which is also a fruit, will be inhibited to some degree. Presumably such inhibition occurs to reduce the likelihood that a similar but incorrect item will be retrieved (to avoid mistakenly saying “orange” when one intends to say “banana.”)

The paradigm used to study retrieval-induced forgetting includes an initial study phase, an intermediate retrieval practice, and a final recall phase. In one fMRI experiment, participants were presented with word pairs consisting of a category and an example of the category in the study phase. During the intermediate retrieval practice phase, participants were presented with a subset of the categories along with a two-letter word cue and were asked to mentally complete each word (during this phase, non-presented words from the same categories were inhibited). In the final recall phase, participants were presented with all of the categories and word cues corresponding to the word pairs from the study phase. Categories/words that were presented in the study phase but were not presented in the retrieval practice served as a baseline level of performance (since these words were not inhibited.) Retrieval-induced forgetting was revealed as a lower percentage of recall for words that were from the same category than the percentage of recall for words that were from a different category that were not presented during retrieval practice.

To identify brain regions associated with retrieval-induced forgetting during the final recall phase, non-presented words from the same category as those presented during retrieval practice (which were inhibited) were compared with practice words (which were not inhibited). This contrast produced activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The larger the magnitude of activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the higher the percentage of retrieval-induced forgetting. This suggests that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex actively inhibits non-presented words from the same category as words presented during retrieval practice.

Another retrieval-induced forgetting study used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to disrupt activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during the practice phase. This completely eliminated the retrieval-induced forgetting effect, indicating that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is necessary to produce this type of forgetting.

Typical Forgetting

September 16, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Usually forgetting in everyday life can be attributed to a failure to attend to information. One might not be interested in the material, distracted by a cell phone, been sleepy, or thinking about something else. Attention is key to remembering and not forgetting. If participants are asked to deeply process words, such as deciding whether each word in a study list is “pleasant” or “unpleasant,” their memory performance will be similar whether or not they knew there is a subsequent memory test. Successfully encoding information requires attention rather than the knowledge that the information will be tested at a later time.

The pattern of brain activity associated with subsequent forgetting is the same as the pattern of brain activity that is referred to as the default network. The default network consists of the regions of the brain that become active when participants are not engaged in any particular task, such as when they lay quietly with their eyes closed, passively looking at a fixation point on the screen, or waiting between experimental trials. This network of brain activity has been associated with many cognitive states, such as daydreaming, mind wandering, lapses of attention, and retrieval of personal information.

So in the real world one knows to minimize distractions and attend to information that is important. To avoid forgetting, one needs to focus attention and stay engaged. So minimize multitasking. Staying constantly plugged in guarantees superficial understanding.

Phase and Frequency of Activity Associated with Long Term Memory

September 15, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Frequency refers to the rate of change in magnitude over time. Frequencies can be low, changing slowly over time, or high, changing rapidly over time. Brain activity time courses can be considered from a frequency perspective, with lower frequencies corresponding to slower changes in signal over time, and higher frequencies corresponding to the faster changes in signal over time. Certain frequencies of brain activity have been associated with memory and have been linked to particular brain regions. Specifically, memory has been associated with brain activity that oscillates in the theta frequency band (4 to 8 Hertz), the alpha frequency band (8 to 12 Hertz) and the gamma frequency band (greater than 30 Hertz). In the fields of visual perception and visual attention, gamma activity is known to reflect binding of features that are processed in different cortical regions (such as shape and color). Gamma activity is a mechanism that underlies the perception of unified objects. Theta activity (4 to 8 Hertz) reflects the interaction the hippocampus and cortical regions have during long-term memory, and alpha activity reflects cortical inhibition.

In addition to modulation of activity within theta, alpha, and gamma frequency bands during memory, there is evidence that brain regions with different frequencies of modulation can be in phase with each other. This is called cross-frequency coupling and indicates two brain regions interact. In a long-term memory electroencephalography (EEG) study, participants viewed picture of objects during the study phase and then during the test phase were presented with old and new pictures of objects and made “remember’ “new” judgments. Subsequently remembered items as compared to subsequently forgotten items were associated with an increase in beta activity in right frontal regions, a decrease in alpha activity in anterior and posterior regions, and an increase in gamma activity in parietal and occipital regions (from 300 to 1300 milliseconds after stimulus onset). Moreover, there was greater cross-frequency coupling for subsequently remembered than subsequently forgotten items between frontal theta activity and parietal-occipital gamma activity. The identical pattern of results for theta activity and gamma activity was observed with the same experimental protocol during memory retrieval. Based on the known role of gamma activity in visual perception and attention, it can be assumed that the increase in parietal-occipital gamma activity in these studies reflected an increase in visual object processing associated with remembered items, and frontal theta activity may have modulated the gamma activity. Of special importance, the cross-frequency coupling evidence suggests that frontal regions and parietal-occipital regions interacted during long-term memory encoding and retrieval.

To summarize succinctly, theta activity reflects the interaction between the hippocampus and cortical regions during long-term memory, alpha activity reflects cortical inhibition, and gamma activity reflects process of features in different cortical regions that are combined to create a unified memory.

Superior Long Term Memory

September 14, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Perhaps the most famous research on superior memory, one that has been reported in previous healthy memory blog posts regards London taxi drivers. At one time they needed to memorize the layout of 25,000 city streets and the locations of thousands of city attractions. One study investigated whether there were differences in the size of brain regions between taxi drivers and control participants. They found that these taxi drivers had changes in the size of only their hippocampus, with a relative increase in the amount of gray matter within the posterior hippocampus and a relative decrease in the amount of gray matter within the anterior hippocampus. Moreover, the types changes in both types of hippocampal gray matter size correlated with the length of time they had been taxi drivers, which ranged from 1.5 to 52 years (with the largest changes for those who had been taxi drivers the longest).

A follow-up study compared the brain region sizes between London taxi drivers and London bus drivers, who were a better matched control in terms of driving experience, stress, and other factors. The same results were obtained, where the taxi drivers had a relatively larger posterior hippocampus and a relatively smaller anterior hippocampus than bus drivers, and this correlated with the length of time they had been driving a taxi.

Another group of people who have superior memory are those who participate in the World Memory Championships and those who are known for extraordinary memory abilities. A study compared such individuals with control participants to asses whether there were differences in cognitive abilities, differences in the size of brain regions, and differences in the magnitude of fMRI activation during memory tasks. People defined as having superior memory did not differ from control participants in the cognitive abilities tested (IQ ranges were 95 to 119 and 98 to 119, respectively) or in the size of an brain regions. The fMRI task required superior memory for a sequence of digits (a task where those whose superior memory excelled), memory for a sequence of faces, or memory for a sequence of snowflakes. Across tasks, those with superior memory had greater activation in the posterior hippocampus, the retrosplenial cortex, and the medial parietal cortex, which are regions that have been associated with long term memory. Almost all of the participants with superior memory reported using a memory strategy called the method of loci. (entering method of loci into the search block of the healthy memory blog yields 11 hits).

Another case study investigated another individual with a superior memory, who is known as PI, was able to recall the digits of pi to more than 65,000 decimal places. His performance was similar to control participants on the large majority of cognitive tasks. Not surprisingly his working memory was in the 99.9th percentile. But it is conceivable that that might be the result of the extraordinary amount of time he spent memorizing pi. His general memory was average. He was impaired on test of visual memory (3rd percentile or below).

He also reports on individuals who are considered as having highly superior autobiographical memory or HSAMers. There have been eight previous posts on HSAMers. These are people who have detailed episodic memory for every day of their later childhood and adult life. If they are given any date, they can recall the day of the week, and public events that occurred on that day of the week. In one study of HSAMers their performance was normal on most standard cognitive tasks. A comparison of different brain regions between HSAMers and control participants revealed a number of differences including greater white matter coherence in the parahippocampal gyrus, which could reflect greater contextual processing associated with episodic retrieval, and a relatively smaller anterior temporal cortex. The decrease in size of the anterior temporal cortex, which has been associated with semantic memory, may reflect the disuse of this region because those with HSAM rely more on episodic retrieval. Much more research needs to be done with this interesting group.

Sex Differences in Long Term Memory

September 13, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Males usually perform better on navigating previously learned environment. Females usually perform better on long-term memory tasks that can depend on verbal memory such as word list recognition and recall, associative memory, and autobiographical memory. Since almost all long-term memory tasks can be performed using verbal memory strategies, females generally have better behavioral performance than males. Females have larger numbers of estrogen receptors in the hippocampus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These are two of the three regions associated with long-term memory, which can increase the activity of these regions. The hippocampus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are larger in females than males, relative to overall brain size. Additionally, females have relatively larger volumes of language processing cortex, which likely contributes to their superior verbal memory.

In addition, females and males often employ different cognitive strategies and have distinct patterns of brain activity while they perform the same task. An fMRI study investigated whether there were sex differences in the hippocampus during memory for object-location associations. There were 10 female and 10 male participants. During study blocks, participants viewed a video as if they were walking through a virtual environment with five colored geometric objects. During recognition blocks, an aerial view of each object was shown in a old location or a new location. Participants responded whether each was in an “old” or “new” location. Each participant also used a four-point rating scale to describe the strategy they used to learn the object locations: (1) completely verbal, (2) more verbal than pictorial, (3) more pictorial than verbal, and (4) completely pictorial.

Although there was no difference in behavioral performance between female participants and male participants, the average strategy for female participants was 2.5 and the average strategy rating for male participants was 4.0 indicating that female participants employed more verbal memory strategies and male participants employed purely spatial/non-verbal strategies. The fMRI data indicated that activity was localized to the left hippocampus in the large majority of female participants and that activity was localize to the right hippocampus in the large majority of male participants. These results are consistent with patient studies indicating the lesions in the left medial temporal lobe impair verbal memory and lesions in the right medial temporal lobe impair visual memory.

Long Term Memory Consolidation and Sleep

September 12, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

It appears that a primary role of sleep is to integrate new memories into our vast memory store with the minimal disruption of old memories. Sleep involves rapid eye movements (REM) periods and non-REM periods that alternate every ninety minutes, with four stages of progressively deeper non-REM sleep. The first half of a night’s sleep is dominated by non-REM sleep, while the amount of REM sleep increases during the second half of the night. Non-REM stages 3 and 4, referred to as slow wave sleep, are of special relevance because these periods are important for consolidation of long-term memories. REM sleep seems to be particularly important for consolidation of implicit memories.

Slow wave sleep is associated with slow (less than 1 Hertz) waves of brain activity that are measured across the entire scalp using EEG. The slow waves orchestrate a number of brain processes that mediate the process of long-term memory consolidation. Slow waves alternate between down-states corresponding to global decreases in brain activity and upstates corresponding to global increases in brain activity. Slow waves synchronize other brain waves including thalamic-cortical sleep spindles (that oscillate at frequencies of 11-16 Hertz) and hippocampal sharp-wave ripples (that oscillate at a frequency of approximately 200 Hertz). Hippocampal sharp-wave ripples are of particular importance as they are known to coordinate the hippocampal-cortical interactions that reflect the reproduction of memories from the previous waking period. In brief, important long term memories from the previous waking period are replayed during slow wave sleep, which in turn strengthens these memories and results in consolidation. Although this mechanism for memory consolidation is based on strengthening of memory representations through repeated activations, it has been proposed that sleep may also weaken memory representation of unimportant events to provide a clean slate for next day’s events. It is interesting to note that Dr. Slotnick dedicates this book to his incredible daughter Sonya, for dominating my hippocampal sharp-wave spindles these past twelve years. This section should convince all readers that all-nighters are not only fruitless, but also counterproductive. One wants to have memories well-consolidated prior to taking an exam.

Brain Regions Associated with Long-Term Memory

September 11, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Remember to consult the website http://www.brainfacts.org/
to see the anatomical information referred to in this post.

Dr. Slotnick writes, The term episodic memory can refer to many other related forms of memory including context memory, source memory, “remembering,” recollection, and autobiographical memory, which refers to a specific type of episodic memory for detailed personal events. As the names imply context memory and source memory refer to the context in which something occurred and source memory refers to where the event occurred.

Episodic memories are related to activity in both control regions and sensory regions of the brain. Sensory cortical activity reflects the contents of memory. The control regions that mediate episodic memory include the medial temporal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the parietal cortex. There are many regions associated with episodic memory but the primary regions are the medial temporal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the parietal cortex. The parahippocampal cortex processes the context of previously presented information such as the location or the color.

The hippocampus binds item information and context information to create a detailed episodic memory. Dr. Slotnick provides the following example. “If an individual went on a vacation to Newport Beach in California and later recalled meeting a friend on the beach, that individual’s perirhinal cortex would process item information (the friend), the parahippocampal cortex would process context information (the area of the beach on which they were standing), and the hippocampus would bind this information and context information into unified memory.”

Semantic memory refers to knowledge of facts that are learned through repeated exposure over a long period of time. These facts are processed and organized in semantic memory, which provides the basis for much thought. Subjectively, semantic memory is associated with “knowing.” Semantic memory includes definitions and conceptual knowledge, and this cognitive process is linked to the field of language.

Semantic memory has been associated with the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (in a different region associated with episodic memory), the anterior temporal lobes, and sensory cortical regions. The left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex may reflect the processing of selecting a semantic memory that is stored in other cortical memories. For example, naming animals activates more lateral inferior occipital-temporal cortex that has been associated with the perception of living things, while naming tools activates more medial inferior occipital-cortex that has been associated with perception of nonliving things.

In a study of Alzheimer’s patients, the impairment in an object naming task, which depends on intact semantic memory, was more highly correlated with cortical thinning in the left anterior temporal lobe. This finding suggests that the left anterior temporal lobe is necessary for semantic memory.

During long-term memory the hippocampus binds information between different cortical regions. But long-term memory may only depend on the hippocampus for a limited time. In the standard model of memory consolidation, a long-term memory representation changes from being based on hippocampal-cortical interactions to being based on cortical-cortical interaction, which takes a period of somewhere between 1 to 10 years. A person with hippocampal damage due to a temporary lack of oxygen might have impaired long-term memory for approximately 1 year before the time of damage from retrograde amnesia and have intact long-term memories for earlier events. This suggests that the hippocampus is involved in long-term memory retrieval for approximately 1year as more remote long-term memories no longer demand on the hippocampus so they are not disrupted.

The activity in the hippocampus did not drop to zero for older semantic memories but was well above baseline for events that were 30 years old. This indicates that the hippocampus was involved in memory retrieval for this entire period. If the hippocampus was no longer involved, the magnitude of activity in this regions would have dropped to zero for remote memories.

There is a growing body of evidence that the hippocampus is involved in long-term memories throughout the lifetime. As such, the process of consolidation does not appear to result in the complete transfer from hippocampus-cortical memory representation to cortical-cortical memory representations.

Tools of Cognitive Neuroscience

September 10, 2019

The title of this post is identical to a chapter title in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The tools of cognitive neuroscience are highly technical. If the reader is interested in these techniques she should read Dr.Slotnick’s book, or look up the tools of interest in the Wikipedia.

One of the earliest techniques was positron emission tomography (PET). It required that a low level of radioactive material be injected into the participants bloodstream. This technique measured increased blood flow to the portions of the brain being activated. Fortunately a new technique that measured blood flow was found that did not require the injection of radioactive dye or any other type of material.

That technique was functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which also measured where in the brain the blood flow was increasing.

Event-related potentials (ERPs) can track brain activity in real time. ERPs directly measure neural activity and have a temporal resolution in milliseconds. Its spatial resolution is in centimeters, which is much lower than fMRI.

Electroencephalography (EEG) uses the identical data acquisition as ERPs, but refers to any measure of brain activity that corresponds to electric fields. This includes ERPs, but more commonly refers to brain activity that oscillates within a specific range of frequencies. EEG frequency analysis is a powerful alternative to the more commonly employed ERP analysis. Related to EEG, magnetoencephalography (MEG) refers to any measure of brain activity that corresponds to magnetic fields, and also typically refers to brain activity that oscillates within a specific frequency range. Like ERPs that are generated by averaging all the events of a given type from EEG data during a cognitive task, event-related fields (ERFs) are generated by averaging all the events of a given type from MEG data. The more general terms EEG and MEG also refer to ERPs and ERFs.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “fMRI is by far the most popular method in the field of cognitive neuroscience. However, brain activity is not a static set of blobs that represent a cognitive process. Rather, brain activity changes across different regions in milliseconds. Only techniques with excellent temporal resolution, such as ERPs, can track the functioning brain. This book highlights the temporal dimension of brain processing in addition to the spatial dimension of brain processing. One major advantage of temporal information is that one can use it to assess whether different brain regions are synchronously active, which indicates that these regions interact. This reflects how the brain is actually operating.”

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be used to temporarily disrupt processing in one region of the brain.

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is similar to TMS in that it temp[orarily modulates processing in a target cortical region by stimulating with a weak direct current rather than a magnetic field.

A relatively new method called transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) uses the identical setup as tDCS, but the current alternatives at a specific frequency; this, tACS can stimulate the brain at a desired frequency.

Do not let yourself be discouraged or turned off by this technical stuff, but brief explanations are needed as these are the tools used in this research. The remainder of the posts will be on memory performance and on the portions of the brain contributing to this performance.

Sensory Reactivation Hypothesis

September 9, 2019

This post is based on information in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The sensory reactivation hypothesis states that memory for an event can activate the same brain regions associated with the perception of that event. These sensory memory effects reflect the contents of memory for a visual experience containing visual information.

There is a large body of research supporting the memory sensory reactivation hypothesis. Memory for visual information, language information (sounds or words), movement information (actions, and olfactory information reactivate the corresponding regions of the brain.) Within the visual process regions, there is also evidence that memory for faces and houses activate the fusiform face area (FFA) and the parahippocampal place area (PPA), respectively.

Evidence has also accumulated that memory for specific features activate the corresponding feature processing brain region. Memory for shape activates the lateral occipital complex (LOC), memory for colors activates V8, memory for items in the left visual field or right visual field activate the extra striate cortex in the opposite/contralateral hemisphere, and memory for motion activates region MT.

The concept of mental practice is relevant here. Athletes or performers mentally rehearse the activities they will need to perform. This mental rehearsal activates the relevant brain areas and the communications that need to be made to perform these activities. And this mental practice has beneficial effects on performance.

This is good to keep in mind if the weather or other complications preclude regular practice. Idle moments can be filled with mental rehearsal to make best use of one’s time.

Similarly one can use this sensory reactivation to re-experience pleasant experiences, be it an view, vacation highlights, sporting events, enjoyable meals. One can get maximum value for one’s entertainment dollar in this manner.

Brain Anatomy

September 8, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” Brain Anatomy is a difficult topic to cover in a blog. The names can be learned and one can impress one’s friends and neighbors by reciting these names with their associated function. But the brain is a three dimensional structure and it is difficult illustrating these structures in two dimensions, especially since the position from which the brain is viewed is important. What is needed is a three dimensional model that can be rotated. Such a model can be found at http://www.brainfacts.org. Look for 3D Brain and click interact with the brain. It will likely take some practice interacting with the brain, but HM thinks this is the best source for this feature.

The brain is composed of four lobes: occipital, temporal, parietal, and frontal. Each lobe has gray matter on the surface, which primarily consists of cell bodies, and white matter below the surface, which primarily consists of cell axons that connect different cortical regions. The occipital lobe is associated with visual processing. The temporal lobe is associated with visual processing and language processing. The parietal lobe is associated with visual processing and attention, and the frontal lobe is associated with many cognitive processes. You can see that over half of the human brain is associated with visual processing. Obviously we are primarily visual animals.

The regions of the brain that are of relevance to memory include the occipital cortex, the temporal cortex, the parietal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the medial temporal lobe. The cortex is folded with gyri protruding out and sulk folding in.

The hippocampus (you can look for this using the link provided above) is a structure central to long-term memory. Its importance was realized when surgery was done on a patient, H.M., done to treat the severe epileptic seizures he was having. The medial temporal lobe, which contains the hippocampus, was removed in both hemispheres. This surgery did not affect his intelligence or personality, but it did cause a severe deficit in long-term memory referred to as amnesia. His semantic memory remained intact. He had almost no memory of events that occurred a few years before the surgery, and had no memory for events that occurred after the surgery. Ten months before the surgery he and his family moved to a new house a few blocks away from their old house. After the surgery he had no memory for his new address, he could not find his way to the new home, and he did not know where objects were kept in the new home. He had no memory of articles he had read before, so he would read the same articles repeatedly. He would eat lunch and a half-hour later could not remember he had eaten. Despite this severe deficit in long-term memory, his working memory appeared intact. He could remember a pair of words or a three-digit number for several minutes as long as he was not distracted. So a reasonable conclusion is that the hippocampus and the surrounding cortical regions are critical for long-term memory.

Dr. Slotnick writes, “Long-term memory typically refers to retrieval of previously presented information, However, the key stages of long-term memory include encoding, storage, and retrieval. The hippocampus has been associated with both long-term memory encoding and long-term memory retrieval. Long-term memory storage depends on a process called memory consolidation, which refers to changes in brain regions, including the hippocampus, underlying long-term memory. Thus, all three stages of long-term memory depend on the hippocampus.”

Sometimes people think of the hippocampus as being the location where long-term memories are stored. Memories are stored throughout the brain, it is the processing of these memories for which the hippocampus is critical.

The Role of Introspection

September 7, 2019

This post is based on an important book by Scott D. Slotnick titled “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory.” The initial research approach taken in the early days of psychology was introspection. As all humans can access their own minds, it seemed like an obvious approach, to simply record how humans are using their own minds. Reams of research were collected using this approach. But no theories or hypothesis emerged, nor were there techniques for testing hypotheses, which is central to all science. The result was a radical rejection of this subjective approach and the beginning of behaviorism, in which only observed behaviors were an appropriate source of data for psychologists.

Only recently has introspection been accepted back into rigorous psychological research. Introspection has been found useful in identifying which kind(s) of memory operated during a particular task.

The renowned psychologist Endel Tulving hypothesized that there was a distinction between “remembering” and “knowing.” Tulving recognized this distinction from his own introspections. But he did not stop there. There was research on a patient with a brain lesion who had no detailed memory of the past (he could not remember) but still could define words. Tulving designed and ran experiments to test the hypothesis that “remember” responses and “know” responses were distinct. During one experiment, words were presented during the study phase, and then during the test phase old words and new words were presented and participants made “old” and “new” recognition judgments. For old items correctly classified as “old,” participants also made a “remember” – “know” judgment and a confidence-rating judgment (ranging from 1 to 3 corresponding to low confidence, intermediate confidence, and high confidence). The probability of “remember” responses increased with increasing confidence, while the probability of “know” responses was maximal at the intermediate confidence rating.

These distinct response profiles provide behavioral evidence in support of Tulving’s hypotheses that “remembering” and “knowing” are distinct types of memory. This research is strictly cognitive psychology. However, a large body of research in cognitive neuroscience has subsequently accumulated showing that “remembering” and “knowing” are also associated with distinct regions of the brain.

Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory

September 6, 2019

The title of this post is the same as the title of an important book by Scott D. Slotnick. He writes in the preface, “The human brain and memory are two of the most complex and fascinating systems in existence. Within the last two decades, the cognitive neuroscience of memory has begun to thrive with the advent of techniques that can non-invasively measure human brain activity with spatial resolution and high temporal resolution.

Cognitive neuroscience had not been created when HM was a graduate student. The field is quite new. In cognitive psychology we studied cognitive processes, of which memory was central, but little was known about the neuroscience underlying memory.

Before getting into neuroscience it is important to understand what memory encompasses. Most people think of memory as something they need to use to pass exams, are frustrated by exam failures, and by an inability to remember names. Readers should be aware of the function of memory. Memory is a tool for time travel. We use it to help us predict and deal with the future. The more we learn, the more we have information for dealing with the future. Moreover, there are many types of memory.

The first pair of memory types is explicit memory and implicit memory. These refer to conscious memory and nonconscious memory. They differ in that all forms of explicit memory are associated with conscious experience/awareness of previously experienced memory, whereas all forms of implicit memory are associated with a lack of conscious experience/awareness of the previously experienced information.

Skills are one type of implicit of memory. After a skill is learned, performance of that skill reflects nonconscious memory. Once a person has learned to ride a bike, she doesn’t think about rotating the pedals, steering, breaking, or balancing. Rather, their conscious experience is dominated by where she wants to ride or whatever else she happens to be thinking about. Repetition priming is another type of implicit memory that refers to more efficient or fluent processing of an item when it is repeated. When a television commercial is repeated, that information is processed more efficiently (and when the item from the commercial is seen again while shopping, implicit memory presumably increases the chance that it will be purchased.) Skill learning can be assumed to be based on repetition priming.

The remaining memory types are types of explicit memory. A second pair of memory types is long-term memory and working memory. Working-memory is often referred to as short-term memory. A recognition memory experiment will be described to help make the distinction between long-term memory and working memory. During the study phase of both long-term memory and working memory, items such as words or objects are presented. After the study phase, there is a delay period that will last as a function of specific amount(s) of time. During the test phase, old items from the study phase and new items are presented, and participants make “old” or “new” judgments for each item. This is termed old-new recognition. A greater proportion of “old” responses to old items than “old” responses to new items indicates the degree of accuracy of the memories.

Long-term memory and working memory differ with regard to whether or not information is kept in mind during the delay period. Typically there are many items in the study phase and the delay period is relatively long (typically minutes to hours). Obviously participants do not actively maintain information from the study phase during the delay period. In working memory experiments, there are typically a few items in the study phase, the delay period is in seconds and participants are instructed to actively maintain information from the study phase in their mind.

Another pair of memory types is episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory consists of the memories we have of our experiences. Semantic memory refers to retrieval of, hopefully, factual memory that is learned over periods of time such as the definition of a word. Unfortunately, semantic memory also consists of misinformation and erroneous beliefs. And, unfortunately, this misinformation and erroneous beliefs can be further amplified via technology and social media.

Another pair of memory types is “remembering” and “knowing.” “Remembering” refers to the subjective mental experience of retrieving details from the previous experience, such as someone retrieving where they parked their car in a parking lot. If any details are recalled from a previous experience, this constitutes “remembering.” “Knowing” is defined by the lack of memory for details from a pervious experience, such as when someone is confident they have seen someone before but not where or when they saw them. Remembering is usually assumed to be related to context memory, as it is thought to occur whenever contextual information is retrieved. “Knowing” is typically assumed to be related to item memory and semantic memory. The last pair of memory types is recollection and familiarity. The terms recollection and familiarity can refer to mathematical models of these two kinds of memory, but more commonly refer to all the forms of detailed memory (episodic memory, context memory and “remembering”) and non-detailed memory (semantic memory, item memory, and knowing). Dr. Slotnick writes, “It may be useful to think of context memory and item memory as measures of task performance, “remembering” and “knowing” as measures of subjective experience, and recollection and familiarity as general terms that describe strong memory and weak memory, respectively.”

An Extremely Misleading Title

August 27, 2019

And that title would be “Heading off a concussion crisis” in the Sports section of the 21 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The author of this article is Roman Stubbs. The article is about Brittni Souder a soccer player who has ruined her health playing soccer. Now she is trying to help girls avoid a similar fate. No evidence is presented and there is no reason to believe that what she is teaching is of any value. That evaluation would need to take place over years to see if there is any evidence of a beneficial effect from Souder’s instructions.

There are about 300,000 adolescents who suffer concussions while participating in organized sports every year. In matched sports, girls are 12.1% more likely to suffer a concussion than boys, a 2017 study by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons found. It was also concluded that female soccer players are more likely to suffer a concussion than male football players—and three times more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury than male soccer players.

Wellington Hsu, an orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern who led the study said, “What was very surprising was that girls’ soccer was just as impactful as boys’ football. Girls who play soccer really need to be aware of these issues. These symptoms plus having a second concussion is sequentially worse than the first one.”

Former U.S. National team members Brandi Chasten and Michelle Akers announced that they would participate in a Boston University study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. No female athlete has been diagnose with CTE, which can only be confirmed through autopsy. Akers and Chasten have publicly expressed concern about memory loss since they retired from soccer.

HM thinks that any educational entity that sponsors sports that can damage the brain is hypocritical. Presumably the justification for sports is that they develop teamwork and build healthy bodies. But if the brain is damaged, this justification evaporates. Sports can be modified, or new ones developed, that preclude brain injury.

Brain Injuries of Tackle Football

August 26, 2019

This post is based on an article with a similar title by Robert C. Cantu and Mark Hyman in the Health & Science Section of the 20 August 2019 issue of the Washington Post. The authors ask that the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams post the following statement:
SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Tackle football is dangerous for children. Children who play football absorb repeated hits to the head. As adults, they’re at higher risk of suffering cognitive deficits as well as behavioral and mood problems.
The authors suggest that this warning be placed on every youth football helmet and placed in bold type on all youth tackle football registration forms. A parent or guardian wouldn’t be able to sign up their children without seeing it.

Since 2015, Boston University’s (BU) Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center has published three studies all leading to the following conclusion: Adults who played tackle football as children were more likely to deal with emotional and cognitive challenges later in life.

One study dug into the sports-playing pasts of 214 former football players. They found that starting as a player in a tackle football program before age 12 corresponded with increased odds for clinical depression, apathy and executive function problems—for example, diminished insight, judgment, and multitasking.

In another study, researchers zeroed in on the effects of head slams by comparing groups of adults who started in football before and after age 12 and who went on to develop CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to repetitive hits in sports. Those in the study who played before age 12 experienced cognitive deficits—also behavioral and mood problems—a full 13 years earlier than those starting at 12 or older. For every year younger that someone was exposed to tackle football, the start of cognitive problems occurred 2.4 years earlier.

All states have concussion laws, which acquire special attention for athletes when they suffer concussions. But concussions are not a necessary condition for cognitive and behavioral problems. In the BU studies, brain injury was not linked to concussion but to long-term exposure to repeated subconcussive hits. Long-term exposure to subconcussive hits has been associated with CTE. The problem with subconcussive hits is that they become a problem years after they occur.

Now is a good time to review the true virtue of sports. They develop teamwork and promote physical health. So, why then, do sports that injure body and mind continue? Perhaps adults might continue so they could prosper in professional sports. But why should they be allowed, much less promoted for, children.

Previous healthy memory sports have pointed up the obvious irony of playing of football in institutions devoted to learning and healthy brains. The obvious justification for continuing to play these sports is money. Some universities and colleges are nothing more than fronts for football teams that ooze money into the university. Unfortunately, there are too many alumni who care only about the success of their teams, and not the quality of education offered at their schools, nor considerations about the future brain and mental health of future alumni.

The MVP Machine

August 25, 2019

The title of this post is the first part of a title of a new book by Ben Lindburgh and Travis Sawchik. The remainder of the title is “How Baseball’s New Noncomfortists Are Using Data to Build Better Players.” Initially HM read this book purely for his own interest in baseball, and he would recommend this book to anyone interested in baseball. But HM encountered topics integral to the Healthymemory blog including fixed mindset, growth mindsets, deliberate practice, and GRIT. So this book could be regarded as applying principles in the healthy memory blog to baseball.

A good place to begin this post is with Branch Rickey. Branch Rickey is famous for recruiting the first black player into the major leagues. Rickey was the general manager of the Dodgers (then in Brooklyn). Even though this was a major breakthrough in Civil Rights, Rickey’s immediate goal was to build a contending major league baseball team. A further goal was to bring a higher quality to major league baseball. Prior to Jackie Robinson, Rickey developed a minor league system to provide polished players to major league baseball. Prior to Rickey, baseball suffered from a fixed mindset. That is, they believed that good baseball players were born and not made, and the job was to find these fellows and sign them for major league teams.

But Rickey had a growth mindset. He thought that minor league teams were needed so that new players could learn and master new skills. That was the purpose for these minor league teams. Rickey told his staff not to criticize a player’s messed up play without telling them how to correct the error.

Remember that Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has researched and developed the concept of growth mindsets. Anders Ericsson developed the concept of deliberate practice which takes place out of one’s comfort zone and requires someone to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands new-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable (enter “deliberate practice” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.)

Angela Duckworth developed the concept of GRIT, which refers to the mental toughness required to develop and master important skills. Once again there are many healthy memory blog posts so just enter GRIT is the search block as described above.

The best-selling book “Moneyball,” described how sabermetrics were being used to develop a smarter type of baseball. This new book is moving beyond sabermetrics and using data to build better players. Much of this work is dependent upon new technology used to develop new metrics to capture human performance.

If you watch baseball on television, you are likely aware of some of this technology. When a player hits a home run stats on launch angle and speed appear on the screen. Technology has also been employed for pitching. Extremely high speed cameras enable the capturing of the spin rates and spin axis of the baseball. There had been an argument among pitchers whether they consciously released the ball when they threw it. The fast speed cameras revealed that pitchers don’t release the ball by moving their fingers. Rather, the hand accelerates the ball linearly forcing the fingers to extend or open. These high speed cameras not only allow for pitchers to improve their throwing, but also allow for the creation of entirely new pitches. Using a knowledge of physics, the study of speed, spin rate, and spin axis new pitches can be theorized. Then pitchers learn how to change their throwing to produce the pitches. The effectiveness of these new pitches can be tested against a range of batters.

These technologies are allowing for marginal players to develop their skills to make or stay in the big leagues. The skills of even highly paid players deteriorate, This results in teams being stuck with high salaries for non producing players. However, the new technology provides a means of correcting and upgrading their skills. An assembly line of players at different skill levels can be developed so the they can step into active roles when needed. This is true for both pitchers and batters.

However, pitchers are at somewhat of an advantage. They produce a pitch, which might be the first time that the pitch has been thrown in a game, and batters are forced to react. So even though that batters are able to produce more home runs, new developments in pitches might reduce the total scoring. Fans need to wait and see, but they should be aware that they’re currently watching a dynamic environment.

What the authors term “soft psychology” is playing a bigger and bigger role. The mind and mindfulness have important roles in baseball. First of all, there is the battle of the batter against the catcher and pitcher. This begins with the battle of minds in terms of what the batter expects and how the pitcher can foil the batter’s expectations.

For individual players, baseball is a game of highs and lows. Batters fall into slumps. Pitchers discover that batters are starting to hit them hard, For professional players this goes beyond simple succeeding or failing, as large amounts of money can be at stake.

In spite of the conspicuous roles of individual players, baseball is a team game. Consequently, getting along with one’s teammates is extremely important. It could be said that baseball calls for mindfulness all around.

If Only, Rapt Attention and the Focused Life

August 24, 2019

Please allow HM to indulge in a fantasy. That fantasy is what the world would be like if all humans engaged in rapt attention and the focused life. The previous fifteen posts were based on a book by Winifred Gallagher titled Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. If you have not already read these posts, then it is unlikely that this current post will make much sense to you.

First, all of humanity would be enjoying fulfilling, healthy lives. We would not be reading regularly of a gunman shooting strangers, then turning the gun on himself. Whenever one of these shootings receives coverage by CNN, Wolf Blitzer says they are investigating the shooting to understand why the shooting is happening. He never finds the answer and he never will unless he reads Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. These shooters are full of anger and hatred, and it is not anything that has happened to them. Rather it is due to how they are interpreting what their life is offering to them. They feel they are being cheated. Paranoia prevails and his mind is full of thoughts of all the enemies he has and all the evils in the world. His primary mental activity is rumination where he continues these thoughts and elaborates and grows them further. He lives in his own world divorced from reality. Many of these shooters end by committing suicide, and it is only by suicide, they think, they can escape the hell of their existence. Even if they don’t die by their own hand, one thinks they think that lawmen will finish the job. Rapt attention and the focused life is the best way of precluding this anger and hatred through positive thoughts and a fulfilling life.

It is also clear that had Donald Trump been practicing rapt attention and living a focused life, then the political nightmare being experienced in the United States would not be happening. Donald Trump clearly understands those with his mindset, and this understanding makes him a genius at exploiting this mindset. His total mindset consists of false information which he conveys in his messages. The threat that immigrants pose to the United States does not exist. Russia remains an adversary to the United States, but rather than defending against this adversary he recruits it in making him President of the United States. He ignores the intelligence he receives from the best intelligence service in the world. He ignores the best science being produced in the United States and dismantles regulations needed for the environment. What is good is what makes a buck and to hell with everything else. He admires totalitarian dictators and would very much like to be one of them. He finds democracy and the branches of government hampering him. He shows complete contempt for the Constitution and to the principles upon which the United States was founded.

One driving fear white supremacists have is that white people will soon become a minority. Why do they have this fear? Do they fear that what they have done to native americans, blacks, and another non-whites will be done to them? This is unlikely. And System 2 processing along with rapt attention and the focused life, leads one to the conclusion that whites becoming a minority is not only something to be feared, but also something that will lead to a better United States.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. 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.

Meaning: Attending to What Matters Most

August 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of the last chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The author writes, “Not coincidentally, the disciplines that direct your attention to something large and awe-inspiring, whether called God or universe, consciousness or commonweal, also focus on the improvement of your self and your world and on the appreciation of life. Indeed, philosophy, religions, and psychology advance many of the same kinds of behavior that account for much of our species’ success. At the very least, focusing on values such as altruism and forgiveness that stir positive emotions expands your attentional range, whether trained on your own possibilities or others’ needs, which benefits not only you but also the community.

The following is taken from the AFTERWORD: …”I’ve come to feel that paying rapt attention is life, at least at its best.”

and

“Some of what I’ve learned about attention has very practical applications. Aware of our limited focusing capacity, I take pains to ensure that electronic media and machines aren’t in charge of mine. When I need to learn and remember certain information, do difficult work, or acquire a new skill, I shield myself from such distraction for at least ninety minutes at a stretch. If I tense up over a big decision, I remember the fortune-cookie rule: nothing is as important as I think it is when I’m focusing on it.

Confronted with a seemingly dull chore—say, the laundry—I recall James experiment with the dot on the piece of paper and do it a little differently. (One day last summer, when I decided to hang the clothes on the line outdoors instead of just sticking them in the dryer, I saw a double rainbow). When I can’t fathom something that a dear one has just said or done, I try to remember that he or she focuses on a different world, and ask for some illumination.”

Healthy: Energy Goes Where Attention Flows

August 22, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The chapter begins, “Where your physical and mental health are concerned, it’s hard to exaggerate attention’s
importance in shaping you immediate experience and seeking your long-term well being. Strengthening your ability to direct your focus away from negative ideas and events when such cognition serves no purpose and to reframe setbacks as challenges or even opportunities helps you handle stress and approach life as a creation rather than a reaction.”

Research shows that the depressed routinely focus on the negative thoughts and feelings guaranteed to make them feel hopeless and helpless—the cognitive and emotional ingredients of the blues. Even when asleep, the melancholy tend to focus on futility. The prevalence of this bleak mind-set among the depressed—about 10% of Americans in the course of their lifetimes leads one to believe this nourish “selective abstraction” is a crucial element of this disorder. These individuals focus on whatever experiences they had, to the exclusion of positive ones or the larger context. Even when looking back into the past, they tend to recall negative events.

But to succeed in the rough-and-tumble game of life you can’t afford to focus on the dark side. In order to keep going up to bat, you have to believe, that if you press, sooner or later you’ll hit the ball. It’s hard to keep swinging if you’re convinced you’ll strike out.

The correction of chronically misdirected attention is a public health issue. Depression costs the American economy about $44 billion a year in lost productivity due to affected employees’ reduced ability to concentrate, remember, and make decisions. Maladaptive patterns of attention aren’t limited to depression but obtain across the spectrum of behavioral disorders. Just as the melancholy focus on negative information, the anxious and paranoid home in on the threatening sort. Some troubled individuals selectively attend to negative physical rather than psychological cues. Victims of panic disorder fixate on medical catastrophe, hypochondriacs on bodily symptoms, and insomniacs on the consequence of insufficient sleep. As with depression, effective cognitive-behavioral treatments for these disorders aim to correct the distorted attention patterns that underlie them.

The theorist Beck notes that William James would be pleased with cognitive therapy for several reasons. First, he says “because it emphasized consciousness, which provides many of the clues to understanding psychiatric disorders as well as normal psychology. Secondly, cognitive therapy is pragmatic, and James was a pragmatist.’ The truth is what works.

Medical treatments that harness attention are not limited to mental health. The ability to control attention and channel it in affirmative directions can improve longevity was evident in an intensive study of the School Sisters of Notre Dame born before 1917. Researchers found that 9 out of 10 nuns from the quarter of the group who focused most on upbeat thought, feelings, and events lived past the age of 58, but only 1 in 3 of the population’s least positively minded quarter survived that long.

The work of Kabat-Zinn is discussed, but as his work has been reviewed in prior posts, it will not be presented again here. This work can be found by entering “Kabat-Zinn” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com. Meditation and mindfulness can greatly assist in focusing on positive thoughts, an there is an enormous number of healtymemory posts on these topics.

In closing it needs to be noted that not just anxiety and depression, but also cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction can be bound up with what we focus on and how. The chapter concludes, “Learning to shift your attention away from unhelpful thoughts and emotions and recast negative events in the most productive light possible is one of the most important of all “health habits” to cultivate. The recognition of the role played by skewed attentional patterns in mental disorders is one of modern psychiatry’s greatest advances. As research blurs the distinction between many mind and body problems, increasing numbers of people who suffer from hypertension, infertility, and psoriasis as well as from stress add a regimen of paying rapt attention to their medical treatment, which at the very least increases the feeling of control over one’s own experience that’s essential to well-being.”

Motivation: Eyes on the Prize

August 21, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. When you decide to lose weight we experience an interaction between attention and motivation. The term motivation comes from the Latin movere, meaning “to move.” Depending on our motivation, we may decide to wolf down a piece of pie or stick to a new low-carb diet. Once we choose our goal, our focus narrows, so that the pie a la mode or fitting into our jeans again dominates our mental landscape. Addiction is the most dramatic example when the motivation to get high restricts attention to the point that the drug seems like the most important thing in the world.

A Northwester University neuroscientist, Marsel Mesulam scanned the brains of research participants while they looked at images of tools and edibles after they had fasted for eight hours. Later, after feasting on their favorite goodies until full, they went back under the scanner to inspect the pictures again. When the twists of scans were compared, it was clear that the amygdala, a brain structure one of whose functions include gauging whether something is desirable or not, reacted more strongly to the images of foods when the subjects were hungry, but not to those of the tools. So depending on your motivation, a certain part of your brain can respond to the same visual experience in vastly different ways.

Obesity epidemics provide stunning illustrations of what can happen when motivation and attention become disconnected from daily behavior in general and each other in particular. Reasonable people would say that their nutritional goal is to stay healthy and eat right, many simply don’t focus on their food and how much they actually consume. In Mindless Eating, Cornell marketing and nutritional scientist Brian Lansink offers numerous examples of how this lack of focusing helps pile on the pounds. As if still motivated by childhood’s Clean Plate Award, moviegoers will gobble 53% more nasty, stale popcorn if it’s presented in a big bucket than they would if given a small one. A third of diners can’t remember how much bread they just ate. People who stack up their chicken-wing bones at the table will eat 28% fewer han those who clear the evidence away. We’ll snack on many more M&Ms if they’re arrayed in ten colors rather than seven. We consume 35% more food when dining with a friend—and 50% more with a big group—than when alone. Considering these statistics, it’s not surprising that simply by paying attention to your food and eating it slowly, you can cut 67 calories from each dinner and seven pounds in a year.

To reinforce the link between motivation and attention Gail Posner suggests “mindful eating.” Mindful eating involves focusing on our food—on its smell, taste, and feel—which lets your brain know that you will soon feel full and satisfied. The toughest dieting problem is the overeating that’s motivated by using food to fill an emotional hole caused by frustration, anger, or sadness. To focus on what’s really driving your desire to eat, Posner suggests placing your hands where you’re hungry. If you put them on your head, she says that your upset about something; on your mouth, you just want to taste something; on your stomach, you’re actually running on empty.
Duckworth’s important research on grit and motivation is discussed. But since there are at least a half dozen posts on this topic, it will not be discussed further here. Go to the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com to find these posts.

According to William James the idea of cultivating willpower is “the art of replacing one habit for another.” The author adds, “Through most of history, gluttony, concupiscence, drunkenness and sloth were regarded as vices rather than sicknesses, and replacing them with temperance, chastity, sobriety, and enterprise required an act of the will.

Disordered Attention

August 20, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. There is a glaring need for more information about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One major discovery—that ADHD isn’t a single problem that springs from a single cause is itself an important, hard-won advance. For ten years while at the NIMH, Castellanos and a multidisciplinary team intensively studied 150 children with attention problems who were enrolled in a special school set up just for them. Castellans said, “We really, really knew this kids from the results of their spinal taps and blood tests to their psychological profiles. The big thing he learned was that almost none of the kids were like any others. It was almost as if there were a hundred and fifty types of ADHD.

The chapter notes, “Just as ‘epilepsy’ turned out to be perhaps two hundred different seizure disorders, ADHD is an umbrella term for a variety of problems that have some symptoms in common. As they did for epilepsy, new tools such as fMRI are helping identify certain broad categories of attention difficulties, which is the first step toward developing appropriate treatments for each.”

ADHD usually involves a collaboration between nature and nurture. That it’s six times likelier to affect children who have been sexually abused offers tragic proof that experience can cause the disorder. Schools as well as troubled homes can fuel attention problems. The “perceptual load” theory say that you’ll experience more distractions when your task is not very engaging. This is a circumstance that often obtains even in an average, much less subpar classroom. Castellans says, “As long as a child has the full attention of an adult, he has no attention issues.” Unfortunately, there are not enough adults to go around.

That genes often play a role in ADHD is clear from the fact that one obvious risk factor is maleness. (Girls who have the disorder are not only far fewer in number but also rarely as hyperactive and disruptive as the boys; their poor concentration at school is often overlooked or ascribed to daydreaming or “Not trying hard enough.”) About 25% of the biological parents of diagnosed kids are affected, compared with 4% of the adoptive parents.

Genes that influence not just attention but also a child’s activity level, impulsiveness, and other traits may contribute to ADHD. So a certain student may have trouble focusing on math or Spanish less because of some cognitive deficit than from a thrill-seeking temperamental inclination to tune out what bores him and look for real action.

Dopamine’s role in the brain’s reward circuitry may explain why individuals who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD are also likelier than others to smoke, drink, and use drugs. Combined with an attention problem, this tendency toward substance abuse might indicate that they’re perhaps motivated less by the desire to “get high” in a recreational sense than by the wish to feel and function better—to feel “okay” or “normal,” if only temporarily.

Castellanos notes that many kids who have trouble paying attention in school, perform well on athletic fields or when hunkered over a computer game. This apparent inconsistency reflects that fact that Homo sapiens evolved both the genetic variations that’s associated with ADHD and the variation that protects against it. In our sedentary school-and-office culture, the tendency to shift focus rapidly and to act first and ask questions later is regarded as a problem. Yet that behavior has persisted in the population because it’s a real advantage in certain situations, from NASCAR races to war zones to the floor of the Stock Exchange. On the savannah, where we evolved, someone who focused too long and hard on a particular bird, flower, or thought could end up as a predator’s dinner.

Summing up the state-of-the-art knowledge about ADHD, Castellans says, “We’re part of the way into the problem. We know a great deal more than ten years ago but are just starting to step on solid ground in terms of understanding the underlying mechanisms. There will be new, very different drugs and treatments. I’m hugely optimistic, but we have to hurry up, because people are waiting.

Focus Interruptus

August 19, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life.” William James described two common attentional styles. He pictured the mind as an archer’s target. Some people naturally focus on the bull’s eye, “sink into a subject of meditation deeply, and, when interrupted, are “lost” for a moment before they come back to the outer world. For others, however, the target’s outer rings are “filled with something like a meteoric showers of images” that flare at random, distracting attention from the bull’s eye and carrying thoughts in various directions. Such persons “find their attention wandering every minute, and must bring it back by a voluntary pull. It sounds as if James is describing two different attentional styles that vary among individuals. It is more likely that all of us can and do display both styles, but different individuals might illustrate a preponderance of one style over the other.

James did make clear that neither the “bulls-eye” nor “meteoric” mode of using attention is necessarily good or bad per se” “Some of the most efficient workers I know are of the ultra-scatterbrained type.” The reason, he says, is that a person’s total “mental efficiency” derives from the combination of his faculties, the most important of which is not attention, but “the strength of his desire and passion.” Compared to a more naturally focused but less motivated person, the individual who really cares for a subject “will return to it incessantly from his incessant wanderings, and first and last do more with it, and get more results from it.”

In a typical scenario, the brain’s executive cortex first bears down on the the problem with all of its double-barreled top-down concentration, advancing as far as cognitive processes can. Then you get tired or fed up, shove back your chair, say to yourself, “Enough of that!” When you head to the cafeteria or gym and start paying attention to something else, non consciousness parts of your mind slow-cook your earlier insights into the problem and supply associations. Walking to work, you see the whole solution and the problem is solved.

Consider how the preceding paragraph corresponds to the metaphor of a corporation for your mind. You and your conscious attention work in the executive suite. But when you leave for lunch your cognitive agents on the lower floors continue working. They solve the problem during lunch and present the solution when you return from lunch.

There have been so many posts on the dangers of multi-tasking and on social media, no further discussion will be done here with the exception of research done by UCLA psychologists. Using fMRI imaging they found that when you focus on a demanding task, your brain’s hippocampus, which you should know from previous posts is critical to memory storage and retrieval, is in charge. However, if you try to work while distracted by instant messaging or something similar, the striatum, which is involved in rote activities, takes over. Consequently, even if you manage to get the job done, your recollection of it will be more fragmented, less adaptable, and harder to retrieve than it would be if you had given it your undivided attention.
So how to improve your capacity to pay attention? The best and easiest way is to have an interesting topic. But if the content is dull and not interesting, James urges us to enliven dull work with “frequent recapitulations, illustrations, examples, novelty of order, and ruptures of routine,” When you write a report or the like, James recommends if the topic be inhuman, make it figure as a part of a story. If it be difficult, couple its acquisition with some prospect of personal gain. Above all things, make sure that it shall run through certain inner changes, since no unvarying object can possibly hold the mental field for long.”

University of Oregon psychologists Michael Posner and Mary Rothbart have shown that special exercises can markedly increase the capacity for executive attention, thus improving memory, self-regulation, and the ability to plan and reason. One would hope such material would be available.

Meditation is designed to better control our executive processes, those in the Executive Suite of your corporation. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com for many posts on this important topic.

Creativity: An Eye for Detail

August 18, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Winifred Gallagher titled “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life. The founder of American psychology William James provides this simple experiment on how to improve your ability to pay attention. First, make a dot on a piece of paper or a wall, then try to stay focused on it. In short order, your mind will wander. Next, start asking yourself questions about the dot: its size, shape, color, and so on. Make associations with it: its existential pathos, perhaps, or the dot as yang to the paper’s yin. Once you’re engaged in such elaboration, you’ll find that you can focus on the negligible mark for quite a while. Observing that this ability to attend to and develop even the humblest subject is a cornerstone of creativity, James says. “This is what the genius does, in whose hands a given topic coruscates and grows.”

On the more immediate level, creativity also involves focusing on you target that turns a spark of inspiration into a burst of fireworks. In a fortuitous circular dynamic, whenever you engage in a creative activity, you boost your level of positive emotion, which in turn literally widens your attentional range, giving you more material to work with. James says, the generative mind is “full of copious and original associations,” so that attending to the germ of an idea soon leads to “all sorts of fascinating consequences.”

The Johns Hopkins Hospital ear, nose, and throat specialist Charles Lamb is also an amateur jazz saxophonist. He asked six pianists to play a keyboard while undergoing fMRI scanning. When they improvised on their own, which is keystone of all kinds of creativity, the musicians’ brains went into a “dissociated frontal activity state, a.k.a.”being in the zone.” Neurological activity associated with self-monitoring and inhibition decreased, which increased their ability to process new stimuli and ideas. When they played a standard tune, however, the musicians brains didn’t respond in this way. Lamb suspects that other forms of improvisation, even conversation, involve the same type of brain activity as playing jazz, and plans to investigate the possibility with subjects who aren’t artists.

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer says that the term mindfulness wouldn’t be necessary if most people didn’t have an impoverished, static understanding of what “paying attention” means. She has asked children and instructors in very different kinds of schools a simple by telling question: “What does it mean when a teacher asks students to pay attention, focus, concentrate on something?” Invariably, the answer is something like “To hold that thing still.” In other words, most people think of attention as a kind of mental camera that you keep regally, narrowly focused on a particular subject or object. This realization led Langer to two important conclusions: “When students have trouble paying attention, they’re doing what their teachers say they should do. The problem is it’s the wrong instruction.”

In contrast to this fixed, tunnel-vision mode of focusing, the creative, mindful attention described in James’s dot exercise is an active probing exploration of a target that becomes more interesting as you search for new facets to consider. Mindful attention helps you work more efficiently and creatively, and also makes life more fun.

The tyranny of evaluation can be a major road block on the intertwined paths of mindful attention and creativity. Instead of focusing on the creative activity you can get sandbagged by the fears that the result might not be perfect or appreciated. Flaws and mistakes are neither bad nor good, but “just things you do.” Because it also focuses on assessment rather than experience, praise is as bad as blame.

The concluding sentence in this chapter is, “When you pay rapt attention, your spirits lift, expanding your cognitive range and creative potential, and perhaps even poising you for that personal renaissance.