This explanation depends upon understanding Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition. This theory was expanded upon in Kahneman’s best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” System 1 is fast and is called intuition. System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday. System 1 is also the seat of our emotions. System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking. System 2 requires mental effort and requires our attentional processes. Stanovich has elaborated System 2 in the development of a more comprehensive intelligence quotient. But for our purposes, this discussion includes Stanovich’s concept as it involves even more thinking and attentional processes.
System 1 is fast because it uses defaults to expedite processing with minimal cognitive resources. Whenever we read or hear something that corresponds to our beliefs or expectations only System 1 is involved. However, one of the responsibilities of System 2 is to monitor System 1 processes to check for erroneous processing. Whenever we hear or read something that does not correspond to our beliefs, there is an identifiable response in the brain, which signals the initiation of System 2 processes. System 2 can decide to curtail further processing and to move on, or to engage in a more thorough process of memory search, checking for logical contradictions, and so on. All of this is thinking and requires cognitive effort.
Similarly when we are learning new information or a skill, System 2 is engaged. This is why learning can be frustrating and demanding. System 2 stays engaged until learning begins and then gradually disengages until it becomes an almost automatic System 1 process. This learning is a matter of engaging different parts of the brain, establishing new neural pathways. It is also likely that old neural pathways are reactivated.
So System 2 processing establishes new neural pathways and reactivates related previous neural pathways. So regardless of what happens with respect to amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles, the brain remains healthy and our memories remain healthy and continue to grow.
This explains the cognitive reserve, which is the explanation of why there are individuals whose brains are filled with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles but who never exhibit any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms. Cognitive activity keeps the necessary pathways open and continues to find new ones.
However, absent sufficient activity the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles gradually destroy the brains ability to function.
The reason the healthy memory blog recommends growth mindsets is to promote this cognitive activity. This quote by the humorist Art Buchwald is appropriate here.
“To remain mentally sharp, you have to deal with familiar things in novel ways. But most important of all, you have to have a sense of curiosity. If interest and curiosity stop coming automatically to you, then you’re in trouble, no matter how young or old you are.”
The healthy memory blog also strongly recommends meditation and mindfulness. There are two reasons for this recommendation. One is to promote emotional control and affective communications with others. The second reason is to increase our focus and to gain control over our attention. Our minds rarely stop. Meditation helps us gain control of our attention.
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