Posts Tagged ‘Tools of the MInd’

Boosting Control

September 23, 2017

Boosting Control is the penultimate chapter in The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World” by Drs. Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen. It begins with this quote from the father of American psychology, William James: “And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

Gazzaley and Rosen begin by discussing traditional education. They note that the most widely implemented approach is the current system of didactic classroom instruction delivered by a teacher lecturing to a group of students. They write, “Although this long-established, globally adopted, traditional education system varies in its details by geography and historic time period, a common feature is the emphasis on rote memorization via formalized and structured lessons follow by assessments of attained knowledge using formalized testing.“ They note that there seems to be a tension between this traditional model that has largely focused on the delivery of information content and the goal of developing core information-processing abilities of the brain. They do not believe that the objectives of an education system should be directed solely at the transfer of content to young minds. They argue that it is also critical that developing minds build strong cognitive control abilities that allow them to engage flexibly in dynamic and challenging environments. They state that even alternative educational systems that aim to foster real world outcomes may not be developing cognitive control capabilities. There is convincing evidence that superior cognitive control is associated with successful academic performance, but that little is known about whether traditional education actually builds the fundamental information-processing abilities of our brains that underlie cognitive control. They raise the question of whether traditional education is truly an effective form of cognitive enhancement that has the power minimize our control limitations. Put simply, does the current education system help the young Distracted Mind?

The authors point to the Tools of the Mind program developed by psychologists Elana Bodrova and Deborah Leong. It is based on theories and insights into how a system of activities can be designed to boost cognitive control. More details can be found at
The authors also see the need to think increasingly about education as a lifelong process; we have the potential to enhance our cognitive control at any age. “Educational programs across the lifespan directed at boosting and maintaining cognitive control should be the rule, not the exception.” Healthy memory blog readers should recognize this as being in step with the philosophy of the healthy memory blog.

In the section on meditation the authors write, “Accumulating evidence convinces us that there is a strong signal that meditation engineers improvements in cognitive control, and of course there are many reasons beyond improvements in cognitive control, and of course theater are many reasons beyond that encourage us to recommend engagement in mindfulness practices. They caveat this by stating that many studies have methodological limitations. These methodological limitations and the reasons for not being concerned about them were discussed in the immediately preceding post, “The Somewhat Tarnished Gold Standard.” HM believes that meditation is the best means of increasing attentional and cognitive control. Enter “relaxation response” into the search block of the healthy memory blog to learn more about meditation and the benefits of meditation.

There is a section on cognitive exercise (brain games). On the whole, this review is quite favorable. Different games are effective to differential degrees so it is helpful to do some research on specific games. However, HM warns against using these as a prevention to dementia. Although they might help, memory health is a matter of a commitment to cognitive growth, a healthy lifestyle, and meditation. The same point can be made with respect to video games. They can be helpful, but they do not provide a 100% solution.

There are obvious activities that should not be overlooked. There is a theory that contends that interactions with nature can be beneficial. This theory is called attention restoration theory (ART). In 2007, thirty-eight University of Michigan students, armed with a map and tracked by GPS, tool a one-hour walk through either a tree-lined arboretum or a traffic-heady urban center. Before and after these walks they performed a working memory test. A 2008 paper described a significant improvement in their working memory performance after the nature walk, but not after the urban walk. Similar beneficial effects of nature exposure have been shown to occur in children with ADHD and young adults with depression, and amazingly even in response to just viewing nature pictures. In this context, readers might want to review the healthy memory blog post “Awe.”

There is also much data documenting the benefits of physical exercise. This does increase oxygen to the brain, which is definitely beneficial. However, HM also recommends mental exercise that is accomplished by invoking System 2 processing through lifelong learning, meditation, and other activities that have been reviewed.

The authors also review neurofeedback. HM argues that these same benefits and more can be achieved through meditation absent the neurofeedback hookups.

There is a category of healthy memory posts titled Mnemonic Techniques. These are specific techniques for improving memory. Additionally they provide a means of cognitive exercise that enhances memory health. Try some of them. You also should read “Moonwalking with Einstein” to learn what can be accomplished using these techniques.

It is unlikely that there will ever be a cure or preventative vaccine for Alzheimer’s or dementia (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimers). However, following the activities in the healthy memory blog could well increase the likelihood that you will die without experiencing any of the physical or cognitive symptom’s even if you die with the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque that are the defining feature of the disease.

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