BrainShift

Under the right circumstances, a subconscious neurobiological sequence in our brains causes us to perceive the world around us in ways that contradict objective reality, distorting what we see and hear. This powerful shift in perception is unrelated to our intelligence, morals, or past behaviors. In fact, we don’t even know it’s happening, nor can we control it. 

(We) found that it happens in two distinct situations: those involving high anxiety and those associated with major reward. 

Under these conditions, all of us would do something just as regrettable as the headline-grabbing stories above, contrary to what we tell ourselves. Phrased differently, we don’t consciously decide to act a fool. Rather, once our perception is distorted, we act in ways that seem reasonable to us but foolish to observers.

Robert Pearl writing in Vox

Walking a Tightrope

“We like to think that maturation is based a lot on experience, but even in adolescence we also have to recognize that learning may not count as much so much until the underlying brain structures are in place,” Peter Jensen, a former head of child and adolescent research at the National Institutes of Mental Health says.

While waiting for those structures to develop- and perhaps helping them get set up right in the first place- Jensen says parents of teenagers often have to “walk a tightrope.” On the one hand, they have to respect and encourage their teenagers’ need for autonomy because, in adolescence, “that’s where the action is.” But sometimes they also need to step in, offer a road map, and help those teenagers point their size ten feet down the right path.

To do that effectively, he says, parents might take tips from some of the ways psychiatrists, through the years, have found to deal with teenagers. Parents, says Jensen, might try acting a bit like the psychiatrist played by Judd Hirsch in the movie Ordinary People, talking through possibilities and options. They have to function like a surrogate set of frontal lobes, as “auxiliary problem solver.”

“With little kids you can tell them what the best thing to do is and then offer them a reward.. But with tennagers that’s not often a productive approach. If you just flat out tell a teenager what to do, you can lose that kid. You have to cut them some slack, but you can’t just leave them there, you also have to to help them figure out things themselves. You can say, ‘What do you think the consequences will be if you act a certain way?’ for instance, or ‘What will happen if you are rejected by your peers if you reject drugs?”

Barbara Strauch, The Primal Teen

Diversity’s connection to Creativity

When people are exposed to a more diverse group of people, their brains are forced to process complex and unexpected information. The more people do this, the better they become at producing complex and unexpected information themselves. This trains us to look more readily look beyond the obvious - precisely the hallmark of creative thinking. 

Researchers have also found that creating and enjoying the arts can help us see things from a new perspective, by putting ourselves in a character's shoes. They can also create a feeling of connectedness and general kindness.

Opening ourselves to new experiences can seem hard to do, but it can help us cross divides and nurture new and inclusive friendships.

Julie Van de Vyver & Richard Crisp writing in BBC News 

inhibition

John Mazziotta pulled out a neurology textbook with pictures of a woman kneeling and praying next to a man who was also kneeling and praying. The woman, Mazziotta explained, had suffered brain damage and could no longer inhibit certain actions. She had not the slightest interest in kneeling and praying at that moment, but she could not stop herself from doing what brains want to do, imitate the action they see, like a monkey behind the glass at a zoo, making faces back at you.

Another thing to remember, Mazziotta said, is that many of the brain’s systems are running all the time. “Think of an airplane,” said Mazziotta. “Most people think that when it lands it has its engines on low and it’s just floating in. But that’s not always so; in landing, an airplane often has to be at full throttle in case it has to react quickly if something happens.” The brain, too he says, is set up to be whirring all the time. Even when we think of it as resting, its neurons are often firing at a low level, ready and waiting, so it can react in time before, for instance, it’s eaten by a bigger, quicker brain.

The brain is working constantly, and one of the tasks it works at is to inhibit itself from a variety of actions. It is striving to resist the urge to raise the coffee cup like the guy across the table, and striving not to do a number of things that might not be in its best interest. As the brain develops- in children and, science is now learning, in teenagers- it is this very inhibition machinery that is being fine-tuned.

“Development,” says Mazziotta, "is progressive inhibition.”

Barbara Strauch, The Primal Teen

Our Brian Tricks Us

The futures we imagine contain some details that our brains invented and lack some details that our brains ignored. The problem is that our brains fill in and leave out. God help us if they didn’t.

No, the problem is that they do this so well that we aren’t aware it is happening. As such, we tend to accept the brain’s products uncritically and expect the future to unfold with the details—and with only the details—that the brain has imagined. One of imagination’s shortcomings, then, is that it takes liberties without telling us it has done so.

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

a Self-fertilizing Garden

Psychologist Joyce Shaffer tells the story of a man unable to talk or walk following a stroke. Two years later, he was hiking and teaching thanks to intense physical therapy. When the man died a few years later, an autopsy showed a large area of his brain had been destroyed by the stroke. Yet he had regained the ability to be active and productive.

Schaffer’s explanation: “Moment by moment you create your brain. It is plastic. It can change for better or worse depending on lifestyle choices.. Without challenge, your brain retires. (But) with lifestyle choices a person can turn their brain into a "self-fertilizing garden.”

Stephen Goforth

Imagineering

A child responds to the game of kissing away a hurt or throwing away a fear. This simple process works for the child because in his mind he believes that that is actually the end of it. The dramatic act is a fact for him and so it proves to be the end of the matter.

Imagination is a source of fear, but imagination may also be the cure of fear. “Imagineering” is the use of mental images to build factual results, and it is an astonishingly effective procedure. Visualize your fears being drained out of your mind and the visualization will in due course be actualized. Imagine yourself as reaching into your mind and one by one removing your worries.

However, it is not enough to empty the mind, for the mind will not long remain empty. It must be occupied by something. It cannot continue in a stat of vacuum. Therefore, upon emptying the mind, practice refilling it. Fill it with thought of faith, hope, courage, expectancy.

A half-dozen times each day crowd your mind with such thoughts as those until the mind is overflowing with them. In due course these thoughts of faith will crowd out worry. Day by day, as you fill your mind with faith, there will ultimately be no room left for fear.

Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking

Prone to distortions

"By asking someone to repeat a story over and over again, essentially you start to see the story unravel," criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown explained in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning.

Those who say they have lived through trauma, however, are sometimes unable to articulate a coherent narrative owing to the brain's tendency to zero-in on only the most essential elements of what happened.

In general, our episodic memories are "prone to distortions" because they are, in essence, a "reconstruction" of events assembled from building blocks stored throughout the brain. The more we recall any single thing, the greater the chance becomes that we'll remove, or even insert, a block that's not supposed to be there.

A variety of influences can increase the probability that a recollection will contain erroneous bits. Decades of research by renowned American cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, for example, has shown that simple, well-crafted linguistic prompts can easily lead someone to unknowingly insert or omit false details into the retelling of a story.

That's not to say all memories contain inaccuracies. In fact, generally speaking, the human brain does an extraordinary job of encoding countless experiences every day.

But it would be too overwhelming to retain all of the information we take in throughout our lives. Research suggests that while we sleep, our brains whittle down experiences — not just traumatic ones — into their most useful parts to make more room, like freeing-up space on a hard drive.

More than a dozen universities participated in a survey that asked 2,100 Americans from across the U.S. about their memories of Sept. 11, one, three and 10 years after the attacks. When all was said and done, 40 per cent of participants told stories notably different than the one that emerged from their original answers. Interestingly as time passed, those whose answers changed significantly did not become less confident about the accuracy of their stories. The study is part of a huge body of evidence pointing to the reality that memory is malleable, vulnerable to the curious nature of our own neurobiology.

That doesn't mean we should be distrust it, says Simons, but rather, we should appreciate its limits.

Lucas Powers writing for CBC News

 

the active brain

Being a bookworm, jotting down your thoughts and completing other tasks that keep your brain active may help you stay sharp in your later years.

A study published on July 3, 2013 in the journal Neurology revealed that reading, writing, and doing other mentally-stimulating activities at every age helped stave off memory problems.

"Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person's lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age," study author Robert S. Wilson said in a press release. Wilson is senior neuropsychologist of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Study participants who reported the most reading and writing later in life were able to slow their memory decline by 32 percent compared to people with average mental activity. Those who reported the lowest mental stimulation in their later years had a 48 percent faster memory decline compared to the average.

Read more from the BBC here

Brain damaged decision-making

We humans make all the same mistakes, over and over again. It's how we are wired.. To neurophysiologists, who research cognitive functions, the emotionally driven appear to suffer from cognitive deficits that mimic certain types of brain injuries. Not just partisan political junkies, but ardent sports fans, the devout, even hobbyists. Anyone with an intense emotional interest in a subject loses the ability to observe it objectively: You selectively perceive events. You ignore data and facts that disagree with your main philosophy. Even your memory works to fool you, as you selectively retain what you believe in, and subtly mask any memories that might conflict.

Barry Ritholtz writing in the Washington Post

Digital Distractions

Our brains are designed to pick up on what’s new or changing around us. In the digital world, things are changing and being posted every few seconds. News sites and social media are also – and purposefully – designed in an easily digestible way that draws us in. It’s no wonder so many of us have butterfly brains.

A well functioning brain should wander every few minutes. It makes us more creative and stops our brain from burning out. So don’t resist it. However, the mistake many of us are now making is when we take a break from ‘work information’ we replace it with an endless stream of information from social media or the news or whatever else is online. Digital breaks don’t have an end point – you can spend hours flitting around and then you feel overloaded. Or you can stay up late, mindlessly browsing, even when you’re exhausted.

Think about it. If you click on a news story about a war that’s heartbreaking, then a political leader you feel frustrated by, then a social media photo that makes you feel inadequate, no wonder you feel spent and stressed.

Josh Davis, director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute in New York and author of new book Two Awesome Hours, quoted in the Telegraph

the information riot

The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it. There’s the problem of hypertext and the many different kinds of media coming at us simultaneously. Every time we shift our attention, the brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources. Many studies have shown that switching between just two tasks can add substantially to our cognitive load, impeding our thinking and increasing the likelihood that we’ll overlook or misinterpret important information.

On the Internet, where we generally juggle several tasks, the switching costs pile ever higher. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the fragmentation of our attention, and the thinning of our thoughts in return for the wealth of compelling, or at least diverting, information we receive.

Nicholas Carr
The Shallows

Skimming skills and thinking deeply

Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in moving information from working memory into long-term memory. On the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from tap to tap. We transfer only a small jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream. When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to process and store it, we’re unable to retain the information or to draw connections with other memories.

The ability to scan and browse is as important as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. The problem is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Once a means to an end, a way to identify information for further study, it’s becoming an end in itself—our preferred method of both learning and analysis. Dazzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture.

We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.

Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

The incessant demands of the inbox

Before email, if you wanted to write to someone, you had to invest some effort in it. You’d sit down with pen and paper, or at a typewriter, and carefully compose a message. There wasn’t anything about the medium that lent itself to dashing off quick notes without giving them much thought, partly because of the ritual involved, and the time it took to write a note, find and address an envelope, add postage, and take the letter to a mailbox. Because the very act of writing a note or letter to someone took this many steps, and was spread out over time, we didn’t go to the trouble unless we had something important to say. Because of email’s immediacy, most of us give little thought to typing up any little thing that pops in our heads and hitting the send button. And email doesn’t cost anything.

Sure, there’s the money you paid for your computer and your internet connection, but there is no incremental cost to sending one more email. Compare this with paper letters. Each one incurred the price of the envelope and the postage stamp, and although this doesn’t represent a lot of money, these were in limited supply – if you ran out of them, you’d have to make a special trip to the stationery store and the post office to buy more, so you didn’t use them frivolously. The sheer ease of sending emails has led to a change in manners, a tendency to be less polite about what we ask of others. Many professionals tell a similar story. One said, “A large proportion of emails I receive are from people I barely know asking me to do something for them that is outside what would normally be considered the scope of my work or my relationship with them. Email somehow apparently makes it OK to ask for things they would never ask by phone, in person, or in snail mail.”

Most emails demand some sort of action: Click on this link to see a video of a baby panda, or answer this query from a co-worker, or make plans for lunch with a friend, or delete this email as spam. All this activity gives us a sense that we’re getting things done – and in some cases we are. But we are sacrificing efficiency and deep concentration when we interrupt our priority activities with email.

Daniel J Levitin writing in The Guardian

The incessant demands of the inbox

Before email, if you wanted to write to someone, you had to invest some effort in it. You’d sit down with pen and paper, or at a typewriter, and carefully compose a message. There wasn’t anything about the medium that lent itself to dashing off quick notes without giving them much thought, partly because of the ritual involved, and the time it took to write a note, find and address an envelope, add postage, and take the letter to a mailbox. Because the very act of writing a note or letter to someone took this many steps, and was spread out over time, we didn’t go to the trouble unless we had something important to say. Because of email’s immediacy, most of us give little thought to typing up any little thing that pops in our heads and hitting the send button. And email doesn’t cost anything.

Sure, there’s the money you paid for your computer and your internet connection, but there is no incremental cost to sending one more email. Compare this with paper letters. Each one incurred the price of the envelope and the postage stamp, and although this doesn’t represent a lot of money, these were in limited supply – if you ran out of them, you’d have to make a special trip to the stationery store and the post office to buy more, so you didn’t use them frivolously. The sheer ease of sending emails has led to a change in manners, a tendency to be less polite about what we ask of others. Many professionals tell a similar story. One said, “A large proportion of emails I receive are from people I barely know asking me to do something for them that is outside what would normally be considered the scope of my work or my relationship with them. Email somehow apparently makes it OK to ask for things they would never ask by phone, in person, or in snail mail.”

Most emails demand some sort of action: Click on this link to see a video of a baby panda, or answer this query from a co-worker, or make plans for lunch with a friend, or delete this email as spam. All this activity gives us a sense that we’re getting things done – and in some cases we are. But we are sacrificing efficiency and deep concentration when we interrupt our priority activities with email.

Daniel J Levitin writing in The Guardian