"The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics."
That’s a claim we hear a lot these days. It’s in the media, spoken by experts and pundits, and in the air, voiced by parents and teachers. Sometimes it’s uttered in alarm, by those concerned that children’s ability to learn and pay attention is being warped by the hours they spend in front of the computer. Sometimes it’s proclaimed in celebration, by others convinced that a generation of “digital natives” has developed new ways of absorbing and applying information.
In fact, research in cognitive science and psychology shows that both of these sentiments are misplaced. While it is true that our brains are to some extent “plastic”—that is, responsive to experience—it is also the case that there are biological constraints on how our brains operate. These constraints are universal, found across cultures and across generations. What follows is a brief primer on how attention and memory work, and how we can maximize their effectiveness.
"First, while parents and teachers talk often with young children about parts of the body and how they work, they rarely mention this most important organ. (A 2005 study by another group of scientists found that young children hear very few instances of the word brain in everyday conversation.) Secondly, children can’t observe their own brains, and so are left to guess about what’s going on inside their heads—not unlike the state of ignorance in which adults dwelled for many centuries before the founding of neuroscience as a scientific discipline. And finally, most students aren’t formally taught much about the brain until at least middle school. Marshall and Comalli believe such instruction can and should begin much sooner."
"An early childhood surrounded by books and educational toys will leave positive fingerprints on a person’s brain well into their late teens, a two-decade-long research study has shown. Scientists found that the more mental stimulation a child gets around the age of four, the more developed the parts of their brains dedicated to language and cognition will be in the decades ahead."
"What we find is people really do change their brain functions in response to experience. It’s just amazing how flexible the brain is. That plasticity has been a huge surprise to a whole lot of people."
Kurt W. Fischer, the director of Harvard University’s Mind, Brain, and Education Program
Stay focused on the topic. Study in the same place all the time. Take copious notes. All proven learning strategies, right? Sure. But if the goal is to retain knowledge, research shows that these commonly held beliefs about how to go about it are misguided. You need to relearn how to remember.
A cross-disciplinary team of US neuroscientists and cryptographers have developed a password/passkey system that removes the weakest link in any security system: the human user. It’s ingenious: The system still requires that you enter a password, but at no point do you actually remember the password, meaning it can’t be written down and it can’t be obtained via coercion or torture.
The system, devised by Hristo Bojinov of Stanford University and friends from Northwestern and SRI, relies on implicit learning, a process by which you absorb new information — but you’re completely unaware that you’ve actually learnt anything; a bit like learning to ride a bike. In short, the system teaches the password to a part of your brain that you cannot physically access — but it is still there in your subconscious, just waiting to be tapped.
Click through to find out how it works and what this chart means.
We love this great infographic that tells you how music affects learning! Some of the visuals provide surprising information like how it’s much better to study to music without repetition as three or four rhythm repetitions may cause the mind to shut down.
"The daily experience of the self is so familiar, and yet the brain science shows that this sense of the self is an illusion. Psychologist Susan Blackmore makes the point that the word ‘illusion’ does not mean that it does not exist — rather, an illusion is not what it seems. We all certainly experience some form of self, but what we experience is a powerful depiction generated by our brains for our own benefit."
"The truth is that everything you do changes your brain. Everything. Every little thought or experience plays a role in the constant wiring and rewiring of your neural networks. So there is no escape. Yes, the internet is rewiring your brain. But so is watching television. And having a cup of tea. Or not having a cup of tea. Or thinking about the washing on Tuesdays. Your life, however you live it, leaves traces in the brain."
Tom Stafford, writing about the anxiety surrounding brain attention spans in the age of the internet.
In short, everything you do changes your brain in some way. It’s better to approach these new cognitive challenges with an even keel, and not through the lens of technophobia.
A must read for fans of the brain and the internet, which you all clearly are (or else you wouldn’t be reading this).
Given a book of matches, a box of thumbtacks, and a candle, how can you fix the candle to the wall so that its wax won’t drip onto the table below?
See Answer Below
Pin the box to the wall, put the candle in the box, and light it.
In experiments, Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker found that most subjects instead tried to pin the candle directly to the wall or to use melted wax to affix it there (neither worked). Duncker called this “functional fixedness” — a “mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem.” In this case, subjects had “fixated” on the box’s function as a container, which prevented them from considering it as a platform. If the box was empty at the start of the experiment, they were more likely to find the correct solution.
In a 2000 study, psychologists Tim German and Margaret Defeyter found the 6- and 7-year-olds show signs of functional fixedness, but 5-year-olds appear immune to it: “Rather than taking into account only the properfunction of an object, they adopt and agents-goals view of function in which any intentional use of an object can be its function.”
Many presenters try to cram as much information and data into their presentation as the time permits. We’ve assumed that content covered means content learned. We’ve also assumed that if we cover more content, the listener learns more.
Wrong! The amount of learning directly aligns to the amount of thinking and reflection. We need to create more white space (time for the learner to think) and less pushing of content. The more the learner is allowed to reflect, the more they learn.
5. Images trump words.
We remember images. We forget words. Why? 50%-80% of our brain’s natural processing power is devoted to processing sight. That’s more than all of our other senses. We actually see with our brains, not our eyes. Likewise, when we hear a word, our brain translates it into an image.
"Air Force researchers were delighted recently to learn that they could cut training time in half by delivering a mild electrical current (two milliamperes of direct current for 30 minutes) to pilot’s brains during training sessions on video simulators."