brain

Should we dumb down our smartphones to stop us becoming more stupid?

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Mike the Psych's Blog

Last September I asked on my other blog: Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections?

aansyq1I described the Light Phone and the fact that the old Nokia 3310 from 2000 was selling well on the internet. Now it’s been announced that the Nokia will be sold again with a larger colour screen but with only basic call and text facilities for around £49 in the UK.

It seems that the smartphone idea was being dumbed-down. Is that a bad idea?

Well in the Times Body & Soulsection last weekend they asked “is your smartphone making you stupid?.

41-epxoutyl-_sx309_bo1204203200_They thought it was – if you count a fleeting attention span, a poorer memory, and a more passive intellect as signs of increasing stupidity.

Arianna Huffington‘s book “Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life”

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Keep your brain in gear

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head_outline_puzzle_800_wht_10307Ever wondered what sex your brain is?

Try these 6 short tests and get a report comparing you to others. The tests include a test of empathy ie assessing NVC through facial expressions.

And if you like that kind of thing go to this site and check how intuitive you are for numbers, among other things.

First posted on SGANDA April 2 2010

Guess what girls? Men are from Venus too!

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Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Forget the theory that men are from Mars and women from Venus – our brains are the same, an expert insists. Neuroscientist Professor Gina Rippon says the sexes are not ‘hardwired’ in different ways and there is no evidence that men are innately better at reading maps or that women are better at multi-tasking.

Men-Mars-Women-Venus-Cover

Any difference is due to society’s idea of gender, not to biology, and is deterring a generation of women from becoming scientists, she warns.  Professor Rippon, of Aston University, Birmingham, said differences in the brain are formed in childhood by divisions in the games girls and boys play and stereotypes they conform to. The scientist said the human brain is much more malleable than we think.

She highlighted recent research which showed that women given a Tetris console game to play for three months displayed fundamental changes in their brain structure.

The Californian study found that women who…

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Have our brains really peaked?

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Researchers at Cambridge University have come to the conclusion that our brains have reached their peak and it’s physically impossible for mankind to get any smarter.

This is based on how much energy the brain uses. Just 2% of our body weight it consumes 20% of its energy, as much as the heart muscle, and they don’t think we can give it any more.

Other scientists believe that the brain’s wiring can’t  get any better either. They’ve found that clever people have the most efficient wiring and can move messages very quickly through the brain compared to less intelligent people but see little scope for further development.

Is that it then? Have we really peaked with Big Brother, X Factor, Jeremy Clarkson, soaps, and all the reality TV shows?

Perhaps the answer lies in man-machine combinations. Already computers can do things we can’t (and vice versa). 70% of stocks in the world are traded using algorithms but is that better than rogue traders risking corporate money and our pension schemes?

IBM’s Watson computer has already won the US quiz show Jeopardy this year and robots, or robotic arms, assemble and spray cars and work in inhospitable environments. Computer programmes have been designed to mimic conversations (even with each other) and have been used in experimental psychotherapy settings. The development of artificial intelligence or AI has already gone beyond the realms of science fiction.

The Singularity Institute has been set up with donations from Google and Nasa to monitor these developments and includes people like the founders of PayPal and Skype as well as a philosopher, a gerontologist and a futurist. They believe the time will come, possibly by 2045, when robots will become clever enough to redesign themselves and become more intelligent than man.

Sci-fi fans know this already of course with Cyborgs, Terminator and replicators. HAL seems so yesterday!

Already neuro-prosthetic devices have been implanted in the brains of rats to boost their memory paving the way for developments which could help people with dementia or brain injuries.

On the negative side suppose a computer became so powerful that it could take over other computers, control the web, and use that power to improve itself so dramatically so that it became far more efficient and cleverer than humans? It could take control of the world’s assets (remember I mentioned the algorithmic trading of stocks). But hang on, haven’t I seen that film?


Mobiles no worse than thinking

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Using mobile phones does affect your brain but, according to US research, the changes were no bigger than what happens when you are actually using your brain.

So we are no nearer knowing whether or not there are health implications in the constant use of mobile phones.

In experiments at the US National Institute for Health where mobile phones were attached to people’s heads whilst their brains were scanned the brain metabolism was 7% higher in that part of the brain nearest the phone’s antenna.

Scientists in the UK at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London said that larger fluctuations can be cause by just thinking.

What sex is your brain?

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Ever wondered what sex your brain is? Try these  6 short tests and get a report comparing you to others. The tests include a test of empathy ie assessing NVC through facial expressions. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sex/add_user.shtml

If you are wondering what might influence your brain sex watch these linked YouTube videos on the influence of testosterone on your developing brain and the effect it can have on your work performance.

And if you want to complete an on-line test to see how empathising or systematising your brain is try it at: http://www.eqsq.com

It’s too simplistic to think all women are more empathising than men whilst men are more logical and less feeling – although there is some truth in it. When it comes to making strategic decisions recent research shows that people who are better at it use both the logical and emotional parts of their brains.

Make better use of your brain

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High achievement has little to do with your IQ but to a partnership between your brain and behaviour.

So say Drs Brown and Fenske, regular contributors to the Harvard Business Review, in their book “The Winner’s Brain”.

They also believe that the brain retains the capacity to change throughout adulthood (also see “Old doesn’t mean stupid“).

They say if you put in the work you can enhance brain function which in turn will help you become more self-aware, more resilient and with better control over attention and emotional responses (some of the key aspects of emotional intelligence).

Using neuro-imaging techniques researchers can now see which parts of the brain are active when people are engaged in specific tasks and also what impact certain activities have on those areas. They believe that those functions can be enhanced –  literally fine-tuning the brain.

They suggest a number of strategies to help us perform better.

  1. Meditation for stress relief can affect visible changes in areas of the brain which in turn have an impact on our ability to control attention and our emotional response
  2. The bigger the task the more likely you are to procrastinate. Therefore you nedd to reframe the problem and break it into small, concrete steps (bite size chunks as trainers might say). It is the ability to change the way you look at a task or problem that is important and the more you do it the more success you have.
  3. Brain functions that provide focus break down when you are multi-tasking or have distractions. To work optimally you can’t multi-task because the brain has limitations when doing multiple things (see “Multi-tasking makes you stupider than smoking pot“). So eliminate distractions but not all of them. To be at your best you may need to reduce activity in parts of the brain involved in self-monitoring and self-criticism. So us a gentle distraction like background music or ambient sounds just enough to keep your critical self-conscious occupied so you can focus and work more easily. But avoid abrupt distractions like phone calls or e-mail alerts.

Source: HBR September 2010

Updated 5 November 2010: Neuroscientists at the University of Oxford have discovered that passing electricity through the brain, from the right parietal lobe to the left, improves mathematical ability. If you pass the current in the opposite direction however it reduces your ability.

The research was looking for ways of treating dyscalculia, the numerical equivalent of dyslexia, which is thought to affect 6% of the population. Such a treatment might also be useful for people who have suffered a stroke or brain injury.

Of course there would be nothing to stop people with normal ability in maths using such a treatment to improve their ability eg when taking exams. This could replace the smart drugs such as Ritalin and Provigil used by some people as cognitive enhancers by improving attention and alertness. (See my earlier post; “Keeping up with speed“).