[Adele Diamond, the moving force behind the Brain Development and Learning Conference (see CONFERENCE Tab above), was kind enough to email me this response to my last blog -- Willpower, free will, & New Year's resolutions.]
“Prefrontal cortex (PFC) — to which I have devoted my life’s work — is over-rated. It is true that to learn something new, we need PFC. Thus, novices who recruit PFC most usually perform best (Duncan & Owen, 2000; Durston et al., 2006; Kane & Engle, 2002). However, after something is no longer new, those who recruit PFC least usually perform best (Garavan, Kelley, Rosen, Rao, & Stein, 2000; Jansma, Ramsey, Slagter, & Kahn, 2001).
PFC is the evolutionarily newest region of the brain. Other brain regions, which have had hundreds of thousands more years of evolutionary time to perfect their functioning, can subserve task performance much more efficiently than PFC.
So I need PFC to learn a new dance step, but later if I try to think about what my feet are doing while dancing, I will not dance well. Similarly, children need PFC to learn what sound goes with what letter, but when a fifth grader reads, we no longer want the child to be thinking about letter-sound mapping; we want that to become automatic.
A child may know intellectually (at the level of PFC) that he should not hit another, but in the heat of the moment if that knowledge has not become automatic (passed on from PFC to subcortical regions) the child will do exactly what he should not (and exactly what, if you asked him, he knows he should not do).
Montessori (2007) emphasized the critical importance of the child’s repetition over and over again for education. The only way something becomes automatic (becomes passed off from PFC) is through action — repeated action. The only way we become really good at something, whether it is piano playing or chess [or, I'm guessing, acting in a way that is inherently healthy and not seeing it as a form of self-deprivation], is through repeated practice. Nothing else will do. Aristotle commented on this back in the 4th century BC.
Our expectations often determine outcomes. I suggest that we start with the deeply held conviction that every child is capable of succeeding at what we teach.
When a child is not succeeding, ask yourself how you might do something differently so that this particular child is able to succeed. If we believe every child can succeed then we will push ourselves to think outside the box and try something new and different that might, just might, work for a particular child. Sometimes our testing method is the problem; we are not asking the question in a way that allows children to demonstrate the knowledge and abilities they have (Diamond, Churchiand, Cruess, & Kirkham, 1999; Diamond & Gilbert, 1989; Diamond, Kirkham, & Amso, 2002; Diamond & Lee, 2000; Diamond, Lee, &Hayden, 2003).”
Additional references on the powerful role of expectations and attitude (others’ and your own)
I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer” at this time of year, but a search of ‘neuroscience + Christmas’ which I expected would direct me to research into why we enjoy feelings of ‘comfort and joy’ or ‘peace and goodwill’ especially at this time of year, instead returned these 4 studies:
- Sadness, in this case induced by watching a heart-wrenching video, can make us desperate to buy! buy! buy!
“The authors (2008 Psychological Science study) reason the sad clip caused participants to devalue both their sense of self and current possessions, making them willing to pay more for new material possessions. Presumably, this could re-enhance their sense of self.”
- Deep loneliness can lead to chronic Grinch syndrome.
“People with an acute sense of social isolation appear to have a reduced response to things that make most people happy, and a heightened response to human conflict. … The Grinch is easier to understand given these findings. … Watching [the citizens of Whoville} surround themselves with happy things like ornaments and gifts and food ticks him off, so he determines to inject some strife into the festivities and watch the fallout."
- Companies are exploiting neuroscience research into obsession and games to induce us to join, befriend, and play.
"Companies now openly discuss compulsion loops. The goal is to [get us to] gather thousands of friends on Facebook [or] followers on Twitter. In the past, society has been able to put physical barriers in place to make it more difficult to satisfy unhealthy obsessions. Today smartphones and portable electronic devices travel with us in our pockets.”
- Especially good news for those of us who live in the northern latitudes, our ‘little grey cells’ in for a sort of ‘perfect storm’ of neuro-chemical havoc at this time of year.
External conditions and behavioural choices at this time of year can lead to changes in brain/body chemistry including: SADD, chronic inflammation, “brain hyperexcitability,” “ low-alpha state resulting in attention-span issues and an inability to concentrate when you return to work,” stress-induced cortisol overload which impairs your memory and ability to multi-task.
Aren’t any brain scientists out there interested happiness, joy, fulfillment, or contentment? If you know of any research into why Christmas is such a wonderful time of year, please send it my way.
Meanwhile, my Christmas wish for you is to take some time to have fun and (even better) to enjoy a good Santa-like laugh that makes you shake all over like a bowl full of jelly. According to Neuroscience for Kids, laughter has been shown to cause positive changes in the autonomic nervous system, to provide a boost to the immune system, and to reduce levels of stress hormones and neurotransmitters including: cortisol, growth hormone, and catecholamines (dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine). I guess Reader’s Digest did have it right: laugher is the best medicine.
I want to add new resources which will be of interest to people coming to BDL 2013 to the interactive library , so today I started searching Twitter hashtags. This took me to an interesting mind map created with a new online tool called BlogSummarizer that turns search results into a visual mind map.
Googling a term like ‘cognition’ gives back an unmanageably long list of items with no apparent organizing principles.
Using BlogSummarizer yields a visual mind map that shows concepts and connections.
Clicking on ‘Brain’ in the graphic returned 5 sources …
and an article about brain scans of people trying to overcome their fear of snakes. One conclusion in the article is it’s easy to mistake physiological signs of courage — i.e. momentary fear suppression — for successful fear eradication. This research may also lead to a way to control fear and phobias with meditation or “transcranial magnetic stimulation” that dampens the activity in the region associated with high fear and courageous response.
One of the themes at BDL2013 will be: Trauma, Stress & Healing; Integrating Mind, Body, & Spirit. Take a look at the brochure for presentations you can attend to find out how traumatic experiences are encoded in neural architecture and techniques you that are being shown effective in promoting healing and the raising of resilient children.
As for those Twitter hashtags I mentioned at the outset? You’ll find a new page under the Interactive Library tab above called “Searching Twitter“. If you want to suggest a hashtag to watch or Twitterer to follow, please reply with a comment. We’ll tweet out your recommendations using the hashtag #BDL_2013. Thanks.
Imagine walking out of BDL2013 and flying to Pennsylvania for Neuroscience Bootcamp where:
I’ve always wanted to go If anyone has a spare $10,000 or so and would like to sponsor me, my passport is up to date!!
“Through a combination of lectures, break-out groups, panel discussions and laboratory visits, participants will gain an understanding of the methods of neuroscience and key findings on the cognitive and social-emotional functions of the brain, lifespan development and disorders of brain function. Each lecture will be followed by extensive Q&A. Break-out groups will allow participants to delve more deeply into topics of relevance to their fields. Laboratory visits will include trips to an MRI scanner, an EEG/ERP lab, and a transcranial magnetic stimulation lab. Participants will also have access to an extensive online library of copyrighted materials, including classic and review articles and textbook chapters in cognitive and affective neuroscience.”
This is the blog of the 2013 Brain Development and Learning Conference in Vancouver, BC, from July 24-28. To find out more information and register, click on the CONFERENCE Tab at the top of this page and select the appropriate link.
In the weeks that come, we’ll introduce you to some of the speakers who you’ll hear at the conference and to other researchers at the cutting edge of neuroscience and its applications. We’ll also share information about community groups working on mental health issues, educational innovations using new findings to improve learning, and other cross-discipinary applications of neuroscience research.
Two new blog features this year are:
- the Interactive Library of curated resources accessed from the 2nd tab from the right — up top. If you have suggestions, please post a reply and share the link or make a comment directly on the Scoop.it collection.
- the RSS feeds from 1 or 2 top blogs that you’ll find when you click the BDL Blog tab up top. If you have a great blog to share, please let us know.
The new blog writer this year is Sue Hellman — an educator interested in the applications of neuroscience to teaching and learning. She apologizes in advance for any errors in her summarizing of the science, and asks that you send feedback to reassure her when she’s on the right track or correct misapprehensions so she can get things right.
We look forward to seeing you at the conference!
What will children need to be successful? What programs are successfully helping children develop those skills in the earliest school years? What do those programs have in common?
See a new article by the BDL Conference Organizer, Dr. Adele Diamond, in the foremost science journal, Science.
from the article:
“Four of the qualities that will probably be key to success are creativity, flexibility, self-control, and discipline. Children will need to think creatively to devise solutions never considered before. They’ll need working memory to mentally work with masses of data, seeing new connections among elements. They’ll need flexibility to appreciate different perspectives and take advantage of serendipity. They’ll need self-control to resist temptations, and avoid doing something they’d regret. Tomorrow’s leaders will need to have the discipline to stay focused, seeing tasks through to completion. All of those qualities are ‘executive functions’ (EFs),”
“The best approaches to improving EFs and school outcomes will probably be those that (a) engage students’ passionate interests, bringing them joy and pride, (b) address stresses in students’ lives, attempting to resolve external causes and strengthen calmer, healthier responses, (c) have students vigorously exercise, and (d) give students a sense of belonging and social acceptance, in addition to giving students opportunities to repeatedly practice EFs at progressively more-advanced levels. The most effective way to improve EFs and academic achievement is probably not to focus narrowly on those alone, but to also address children’s emotional and social development (as do all 4 curricular-based programs that improve EFs) and children’s physical development (aerobics, martial arts, and yoga).”
Intervening early to prevent problems is far more effective and costs far less than trying to fix problems once they have been allowed to develop.
Watch this video of Dr. Adele Diamond, the BDL Conference Organizer and one of the Canada’s leading experts on developmental cognitive neuroscience, explaining the importance of early childhood education and how it can make a positive life-long impact.
If you like our blog here are some other blogs you might enjoy:
Pete Quily, an adult ADHD coach in Vancouver, British Columbia, provides current information and advice for adults living with ADHD/ADD.
A blog for people that use assistance/service dogs. The blog’s primary aim is to help people relate their experience and provide information to others that utilize service dogs in their daily lives. Affiliated with West Coast Assistance Teams Society, which provides BC-certified assistance dogs for people with physical and psychiatric disabilities.
Written by CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD) CEO, E. Clarke Ross, the CHADD Leadership Blog provides a regular commentary on topics pertaining to ADHD.
A former staff writer for the Vancouver Sun discusses issues related to parenting and being a dad in Vancouver.
Dr. Stan Kutcher (renowned teen mental health expert), and David Venn share scientifically-validated information about adolescent mental health. Affiliated with www.teenmentalhealth.org
Gina Pera, author of Is it You, Me, or Adult ADD, explores adult ADD and its impact on family and relationships.
Speaking of Faith is a public radio program about “religion, spirituality, and large questions of meaning in every aspect of life”. This program regularly interviews writers, researchers, and scholars whose work focuses on enriching the human experience.
Back in November, Dr. Adele Diamond, our lab director and the organizer of the BDL conference was interviewed about her research. Her work has highlighted the importance of play, dance, sports, and music in promoting healthy child development.
To listen to the episode of Speaking of Faith that features Dr. Diamond, click here. While you’re there check out some of the other episodes as well. The program does a great job of encouraging you to think about science and religion in ways you may never have before, and does so from a neutral standpoint that allows the discussion of these topics to be constructive rather than divisive as they are in so many other forums.
The program has a companion blog which further elucidates issues of religion and science, and how we can reconcile the two in today’s society.