Introducing: John Cacioppo

[This post is the first in a series that will introduce you to some of the speakers who will be giving presentations at the Brain Development and Learning Conference. Early bird registration closes Feb. 15. Use the drop down menu beneath the Conference tab to go directly to the website or click the next links to view the brochure or download a registration form.]

John Cacioppo’s topic: Neuroscience behind thriving socially

Blurb from BDL2013 conference website

Blurb from BDL2013 conference website

“Loneliness isn’t at all what people thought it was, and it’s a lot more important than people thought it was.”

This is the way John Cacioppo, “a pioneer in the new science of loneliness,'” sums up his team’s findings about the impact of loneliness on everything from people’s state of mind to their life span. Interestingly, it’s not the actual number of social contacts that determines whether an individual will suffer from adverse affects, but whether or not one feels lonely.

 “Some people are socially isolated and they’re not lonely; … [whereas], some people are lonely even if they have a lot of social contacts.”

Loneliness seems to compound itself by negatively affecting the way people judge others and by making social interaction feel less pleasurable. As a person’s social network becomes weaker, so may his/her appetite for food, exercise, and life in general. Cacioppo has found that loneliness has an impact on both brain and body by:

  • contributing to increased stress, promoting inflammation,
  • making one more susceptible to viruses,
  • keeping the body in a constant state of ‘threat alert’, and
  • reducing sleep and relaxation

There are observable and measurable neuro-chemical and structural changes which make the brains of socially isolated people different. Unfortunately, support offered by caring friends doesn’t have much impact on a lonely person’s sense of isolation, especially if he/she is feeling watched over. However, interventions that foster a shift in the individual’s perceptions of social situations can have lasting positive affects.

“As for preventing loneliness, Cacioppo says it helps to know where your own thermostat is set and strive to stay in your comfort zone. … The degree of social connection that can improve our health and our happiness … is both as simple and as difficult as being open and available to others.”


Source article: Psychologist John Cacioppo explains why loneliness is bad for your health  from Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology News and Events (Feb. 2011) found at

Other links:

Welcome! (update)

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 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!

Brain Development & Learning Conference 2013

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or scan with your smart-device to go to the conference website.]

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Poster is also linked to the conference webiste.


Links to important conference information (pdf files):

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Past Conference Presenters: Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone

Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone is a Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, the Director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation and the Director of the Harvard-Thorndike General Clinical Research Center.

At the 2008 BDL Conference he led a talk entitled “The Plastic Human Brain: Implications for Translational Neuroscience and Education”.  The presentation focused on the mechanisms of brain plasticity at the systems level as they relate to the acquisition of new skills and memories across the lifespan. He also discusses brain plasticity as a ‘double-edge sword’ with consequences that can be adaptive or maladaptive for the individual.  He introduces the concept of modulating or guiding plasticity to promote the optimal behavioral outcome for each individual, and discusses non-invasive brain stimulation methods as a means for guiding plasticity.

Below is a ten minute excerpt from his talk:

Past Conference Presenters: Dr. Sonia Lupien

The 2008 BDL Conference focused on stress and the prefrontal cortex. Dr. Sonia Lupien is at the forefront of research regarding stress.

Dr. Lupien is the Founder and Director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Douglas Hospital in Montreal, Canada. She leads the Laboratory of Human Stress Research that specializes in measuring the acute and chronic impact of stress hormones on learning and memory.

She led talk entitled “Shaping Who We Are: Effects of Stress on Cognitive Development” The presentation focused on summarizing the state of knowledge in the field of stress and its impact on brain development, the scientific definition of stress and the positive and negative effects of stress hormones on the human brain.

Results from studies performed in children and assessing stress hormones were also described as well as the model of allostatic load and how it can impact on child development. In the conclusion of the talk, Dr. Lupien explained the ‘DeStress for Success’ program that the Centre for Studies on Human Stress developed and which aims at educating children and teenagers about stress and its impact on learning and memory in order to give them the tools they need to grow up while managing the stress of their lives.

Below are two excerpts from her talk:

Here is a link to an article related to the talk.

SENSE Theatre: Helping Children with Autism through Theater

SENSE Theatre is an intervention program for children with autism. It is a bridge between art and science, utilizing well-established behavioral intervention, peer and video modeling, and theatrical techniques. It has met with remarkable success with children in northern California. We would like to see if it might be helpful to children here, in Vancouver.

A week before our conference, the Developer and Executive Director of SENSE Theatre (Blythe Corbett, a clinician and neuroscientist at the MIND Institute of the University of California – Davis, who before becoming an academic was a professional actor), along with the Stage Director and Musical Director, will come up to Vancouver to work with local children with autism and local child actors for a solid week. The children will then put on the performance they have been rehearsing for us at the Gala Dinner for the conference, Sunday evening, July 18, at 7:00 pm.

Here is a video that explains a little bit more about the great work that SENSE Theatre is doing:

Past Conference Presenters: Dr. Margaret Weiss

The BDL conference is characterized by high quality speaker presentations that are both informative and inspiring.  This blog will highlight some past talks and let you know what to expect from the speakers in 2010.

Dr. Margaret Weiss is a Clinical Full Professor at the University of British Columbia, the Director of Research for the Division of Child Psychiatry and the Director of the Provincial ADHD Program.

At the 2008 BDL Conference she led a talk entitled “Optimizing and Individualizing Treatment for ADHD”.  The presentation focused on defining the methodology of efficacy vs. effectiveness outcomes for ADHD, reviewing the literature on what we know about optimizing outcomes from an effectiveness point of view and identifying key areas in which the individualization of treatment is essential to optimizing outcome.

Below is a ten minute excerpt from her talk:

Here is a link to an article related to the talk.

“You Changed a Country”

Here at the DCN Lab we have been receiving emails and blog comments from people who attended the BDL conference in the past, and were really touched by all of them.  We spend a lot of time and energy trying to make the conference a great experience, and it’s always heartening to hear that people have enjoyed it and learned a lot.

We recently received this email from Karin Windt, President of the Dutch ADD Foundation.  Her comments about BDL really resonated with us, and we thought we should share them with all of you.

Here is Karin’s email:

“Dear all,

This blog is a great idea, thank you so much for once again organizing this great event!  First of all I would like to take the opportunity to thank the people at DCN Lab for making me feel so welcome at the last Brain Development and Learning conference. I found out about the conference only two weeks before and you were all a great help in finding a place to stay and giving me pointers as to how to find you and which speakers addressed the topics of my interest. Nevertheless I managed to attend each and every one of them and needed 2 more notebooks (in addition to those you provided). I was only late once!

The BDL conference meant a lot to me, it gave me the confidence to continue my current efforts as president of the ADD Netherlands Foundation and provided me with the information I needed to help those in need. Specifically children with the predominantly inattentive type of ADD who are in school. I won’t forget Laurel & Hardy ever again! I think I even met the speaker but was too overwhelmed by the amount of information to realize. Before the conference, my last days in school were 15 years ago. I forgot how good it feels to receive a certificate. And being a smoker in Canada turned out to be a great challenge by the way. I even lost weight because the food stands in Vancouver only carry healthy foods and spending the first day on Grouse mountain gave me more energy then any spa would.

A lot has happened to me since I met all of you. I wrote another book and organized the 3rd national ADD-day in Amsterdam. 800 people attended and I told them everything that happened in Canada and how nervous I was when Dr. Diamond introduced me to everyone; waiting my for my turn to ask a question, my leg was shaking out of control while my mind had so much to say. I was doing a little dance to prevent others from seeing that and was afraid people would view me as hyperactive while trying to represent the inattentive ADD Foundation. (I never even considered this to be stressful, Dr. Lupien) but I got used to it!

What I would have liked to say is that because of Dr. Adele Diamond and her lab, relatives in Vancouver were diagnosed with the predominantly inattentive type Attention Deficit Disorder early on. The information reached me in Holland in 2004 and I immediately went to see (a few) doctors. So in a major way, Adele Diamond and her lab (you people) are the reason I was diagnosed with ADD my self 7 years ago. I would like to thank her for that. To me and many others, this diagnosis came as a great relief. I knew my brother had ADHD and that my late grandfather (who was a painter) had great trouble sitting still when young but I never heard of ADD before. Most of my relatives moved to Canada years ago. Hyperactive was normal to the rest of us here n Holland…but I was different.

What you may not realize is that in 2004 there was absolutely no information on this topic whatsoever. ADD and ADHD are not the same, no question about it. I wrote an article about ADD on my homepage and with this the foundation was laid for the ADD Netherlands Foundation at

Dr. Diamond made an incredible contribution with her paper on this subject in 2005, it is a must read!!! ( My books in Dutch and English, the first, 2nd and 3rd national ADD-day followed and now I am providing extra training to doctors so that they can learn more about the differences between ADD and ADHD. It is only since 2008 that (little) more information on the predominantly inattentive type appeared on the web. So please know that the work you do at DCN Lab has more than just an impact, you changed a country (although we do have a long way to go).

For those who remember I enjoyed our talks very much! It was an absolute honor to meet you all.



We can only hope that everyone gets as much out of the BDL conference as Karin did.