Brain Science

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Information Age Education (IAE) is an Oregon non-profit corporation created by David Moursund in July, 2007. It works to improve the informal and formal education of people of all ages throughout the world. A number of people have contributed their time and expertise in developing the materials that are made available free in the various IAE publications. Click here to learn how you can help develop new IAE materials.



Publication History

The initial Brain Science entry in the IAE-pedia was published 12/19/2007, when the IAE-pedia was just getting started. Its content grew in a haphazard manner over the years. When I encountered a brain science article or topic that seemed particularly relevant to my interests in education, I added it to the IAE-pedia Brain Science page. I made little effort to relate the new section to previous sections. Moreover, the topics were arranged in alphabetical order rather than being grouped into related topics.

In spite of these shortcomings, the Brain Science page grew in popularity. By the end of March, 2015, it had had about 107,000 page views—which made it fourth in popularity in the list of IAE-pedia content pages.

In April, 2015, I decided to reorganize and rewrite the IAE-pedia Brain Science entry. When this “huge” project is completed, there will be both an IAE-pedia page and a free IAE book on Brain Science. During the writing process, the original IAE-pedia entry will slowly morph into the new document. During the morphing process, I will call the document a “book” even though it lacks many of the characteristics of a final, polished book.


This book provides an introduction to brain science that is specifically designed for preservice and inservice K-12 teachers, and for teachers of these teachers. However, parents, grandparents, childcare providers, and others who are interested in K-12 education will find the book useful.

Here are two important and unifying questions addressed throughout the book:

  1. What should preservice and inservice K-12 teachers know about brain science?
  2. How should K-12 teachers be using their knowledge of brain science, both to improve their teaching and also to help their students gain grade level and subject area appropriate knowledge of brain science?

The goal of the book is to help you develop and understand answers that fit your needs as an educator. If you have not read much about recent progress in brain science—and especially its applications in education—you might want to investigate some the documents and videos listed in the References and Resources section at the end of Chapter 1.

This book is divided into chapters that focus on specific areas of brain science in education. The grouping of topics into chapters—and indeed, the order of the chapters—is somewhat arbitrary. My suggestion is that you browse the Table of Contents and feel free to go directly to a topic that interests you. For example, dyslexia is one of a number of brain “disorders” discussed in Chapter 7. If you are specifically interested in dyslexia, you will find that the treatment of this topic in Chapter 7 is relatively independent of the content of the preceding chapters.

Each chapter is relatively self-contained, and ends with a section on References and Resources related to that chapter. The book ends with a final section on Additional References and Resources divided into print materials and video materials, with a brief annotation provided for each entry. This final section is not a collection of the chapter-by-chapter references and resources. Rather, it is designed to provide you with some additional tidbits of information that may whet your appetite and lead you to further exploration of topics in the field of brain science and education.

Getting Started

When I study a subject that is somewhat unfamiliar to me, I like to look at some of the older literature in the field. What were the frontiers of the field a decade or two ago? I find that I can understand the “leading edge” overview presentations from that time period.

I highly recommend the following delightful “golden oldie” 23-minute video presentation by Michael Merzenich to get you started in modern brain science. He is a world-class researcher and developer in educational applications of brain science.

Merzenich, M. (2004). Growing evidence of brain plasticity. (23:07). TED Talks. Retrieved 5/9/2015 from

Chapter 1: Introduction to Brain Science

“I could while away the hours
Conferrin' with the flowers
Consultin' with the rain
And my head I'd be scratchin'
While my thoughts were busy hatchin'
If I only had a brain.”
The scarecrow song in Wizard of Oz.
(L. Frank Baum; American author; 1856-1919.)

Your 3-pound physical brain is part of your physical body. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

The brain is an organ that serves as the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals.…The brain is located in the head, usually close to the primary sensory organs for such senses as vision, hearing, balance, taste, and smell.… In a typical human, the cerebral cortex (the largest part [of the brain]) is estimated to contain 15–33 billion neurons, each connected by synapses to several thousand other neurons.

The typical human physical brain grows and matures over a period of years. Although it reaches 90% of its eventual full size by about age six it doesn’t reach full physical maturity until approximately age 26.

The non-brain parts of the physical body of a typical human grows and matures over a period of years, reaching full maturity by approximately ages 18 to 21.

Notice the difference between maturity of a physical body and maturity of a brain. Eighteen-year-old college freshmen may look mature, but their brains still have a long way to go!

Moreover, in terms of a brain, full physical maturity doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Your brain houses a mind. There is a considerable difference between the three-pound physical structure we call a brain, and the consciousness, education, training, and memories that we call a mind stored in the brain.

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

A mind is the set of cognitive faculties that enables consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment, and memory—a characteristic of humans, but which also may apply to other life forms.

What is consciousness—a seemingly simple question—is an important and challenging question at the frontiers of brain science. A later section of this book presents some of the latest findings.

While some authors strive to differentiate between brain and mind, others just use brain/mind to encompass the combination. This book tries to avoid getting bogged down in brain versus mind—sometime using the term brain/mind, sometimes using just brain (especially when talking about the physical structure), and sometimes using the term mind (especially when talking about thinking, consciousness, and attention).

When you go to sleep, the consciousness state of your brain/mind changes, but your brain/mind continues to function quite actively. You have a subconscious that can continue to work on a problem even when you are not actively paying attention to the problem and working to solve it. A person can wake from sleep and discovered that an ah ha event or moment has occurred—the subconscious has made progress in solving a challenging problem.

And, you may have heard of the locked in syndrome, in which a patient may be completely paralyzed but still have a functioning brain/mind—and be completely unable to communicate. Recent progress in using sophisticated equipment to read brain waves is helping to develop ways to communicate with people who are completely locked in.

Through appropriate exercise and training, your physical body can gain in capabilities for a great many years after it reaches physical maturity. Similarly, through informal and formal education and experiences, your brain/mind continues its growth, development, and change throughout your lifetime.

You realize, of course, that physical and mental health and development are closely linked. A brain/mind needs a healthy physical body, and a physical body needs a healthy brain/mind. Thus, for example, if we reduce or delete daily physical education from a student’s life, we are potentially damaging students’ brain/minds. This issue is addressed in later parts of the book.

History of Brain Study

Intelligence is the ability to acquire and make use of knowledge and skills—it is the ability to adapt to change. This is a very broad and inclusive definition. All living creatures have intelligence. As Plato’s quote at the beginning of this chapter indicates, humans have a very long history of being interested in intelligence.

However, a “science” of studying the brain and mind was slow to develop. For example, during the 1800s, phrenology was considered by many to be an important approach to studying the brain. Quoting from the phrenology website:

…so it was believed that by examining the shape and unevenness of a head or skull, one could discover the development of the particular cerebral "organs" responsible for different intellectual aptitudes and character traits. For example, a prominent protuberance in the forehead at the position attributed to the organ of Benevolence was meant to indicate that the individual had a "well developed" organ of Benevolence and would therefore be expected to exhibit benevolent behavior.

Brain science took a major leap forward through the work of Alfred Binet and others in developing the concept of IQ in the early 1900s. Quoting from this website:

Intelligence testing began in earnest in France, when in 1904 psychologist Alfred Binet was commissioned by the French government to find a method to differentiate between children who were intellectually normal and those who were inferior. The purpose was to put the latter into special schools where they would receive more individual attention. In this way, the disruption they caused in the education of intellectually normal children could be avoided.

This led to the development of the Binet Scale, also known as the Simon-Binet Scale in recognition of Theophile Simon's assistance in its development. The IQ is the ratio of “mental age” to chronological age, with 100 being average. An 8-year-old who passes the 10-year-old’s test would have an IQ of 10/8 x 100, or 125.

Now, more than a century later, various theories of IQ and measures of IQ are still active areas of study and research. A theory of multiple intelligences (a person having more than one type of cognitive intelligence) has been put forth by Howard Gardner, Robert Sternberg, and others. Other types of intelligence, such as social and emotional intelligence], are also being studied.

Brain Science

The field of brain science (also called cognitive neuroscience) is expanding quite rapidly. It may well be that the totality of knowledge in this area is doubling every five years. You can get a sense for the breadth and depth of research going on in this field by viewing a 5:37 video from the Allan Institute for Brain Science. (Allan Institute, 2015). For much greater breadth and depth, see the free University of Texas online book, Welcome to Neuroscience Online, the Open access Textbook (University of Texas, n.d.).

It is only in recent years that technology and brain theory have progressed to a stage that allows us to gain an understanding of how brains work at the neuron level. Non-invasive brain scanning neuroimaging equipment has come onto the scene and has added very important new dimensions to the field of brain science. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Neuroimaging falls into two broad categories:

  • Structural imaging, which deals with the structure of the brain and the diagnosis of gross (large scale) intracranial disease (such as tumor), and injury, and
  • Functional imaging, which is used to diagnose metabolic diseases and lesions on a finer scale (such as Alzheimer's disease) and also for neurological and cognitive psychology research and building brain-computer interfaces.

In addition, our increased understanding of genes is providing information about a variety of brain "defects" and diseases. We are developing useful interventions based on brain education (training, retraining) and drugs.

Our increased understanding of brain functioning is quite important in education. A superb example is provided by the research and development in dyslexia, a relatively common reading disorder. Appropriate interventions can actually "rewire" the brain and help many dyslexics to become good readers. This topic is discussed later in this document.

Mythologies About the Human Brain

We each have some knowledge about our own brains and the brains of other people. Some of your knowledge may fall into the category of “mythologies.” A 4/29/2015 Google search of the expression brain myths in education produced over 15 million results.

Quoting from Pete Etchells’ article, Brain Baloney Has No Place in the Classroom (Etchells, 10/17/2014):

If you want to make a neuroscientist’s head explode, all you need to do is confidently and triumphantly tell them that humans only use 10% of their brains. Or that right-brained people are more creative than left-brained people. Or that jiggling your head around gets more blood to the brain so you can think more efficiently. These are myths about the brain that have now been around for so long, it’s a wonder they haven’t had a congratulatory message from the Queen.

The field of brain science is making amazing progress. Many people read a little bit about this progress and try to translate it into ways to solve problems or accomplish tasks in their own particular areas of interest. In the process they may create neuromythologies that others come to believe are true and accept without question.

In education, we now have a great many neuromythologies. You might ask yourself, what does a person gain by believing a myth even when there is substantial research evidence that says the myth is incorrect? Doing so makes you a less credible person and belittles the discipline you are talking about. IAE has published a collection IAE Newsletters on the topic of credibility and validity.

For example, consider the 10% brain use mythology mentioned above. Such a myth is often accompanied by various techniques (more studying, meditation, drugs) suggesting that one can learn to make use of a much greater part of their brain.

Now that we have appropriate brain-scanning equipment, we know for a fact that 10% is a ridiculously low estimate. Even in mundane tasks, nearly 100% of our brain neurons are engaged.

Learning styles is another popular area of mythology. We all have heard about VAK (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) learners. It seems obvious that a person might be a lot better in one of these learning modalities than in the other two. From this one might conclude that education can be improved by teaching students almost completely in their best learning modality.

This is incorrect. What's the Story on Learning Styles? by Maryellen Weimer provides a nice summary of this topic. Quoting from her article:

Then several years ago, we started seeing articles that challenged the validity of learning styles (see Pashler, et al.] for an example). The Pashler et al. literature review did not find empirically valid evidence connecting learning styles with instructional methods and better learning outcomes for students with that style when compared to students with other styles. And so, challenged empirically and questioned in several widely referenced articles, learning styles are now out. [Bold added for emphasis.]

However, what's left standing is one unarguable fact: People do not all learn in the same way. Some of us always read the instructions first and others of us just start putting it together.

John Geake’s Neuromythologies in Education is an excellent research-based article on the fallacy of believing in neuromythologies (Geake, 2008). His article discusses the 10% myth, the learning styles myth, the left- and right-brained thinking myth, and a number of others.

Mind, Brain, and Education: Neuroscience Implications for the Classroom (Sousa, 2010) provides a number of examples of neuromythologies and an excellent introduction to mind, brain, and education.

You and Your Students

"No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible, intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind." (Napoleon Hill; American author; 1883–1970.)

As you read this book, think about possible applications in your own professional and personal life, and think about what you want students to know about the various topics. The brain myths mentioned in this chapter provide an interesting challenge. Perhaps you strongly disagree with the research on brain myths. What are you going to do about this situation?

You may enjoy working with your students to find out what they “know” (think they know) about their own brains. Here are some possible topics for small group and whole class discussion, or writing assignments.

  • Do your students believe that girls are naturally smarter than boys, or vice versa?
  • Do they believe that left-handers are smarter than right-handers, or vice versa?
  • What do they “know” about multitasking?
  • What do they know about study skills—how one learns new material?
  • To them, what does it mean “to know and understand” something?

These and similar questions can spark interesting class discussions and student research projects.

References and Resources for Chapter 1

Allan Institute (2015). Allan Institute for Brain Science: Fueling discovery. (Video, 5:37.) Retrieved 4/27/2015 from

The non-profit Allan Institute was founded by Paul Allan, one of the founders of Microsoft. The Institute carries out research on fundamental, challenging brain science topics, and shares its results with researchers throughout the world.

Brandt, R. (April, 2012). How educational neuroscience will contribute to 21st century education. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 4/23/2015 from

Ron Brandt was editor of publications for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (now ASCD), from 1978 until his retirement in 1997. This newsletter summarizes some of the early history of bringing “modern” brain science into education.

Geake, J. (2008). Neuromythologies in education. Educational Research. Retrieved 10/4/2013 from Quoting from the article:

The basis for the argument put forward includes a literature review of relevant cognitive neuroscientific studies, often involving neuroimaging, together with several comprehensive education reviews of the brain-based approaches under scrutiny.

Howard-Jones, P. (10/15/2014). Neuroscience and education: Myths and messages. Nature. An abstract of this research article is available at

A newspaper article based on the research is available at

Kanwisher, N. (2014). Nancy’s brain talks. (Video, various lengths.) Retrieved 4/23/2015 from Quoting from the website:

Welcome! I’m a professor at MIT who uses a brain imaging method called fMRI to study the human brain. This site contains short talks on the different scientific methods we can use to study the human mind and brain, and some of the cool things we have learned so far. You do not need any background in the field to understand the talks. For an overall introduction, watch my [March, 2014] TED talk.

Sousa, D., ed. (2010). Mind, brain, and education: Neuroscience implications for the classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

The 17 contributors to this book have produced a “tour de force” that I consider must reading for anyone seriously interested in brain science in education. The book addresses questions such as “what does neuroscience reveal about the brain’s ability to learn and use spoken language, to learn and use mathematics, and to think creatively?”

Sparks, S.D. (6/4/2012). Experts call for teaching educators brain science. Education Week. Retrieved 6/14/2012 from Quoting from the article:

"For the most part, teachers are not exposed systemically in a way that allows them to understand things like brain plasticity," said Michael J. Nakkula, the chairman of applied psychology and human development at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. Mr. Nakkula is part of the Students at the Center project, a series of reports on teaching and learning launched this spring by the Boston-based nonprofit group Jobs for the Future.

Sylwester, R. (August, 2013). Understanding and mastering complexity: Understanding our brain and applying that knowledge. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 4/23/2015 from Quoting from the newsletter:

The recent development of at least eight kinds of brain imaging technologies that measure and display variations in chemical composition, blood flow patterns, and electromagnetic fields opened up the possibility of studying brain organization and function in ways that were not previously thought possible.

University of Texas (1997-present). Welcome to neuroscience online, the open-access neuroscience electronic textbook. Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Retrieved 5/3/2015 from

Chapter 7 of Section 4 is titled, Learning and Memory. Quoting from this chapter:

The analysis of the anatomical and physical bases of learning and memory is one of the great successes of modern neuroscience. Thirty years ago little was known about how memory works, but now we know a great deal.

Weimer, M. (4/30/2014). What’s the story about learning styles? Faculty Focus. Retrieved 4/30/2015 from Quoting from the article:

Over simplification of learning and learning styles] derives from dualistic thinking. Either something is right or wrong, it’s in or out, up or down. As mature thinkers, we disavow these dichotomous perspectives.

Chapter 2. Executive Functions and Memory

“The strongest memory is not as strong as the weakest ink.” (Confucius; Chinese thinker and social philosopher, whose teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese thought and life; 551 BC–479 BC.)

In this book, the term information is used to represent any combination of data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and foresight.


Frequently in my early teaching career, I taught a computer literacy course. In this course I taught my student that a computer is a machine for the input, storage, processing, and output of information. That is, a computer is a brain-like, information-processing machine. In my teaching, I emphasized that if we leave out the word machine, this description fits a human brain.

So, then as now, it is interesting and fun to involve students in discussing capabilities and limitations of the human brain versus those of a computer as a brain-like machine. Research and development in improving a computer’s brain-like capabilities has both helped the field of brain science and has been helped by continued progress in brain science.

This chapter focuses on three important aspects of the human brain: executive function, attention, and memory. The executive parts of the brain are in charge, telling other parts what to do. A useful analogy is to think about how a company’s Chief Executive Officer is in charge of the company.

The attention components direct the mind and senses to pay attention, and the memory stores information that can be used by the other parts of the brain to solve problems and accomplish tasks.

A University of Texas online book, Welcome to Neuroscience Online, the Open Access Textbook, is available free. Chapter 7 of Section 4 is titled, Learning and Memory.

Executive Functions of the Brain

The executive functions of a human brain are a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one's resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Quoting from the Executive Functions section of (UCSF, n.d.):

The term “Executive Functions” refers to the higher-level cognitive skills you use to control and coordinate your other cognitive abilities and behaviors. The term is a business metaphor, where the chief executive monitors all of the different departments so that the company can move forward as efficiently and effectively as possible. Who we are, how we organize our lives, how we plan, and how we then execute those plans is largely guided by our executive system.

Executive functions can be divided into organizational and regulatory abilities. Organization includes gathering information and structuring it for evaluation. Regulation involves evaluating the available information and modulating your responses to the environment.

Here is a list of some functions quoted from What Is Executive Functioning? by Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Diet? (2008):

  • Inhibition. The ability to stop one's own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. The flip side of inhibition is impulsivity; if you have weak ability to stop yourself from acting on your impulses, then you are "impulsive."
  • Shift. The ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation.
  • Emotional Control. The ability to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings.
  • Initiation. The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies.
  • Working memory. The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task.
  • Planning/Organization. The ability to manage current and future- oriented task demands.
  • Organization of Materials. The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces.
  • Self-Monitoring. The ability to monitor one's own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected.


You have probably heard teachers say, “Now class, please pay attention.” The teachers want the students to focus their attention on new information and ideas that are about to be presented. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines attention as “the act or power of carefully thinking about, listening to, or watching someone or something.”

Attention is an important brain executive function. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Attention is one of the most intensely studied topics within psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Attention remains a major area of investigation within education, psychology and neuroscience.

A longitudinal study and other research projects are reported in Katrina Schwartz’s article, Age of Distraction: Why It's Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus (Schwartz, 12/5/2013). Quoting from the article:

Perhaps the most well-known study on concentration is a longitudinal study conducted with over 1,000 children in New Zealand by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, psychology and neuroscience professors at Duke University. The study tested children born in 1972 and 1973 regularly for eight years, measuring their ability to pay attention and to ignore distractions. Then, the researchers tracked those same children down at the age of 32 to see how well they fared in life. The ability to concentrate was the strongest predictor of success.
“This ability is more important than IQ or the socio economic status of the family you grew up in for determining career success, financial success and health,” Goleman said. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—sometimes called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)— is a relatively prevalent learning disorder. Quoting from a Mayo Clinic website (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2015):

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.
Children with ADHD also may struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships and poor performance in school. Symptoms sometimes lessen with age. However, some people never completely outgrow their ADHD symptoms. But they can learn strategies to be successful. [Bold added for emphasis.]

The last sentence quoted above is particularly important. According to the U.S Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2015) currently “treatment” for ADHD usually consists of a combination:

  • Medications
  • Behavioral intervention strategies
  • Parent training
  • School accommodations and interventions

Long-term Memory

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Declarative memory (sometimes referred to as explicit memory) is one of two types of long-term human memory. Declarative memory refers to memories that can be consciously recalled such as facts and knowledge. … Declarative memory's counterpart is known as non-declarative or procedural memory, which refers to unconscious memories such as skills (e.g. learning to ride a bicycle). Declarative memory can be divided into two categories: episodic memory, which stores specific personal experiences, and semantic memory, which stores factual information.

As indicated earlier in this chapter, we use the term information to represent any combination of data, information, knowledge, wisdom, and foresight. Information stored in a computer’s memory is represented in binary code—as a sequence of zeros and ones. That is not how we store information in our brains!

One popular—but incorrect—mental image or analogy of human long-term memory is a collection of very tiny filing cabinets, perhaps with the information arranged in alphabetical order. The information just sits there, waiting to be retrieved.

This is an interesting analogy, but rather weak. For example, when you think about animals, do you direct your brain to look in the “A” part of its memory system? Certainly not. The content in your brain’s memory is not arranged in alphabetical order.

Consider the complexity of a storage and retrieval system that can find/access appropriate information when it sees the word animal in print, hears the word, sees any of many different animals in the flesh or in pictures, hears the sound of an animal, smells an animal, is asked to describe some different four-footed animals, and so on.

Quoting from Luke Mastin’s website, The Human Memory (Mastin, 2010):

… our memory is located not in one particular place in the brain, but is instead a brain-wide process in which several different areas of the brain act in conjunction with one another (sometimes referred to as distributed processing). For example, the simple act of riding a bike is actively and seamlessly reconstructed by the brain from many different areas: the memory of how to operate the bike comes from one area, the memory of how to get from here to the end of the block comes from another, the memory of biking safety rules from another, and that nervous feeling when a car veers dangerously close comes from still another. Each element of a memory (sights, sounds, words, emotions) is encoded in the same part of the brain that originally created that fragment (visual cortex, motor cortex, language area, etc), and recall of a memory effectively reactivates the neural patterns generated during the original encoding.

This distributed-memory aspect of information stored in a human brain provides an important clue to effective learning to facilitate information retrieval. Each chunk of information that you store in your brain becomes distributed and connected to (associated with) many other different chunks of information. When we “understand” something, we have stored, can retrieve, and can make use of a collection of interrelated information.

So, in learning something new, we relate it to things we already know, understand, and can use. That, is constructivism is a natural process of how a human learns. As we try to remember (retrieve) information from our memory, we depend on our brain finding and assembling widely distributed but related pieces of memory elements. We improve our retrieval capabilities by helping our brains make a widely distributed but interrelated schema for whatever we are trying to learn.

This analysis also helps to explain why rote learning without understanding is not an effective process. Isolated pieces of information that may well be stored in one’s brain are often difficult to retrieve.

Sensory Memory

Each of our five senses has some short-term memory. You have probably experienced this in your auditory sense. You are not paying much attention to what is being said, and somehow your subconscious says, “Pay attention to what you are hearing.” Your short-term auditory memory allows you to retrieve (in essence, sort of rehear) the last few seconds of the auditory signal.

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Humans have five main senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Sensory memory (SM) allows individuals to retain impressions of sensory information after the original stimulus has ceased.
During every moment of an organism's life, sensory information is being taken in by sensory receptors and processed by the nervous system. The information people receive which is stored in sensory memory is just long enough to be transferred to short-term memory.

Sensory memory stores only a quite short length of input. Depending on the particular sense, this might be as little as a tenth of a second up to a perhaps two-three seconds (Ricker, n.d.). Information coming into sensory memories is transferred into the brain’s short-term working memory (which is discussed later in this chapter). There, the brain processes the information.

In a conversation, for example, the incoming information is often combined with information stored in long-term memory to produce a verbal response. Think about the complexities of receiving a signal consisting of vibrations in the air, translating that into information stored in short term (working) memory, understanding what the signal means, retrieving additional information from one’s long-term memory that relates to what has been said, formulating a response, and directing one’s speaking mechanism to utter a response.

Most of the sensory information that we take in is ignored—that is, does not come to the attention of short-term memory. This observation reinforces our understanding of attention. If we don't pay attention to sensory inputs, we do not learn from them.

Short-Term Memory (Working Memory)

Short-term memory has come to be called working memory, and in the remainder of this chapter we will use that term. If a person tells you their 10-digit phone number, can you remember it long enough to write it down? If you can remember a random 10-digit sequence of number long enough to write them down, your working memory is quite unusual.

But, suppose that you know the person has a local phone number, and you live in the same area code. Then the person’s phone number consists of “my area code” followed by a seven-digit number. The 10-digit number has been reduced to eight chunks of information. Eight chunks are easier to remember for the short time it takes to write it down or “dial” it.

George Miller’s 1956 research article, The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information, is a classic and well worth reading (Miller, 1956). It discusses the capabilities and limitations of working memory, and argues that for typical people, working memory is approximately five to nine chunks.

The size (capacity) of memory varies significantly with different people, and it also varies under conditions of stress, drugs, and so on. Quoting from Miller's article:

In order to speak more precisely, therefore, we must recognize the importance of grouping or organizing the input sequence into units or chunks. Since the [working] memory span is a fixed number of chunks, we can increase the number of [binary] bits of information that it contains simply by building larger and larger chunks, each chunk containing more information than before.
A man just beginning to learn radio-telegraphic code hears each dit and dah as a separate chunk. Soon he is able to organize these sounds into letters and then he can deal with the letters as chunks. Then the letters organize themselves as words, which are still larger chunks, and he begins to hear whole phrases.

Each of us has learned to deal with the limitations in our working memory. Still, in our roles as communicators and teachers, we often forget about the limitations of the student brains that are trying to receive and process the information we are communicating. I am reminded of presentations in which an overhead projector is used. With a click of a button a “page” of information is flashed up on the screen. The speaker makes some comments about this information, and then moves on to the next slide. Question: How much information should a slide display?

We want students to simultaneously read the slide’s contents, listen to and process what is being said, and take notes! Think about the demands that this places on a brain’s sensory and working memory capabilities. In my opinion, most speakers (most teachers) go far too fast.

For effective communication and learning, here is what needs to happen. An idea is presented both as a short line of text (perhaps accompanied with a graphical image) on a slide. Often the presenter speaks the words, so that the listener/viewer gets both a written and oral version, and perhaps a visual image version of the idea.

The presenter then presents some related ideas designed to help the students construct knowledge and understanding that ties in with their current knowledge and understanding. This might be via a sequence of examples, personal stories, and so on. In a teaching situation, the presenter may then provide time for students to talk together in small groups—such human to human interaction helps students to better understand what has been presented and to gain insights about what one’s fellow students are learning and understanding.

Somewhat the same ideas apply to the design of effective Web pages. The following article discusses short-term memory in terms of the design of effective Web pages. Jacob Nielsen is a world-class researcher in the design or Web pages. Quoting from his article, Short-term Memory and Web Usability:

The human brain is not optimized for the abstract thinking and data memorization that websites often demand. Many usability guidelines are dictated by cognitive limitations.
People can't keep much information in their short-term memory. This is especially true when they're bombarded with multiple abstract or unusual pieces of data in rapid succession. Lest designers forget how easily users forget, let's review why our brains seem to be so weak.
Human beings are remarkably good at hunting the woolly mammoth. Considering that we humans have neither fangs nor claws, our ancestors did fine work in exterminating most megafauna from Australia to North America armed with nothing better than flint weapons. (In today's more environmentally conscious world, we might deplore their slaughtering ways, but early humans were more interested in catching their dinner.)
Many of the skills needed to use computers aren't highly useful in slaying mammoths. Such skills include remembering obscure codes from one screen to the next and interpreting highly abbreviated form-field labels. It's no surprise that people are no good at these skills, since they weren't important for survival in the ancestral environment. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Although Nielsen is writing about user interfaces in Web design, the same idea hold for a teacher designing a teacher-to-student interface. The learning teaching/learning interface needs to be designed to effectively cope with limitations of the brain. Again quoting from Nielsen:

Although the average human brain is better equipped for mammoth hunting than using websites, we're not all average. In fact, there are huge individual differences in user performance: the top 25% of users are 2.4 times better than the bottom 25%.

That fact is one of the major challenges in teaching. How does one teach a group of students containing that much brain variance?

Hippocampus and Long-term Memory

An intact human brain has two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain. The hippocampus belongs to the limbic system and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory.

Quoting from

This part of the brain appears to be absolutely necessary for making new memories. If you didn’t have it, you couldn’t live in the present: you’d be stuck in the past of old memories. And this is common: Alzheimer’s disease affects the hippocampus first and severely, before other parts of the cortex (later, the frontal lobes too). So memory is usually the first thing to start to falter in Alzheimer’s — the ability to make new ones, that is. Who visited yesterday? Where did I put the car keys? Why isn’t there any mail today (when you brought it in 3 hours ago)?

Modern brain-scanning equipment allows us to “see” what parts of the brain are most active when the brain performs various tasks. For example, quoting from (Byrne, 2009 to present):

Figure 7.5 illustrates an example of a PET scan of an individual who is performing an object location test. The color code is such that the brighter, redder regions indicate increased brain activity. The most active region is the hippocampus. In discussions of memory, the hippocampus is mentioned repeatedly because it is a major part of the brain involved in declarative memory] [long-term memory] function. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Henry Molaison (H.M.) had a bilateral medial temporal lobectomy to surgically remove the anterior two thirds of his hippocampi in an attempt to cure his epilepsy. Researchers studied his brain for many years after the operation, until he died. Quoting from (Byrne, 2009 to present):

Before the operation, H.M. had a fine memory, but after the operation, H.M. had a very severe memory deficit. Specifically, after the operation H.M.'s ability to form any new memories for facts and events was severely impaired; he had great difficulty learning any new vocabulary words; he could not remember what happened the day before. So if H.M. had an interview the day following a previous interview, he would have little or no memory about the interview or events during it. This study clearly indicated that the hippocampus was critical for memory formation. But whereas H.M. had great difficulty forming new memories for facts and events, he still had all of his old memories for facts and events. Specifically, he had all his childhood memories, and all of his memories prior to the operation.

Brain stimulation using electrical current to various parts of the brain has become both an important area of research and a new fad. Here is information about research on electrical stimulation of the hippocampus that improved learning. Quoting from Schmidt (2/8/2012):

UCLA neuroscientists have demonstrated that they can strengthen memory in human patients by stimulating a critical junction in the brain. Published in the Feb. 9 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the finding could lead to a new method for boosting memory in patients with early Alzheimer's disease.
The UCLA team focused on a brain site called the entorhinal cortex. Considered the doorway to the hippocampus, which helps form and store memories, the entorhinal cortex plays a crucial role in transforming daily experience into lasting memories.
"When we stimulated the nerve fibers in the patients' entorhinal cortex during learning, they later recognized landmarks and navigated the routes more quickly," Fried said. "They even learned to take shortcuts, reflecting improved spatial memory.
"Critically, it was the stimulation at the gateway into the hippocampus — and not the hippocampus itself — that proved effective," he added.

There has been substantial research on how exercise benefits the brain. See, for example, (Chaddock, et al., 2010) and (Erickson, et al., 2009). Quoting from the first of these references:

Exercise increases hippocampus size and improves memory. One year of brisk walking by older adults caused their hippocampus to grow by 2 percent. They walked 40 minutes, three days a week. The control group that did not walk saw their hippocampus shrink by over 1 percent, due to normal aging.

Quoting from the second of the references:

Aerobic fitness is correlated with hippocampal size. Physical fitness is directly associated with a larger hippocampus and better spatial memory in older adults. Participants in this study who were more fit were shown to have a significantly larger hippocampus. According to the study authors, "If you stay fit, you retain key regions of your brain involved in learning and memory."

Mirror Neurons: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

A mirror neuron is a premotor neuron which fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting.… In humans, brain activity consistent with mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex and the inferior parietal cortex. Some scientists consider mirror neurons one of the most important findings of neuroscience in the last decade.

Mirror neurons have received quite a bit of publicity and perhaps have been over hyped. A January 2005 NOVA broadcast contains an excellent 14-minute video about mirror neurons.

Here is a very brief book suggestion quoted from an email message written by Robert Sylwester. He recommends Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others by Marco Iacobonni (2008). Quoting from Sylwester's comments on the book:

Within the brains of humans, apes, and monkeys is a small set of neurons that simulate the actions of others in real time. When you see Humphrey Bogart lock lips with Ingrid Bergman, the same brain cells fire as when you kiss your honey. When you hear co-workers crack open a soda, in your brain it's as if you'd opened the can yourself.
Since their discovery in monkeys less than two decades ago, mirror neurons have been called into service to explain just about everything that makes us human--from empathy and language to politics and pornography. Are these cells really the be-all and end-all of human nature? In one of the first books on the subject, neuroscientist Marco Iacobonni clearly explains what we do know (and how) and what we don't know (and can't).
Want to learn what mirror neurons have to do with Super Bowl commercials, violent video games, autism, addiction, and even free will? This is your book.

Gregory Hickok’s book, The Myth of Mirror Neurons: The Real Neuroscience of Communication and Cognition, questions some of the literature in the field of mirror neurons (August, 2014). Quoting from a review of Hickok's book by Bob Grant:

Serving as a case study in how excitement about a scientific discovery can go astray, The Myth of Mirror Neurons relates the breathless exuberance that attended the identification of a new type of brain cell initially regarded as a revelation in our understanding of human brain function. University of California, Irvine, cognitive scientist Gregory Hickok throws cold water on the idea that mirror neurons, which were first observed in the motor cortex of macaques in the 1990s, are crucial to how the primate brain understands the actions of others.
After their initial discovery, mirror neurons became neuroscience’s cells du jour, with tons of papers throughout the 2000s exploring their role in social cognition, language, autism, and more. But the buzz about mirror neurons outpaced the science, according to Hickok. Journals published shoddy studies, and speculation about the ability of mirror neurons to inform the primate brain’s “action understanding” ran amok. Since then, several neuroscientists, Hickok among them, have reevaluated the roles played by these neurons.
Hickok doesn’t simply destroy the hope surrounding mirror neurons; he points the way to new research directions that could more properly contextualize the function of the still-interesting brain cells.

You and Your Students

Even though the size of a six-year-old’s brain is about 90% of what it be when the adult reaches full physical maturity, the six-year-old’s brain will be steadily maturing for the next 20 years. As a teacher and/or a parent, you will contribute greatly to the eventual full functioning of this brain. So, what do you want to accomplish?

When they are quite young, children learn they have a brain and it is located in their head. They will gain some practical knowledge about paying attention, avoiding bumping their head on hard surfaces, the pain of a head ache, how it feels to not get enough sleep, and so on. However, they will likely learn little about the information in Chapter 2.

Select one of the sections of this chapter, such as Attention. What do want the slowly maturing child’s brain to learn about “paying attention” and learning to control the focus of his or her attention? Or, think about how you use your communication skills in helping a child put information into his or her long-term memory in a manner that facilitates retrieval and use in solving challenging problems and accomplishing challenging tasks.

My suggestion is that you observe and think carefully about the learning that occurs as you interact with children of various ages (various levels of brain maturity). Don’t just tell them something and later say, “I told you that before. Why don’t you pay attention?” In the “telling” process, facilitate an interaction that helps lead to long term recall and understand-based use of what is being told.

References and Resources for Chapter 2

Byrne, J. (1997 to present). Chapter 7: Learning and memory. Neuroscience Online. Retrieved 8/18/2014 from Quoting from the chapter:

The analysis of the anatomical and physical bases of learning and memory is one of the great successes of modern neuroscience. Thirty years ago little was known about how memory works, but now we know a great deal. This Chapter will discuss four issues that are central to learning and memory. First, what are the different types of memory? Second, where in the brain is memory located?… Third, how does memory work?… Fourth, is the issue of importance to many people, especially as we age: How can memory be maintained and improved, and how can it be fixed when it is broken?

CDC (2015). My child has been diagnosed with ADHD - Now what? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 5/1/2015 from Quoting from the article:

Research shows that behavioral therapy is an important part of treatment for children with ADHD. ADHD affects not only a child’s ability to pay attention or sit still at school, it also affects relationships with family and how well they do in their classes.

Cooper-Kahn, J., & Diet, L. (2008). What is executive functioning? LD Online. Retrieved 5/1/2015 from Quoting from the document:

We believe that the focus on executive functioning represents a significant advancement in our understanding of children (and adults!) and their unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.

Douglas (2015). The science behind memory improvement. Retrieved 5/4/2015 from Quoting from the site:

This page lists memory research evidence that backs up much of the advice and techniques I explain on this website.… The rest of this site explains memory improvement habits and techniques.

Hickok, G. (August, 2014). The myth of mirror neurons: The real neuroscience of communication and cognition. New York: W.W. Norton. Quoting from

The Myth of Mirror Neurons not only delivers an instructive tale about the course of scientific progress—from discovery to theory to revision—but also provides deep insights into the organization and function of the human brain and the nature of communication and cognition.

Iacoboni, M. (2008). Mirroring people: The new science of how we connect with others. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

The first few chapter titles are: Neuro This; Brain Surprises; The Fab Four; Mirrors in the Brain; I know What You Are Doing; I Know What you are Thinking; I Can Hear What You are Doing; Mirroring Tool Use; and I Know That You are Copying Me.

Kandra, C. (n.d.) 11 great ways to improve your memory. About Education. Retrieved 5/4/2015 from

Mayo Clinic Staff (2015). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 5/2/2015 from Quoting from the website:

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been called attention-deficit disorder (ADD) in the past. But ADHD is now the preferred term because it describes both of the primary features of this condition: inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behavior.

Miller, G.A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Retrieved 12/7/09 from

This is a seminal research article about human short term. It is written in a somewhat folksy style. It begins with the statement:
My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer. For seven years this number [seven plus or minus two] has followed me around, has intruded in my most private data, and has assaulted me from the pages of our most public journals.

Nielsen, J. (12/7/09). Short-term memory and web usability. Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved 5/3/2015 from Quoting from the website:

Short-term memory limitations dictate a whole range of other Web design guidelines [such as]:
  • [Computer] response times must be fast enough that users don't forget what they're in the middle of doing while waiting for the next page to load.
  • Change the color of visited links so that users don't have to remember where they've already clicked.
  • Make it easy to compare products, highlighting the salient differences on both the initial category page and in special comparison views.

Ricker, J. (n.d.). PSY 101—Introduction to psychology. Retrieved 5/2/2015 from

This six-chapter online book includes practice quizzes. Chapter 3 covers The Structures and Functions of the Brain. Chapter 5 covers Remembering and Forgetting.

Schwartz, K. (12/5/2013). Age of distraction: Why it's crucial for students to learn to focus. Mind/Shift. Retrieved 5/1/2015 from

This article focuses on the work of Daniel Goleman. Quoting from the document:
“Children I’m particularly worried about because the brain is the last organ of the body to become anatomically mature. It keeps growing until the mid-20s,” Goleman said. If young students don’t build up the neural circuitry that focused attention requires, they could have problems controlling their emotions and being empathetic.

Schwartz, S. (4/17/2015). Seven easy ways to boost your memory. Retrieved 4/27/2015 from

The list includes use of caffeine, exercise, stopping smoking, and a sensible sleep schedule. I have a blog entry on this topic, and it is quite popular.

UCSF (n.d.). Frontotemporal dementia. University of California, San Francisco. Retrieved 5/1/2015 from Quoting from the document:

By examining the impact of neurodegenerative disease, we can improve our understanding of how brain functions are organized. Although specific diseases are often noted for their effects in one area of function, we learn most about the brain's functions by comparing them across different diseases. (UCSF Memory and Aging Center.)

Chapter 3. The Changing Brain

A typical human’s brain reaches full maturity by about age 26. However, that is a misleading statement. Every thought you think and every piece of information you access in your brain produces changes in your brain. Memories weaken if they are not accessed from time to time. This is sometimes summarized by the statement, “Use it or lose it.”

Neuron: (also known as a nerve cell) is an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals.
Dendrite: the bushy, branching extensions of a neuron that receive messages and conduct impulses toward the cell body/axon—the extension of a neuron, ending in branching terminal fibers, through which messages pass to other neurons ….

Your brain contains approximately 87 billion neurons, each with an average of 7,000 dendrites. Most people find these very large numbers incomprehensible. The number of neurons you have is well over ten times the number of humans on earth. The number of dendrites in your brain is well over 70,000 times the number of people on earth.

I strongly recommend that you view the first 11-minute section of the PBS video, Inside the Teenage Brain (PBS Frontline, 2002). It provides an excellent introduction to the changing brain.

Daniel Golden has written a short article summarizing ways to help your brain grow more dendrites (Golden, n.d.). Quoting from the article:

What can the average person do to strengthen his or her mind? “The important thing is to be actively involved in areas unfamiliar to you,” says Arnold Scheibel, head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute. “Anything that’s intellectually challenging can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in your brain.” So pick something that’s diverting and, most important, unfamiliar. A computer programmer might try sculpture; a ballerina might try marine navigation.

Nature and Nurture

Quoting from Kendra Cherry’s article, What is Nature Versus Nurture? (n.d.):

Nature refers to all of the genes and hereditary factors that influence who we are – from our physical appearance to our personality characteristics.
Nurture refers to all the environmental variables that impact who we are, including our early childhood experiences, how we were raised, our social relationships, and our surrounding culture.

If we pick a particular human trait such as personality or intelligence, we can ask and attempt to answer how much of the trait is determined by nature and how much by nurture. A common approach is to study identical twins, fraternal twins, and non-twin siblings who are raised under varying circumstances. For example, one can study twins separated at birth.

If we define intelligence in terms of our available IQ tests, then we come to the conclusion that intelligence for children is approximately 40% to 50% determined by inheritance. However, such research studies indicate that nature and nurture are highly intertwined. Thus, for example, children learn the language or languages spoken in their environment. But, some children have more innate talent to learn languages than others. Linguistic intelligence is one of the multiple intelligences posited by Howard Gardner .

The pace of change brought on by nature varies from person to person. Pay special attention to the section on the Teenage Brain given later in this chapter. On average, girls begin the brain changes associated with adolescence much sooner than boys. Since the nurture (for example, home environment and travel experiences) that children grow up with varies considerably from child to child, at any particular grade level we see a compounding of changes wrought by nature and by variations in nurturing.

In considering nature versus nurture in terms of intelligence, it is easy to forget how intelligent an average person is. Think for a bit about the amount of intellectual prowess it takes to carry on a conversation about a topic that interests you or to make plans about what you will do later in the day, and then to carry out the plans.

Neurogenesis: Growing New Neurons

At one time brain researchers believed that neurogenesis (birth of neurons) did not occur in adult human brains. However, quoting from the Wikipedia:

Neurogenesis (birth of neurons) is the process by which neurons are generated from neural stem cells and progenitor cells. Most active during pre-natal development, neurogenesis is responsible for populating the growing brain with neurons. Recently neurogenesis was shown to continue in several small parts of the [adult] brain of mammals: the hippocampus and the subventricular zone.

Kate Yandell’s article, Lifelong Neuronal Rebirth, provides a good overview of adult neurogenesis (2/20/2014). Quoting from the article:

Certain neurons in the human striatum—a brain region involved in movement and cognition—are renewed throughout life, according to a study published today (February 20, 2014) in Cell. At one time, researchers thought that human neurons regenerated in fewer brain regions than in rodents and nonhuman primates. Now it appears that regenerated neurons simply show up in different brain regions in humans compared with other mammals—a findings that has potential implications for the origins of learning and other higher-order cognitive processes.

It may turn out that deep brain stimulation (DBS) using electrical currents increases neuronal growth. Quoting from Szalavitz (9/28/2011):

The current research in mice used Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) in the entorhinal cortex, a brain area that interacts with a critical memory region called the hippocampus. …
Researchers found that when the brain stimulators were turned on for one hour, the growth of new brain cells in a key region of the hippocampus nearly doubled.

Here is a challenging neuroscience question. How does your mind/brain distinguish between something it learned 15 seconds ago, 15 minutes ago, 15 hours ago, 15 days ago, 15 weeks ago, 15 months ago, and 15 years ago? If your memory was like a filing cabinet, each item could be date-stamped, and retrieval of a content item could be accompanied by retrieval of the exact time it was stored. But, your memory does not work that way. So, how does your mind/brain avoid getting confused by this "time" situation? A conjecture about a partial answer is given in the next two paragraphs.

An excellent discussion about growing new neurons is available in William Skaggs’ Scientific American article, New Neurons for New Memories (September, 2014). Research on neuronal growth in the hippocampus may help to explain how the brain keeps separate memories separate. Quoting from the article:

Neuroscientists now suspect that neurons born in the hippocampus help the brain create and sift through the millions of memories we form over the course of a lifetime. If this is true, neurogenesis might solve a puzzle that has perplexed memory researchers for more than 60 years: how our brain keeps separate memories of similar events. These discoveries may ultimately reveal not only how we recall the episodes of our lives but also how we can preserve our brain's powerful record-keeping faculties despite the inevitable decline of aging.

Think about the possibilities if researchers are able to foster/promote/cause the growth of new neurons in the various parts of the brain. The implications for people with brain injuries and brain degenerative diseases are immense.

But, what if we reach a time when we can do something akin to "blood doping"—that is, "neuron doping or DBS?" Right now we test athletes for use of "illegal" drugs. Hmm. Perhaps we will eventually want to test students for use of procedures that increase their number of neurons? But, how can we possibly test whether students are “self medicating” with DBS, using inexpensive equipment they have built for themselves?


Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, is an umbrella term that encompasses both synaptic plasticity and non-synaptic plasticity—it refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment, and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.

During the past decade brain science researchers have made major progress in understanding brain plasticity. If you are just getting started in learning about this topic, I highly recommend you view Michael Merzenich’s TED Talk, Growing Evidence of Brain Plasticity (2004). His entertaining and insightful presentation captures a major change that was going on in brain science late in the 20th century and early in the 21st century as it was becoming generally accepted that adult brains have amazing plasticity and ability to change.

However, the history of brain plasticity goes back many years before that time. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Psychologist William James suggested that the brain was perhaps not as unchanging as previously believed way back in 1890. In his [1890] book The Principles of Psychology, he wrote, "Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity." However, this idea went largely ignored for many years.
In the 1920s, researcher Karl Lashley provided evidence of changes in the neural pathways of rhesus monkeys. By the 1960s, researchers began to explore cases in which older adults who had suffered massive strokes were able to regain functioning, demonstrating that the brain was much more malleable than previously believed. Modern researchers have also found evidence that the brain is able to rewire itself following damage.

Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education, at Stanford (HOPES) is a team of faculty and undergraduate students at Stanford University dedicated to making scientific information about Huntington’s disease (HD) more readily accessible to the public. Some of their work is presented in Stephanie Liou’s paper on Neurobiology (5/26/010). Quoting from this paper:

Conditions in our environment, such as social interactions, challenging experiences and even fresh air can play a crucial role in brain cell survival and the formation of connections. Just as the brain changes in response to environmental conditions, it can also change and rearrange in response to injury or disease. Commonly, these rearrangements involve changes in the connection between linked nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. Brain reorganization takes place by mechanisms such as “axonal sprouting”, where undamaged axons grow new nerve endings to reconnect the neurons, whose links were severed through damage. Undamaged axons can also sprout nerve endings and connect with other undamaged nerve cells, thus making new links and new neural pathways to accomplish what was a damaged function. For example, although each brain hemisphere has its own tasks, if one brain hemisphere is damaged, the intact hemisphere can sometimes take over some of the functions of the damaged one. Flexible and capable of such adaptation, the brain compensates for damage in effect by reorganizing and forming new connections between intact neurons. The brain can also respond to a deficiency in one type of sensory input by enhancing the processing of other sensory inputs. In blind individuals, for instance, areas of the cortex normally assigned to visual processing can adapt to process completely different sensory inputs, such as hearing or touch.

Two Hemispheres

A human brain has two hemispheres. They communicate through a brain bundle called the corpus callosum. Quoting from Chapter 7 of David Hubel’s online book, Eye, Brain, and Vision (1995):

Until about 1950 the function of the corpus callosum was a complete mystery. On rare occasions, the corpus callosum in humans is absent at birth, in a condition called agenesis of the corpus callosum. Occasionally it may be completely or partially cut by the neurosurgeon, either to treat epilepsy (thus preventing epileptic discharges that begin in one hemisphere from spreading to the other) or to make it possible to reach a very deep tumor, such as one in the pituitary gland, from above. In none of these cases had neurologists and psychiatrists found any deficiency….

Many of the important organs are duplicated in a human body. We have two eyes, two ears, two kidneys, two lungs, two arms, and two legs. Thus, we tend to take it for granted that our brain has two somewhat independently functioning hemispheres. Certainly the two hemispheres are not identical. However, it is possible to function reasonably well on just one hemisphere. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

This [hemispherectomy] procedure is almost exclusively performed in children because their brains generally display more neuroplasticity, allowing neurons from the remaining hemisphere to take over the tasks from the lost hemisphere. This likely occurs by strengthening neural connections which already exist on the unaffected side but which would have otherwise remained small in a normally functioning, uninjured brain.
In one study of children under 5 who had this surgery to treat catastrophic epilepsy, 73.7% were freed of all seizures. Studies have found no significant long-term effects on memory, personality, or humor, and minimal changes in cognitive function overall. For example, one case followed a patient who had completed college, attended graduate school and scored above average on intelligence tests after undergoing this procedure at age 5.5.

Researchers have delved into the evolution of this two-hemispheres brain. Quoting from (MacNeilage, et al., July, 2009):

The division of labor by the two cerebral hemispheres—once thought to be uniquely human—predates us by half a billion years. Speech, right-handedness, facial recognition and the processing of spatial relations can be traced to brain asymmetries in early vertebrates.
The left hemisphere of the human brain controls language, arguably our greatest mental attribute. It also controls the remarkable dexterity of the human right hand. The right hemisphere is dominant in the control of, among other things, our sense of how objects interrelate in space.
Here we present evidence for a radically different hypothesis that is gaining support, particularly among biologists. The specialization of each hemisphere in the human brain, we argue, was already present in its basic form when vertebrates emerged about 500 million years ago.
We suggest that the more recent specializations of the brain hemispheres, including those of humans, evolved from the original ones by the Darwinian process of descent with modification. (In that process, capabilities relevant to ancient traits are changed or co-opted in the service of other developing traits.) Our hypothesis holds that the left hemisphere of the vertebrate brain was originally specialized for the control of well-established patterns of behavior under ordinary and familiar circumstances. In contrast, the right hemisphere, the primary seat of emotional arousal, was at first specialized for detecting and responding to unexpected stimuli in the environment.

Differences in the Male and Female Brains

Substantial progress is occurring in identifying differences in human female and male brains. Mo Costandi’s article, Male Brain Versus Female Brain: How Do They Differ?, contains a good discussion of some of the latest findings (10/6/2013). Quoting from the article:

Subtle observable differences exist between male and female brains, but how exactly these relate to differences in behaviour is unknown. Such gender variations in the brain are often exaggerated and misappropriated, not only by the mass media but also by scientists, to reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate myths.
The most obvious difference between the brains of men and women is overall size – men's brains are, on average, between 10 and 15 per cent larger than women's. In one recent study, neuroscientists compared the brains of 42 men and 58 women postmortem, and found that men's weighed an average of 1,378g (3lb), compared with 1,248g (2.75lb) for women. These size differences have been found repeatedly, but they emerge only when comparing large numbers of people, so some women's brains are larger than the average [man] whereas some men's are smaller [than the average woman]. These differences partly reflect the fact that men are generally bigger and taller than women, but they are not related to differences in intelligence.
Men and women's brains also differ in overall composition. Male brains tend to have a slightly higher proportion of white matter, whereas those of females have a higher proportion of grey matter in most parts of the cerebral cortex. Consequently, the cortex is slightly thicker in women's brains than in men's and, according to several studies, is slightly more convoluted as well. There are also sex differences in the size of individual brain structures. The hippocampus, a structure involved in memory formation, is on average larger in men than in women, as is the amygdala, which is also involved in memory, as well as emotions. [Bold added for emphasis.]

For some reason people (perhaps, men in particular) do considerable stereotyping of differences between males and females. Continuing to quote from Costandi:

Numerous studies show subtle differences in male and female behaviour and in cognitive functions, too. Men tend to be more aggressive and outperform women on mental tasks involving spatial skills such as mental rotation, whereas women tend to be more empathetic and perform better on verbal memory and language tasks. Findings like these are often exaggerated to reinforce the stereotypes that women are bad at reverse parking and that they love to chat!

Capability in mathematics provides a good example of stereotyping. It used to be commonly accepted that men are better than women at math. Alice Park summarizes the school performance of girls versus boys in her article, Girls Beat Boys in Every Subject, and They Have for a Century (4/29/2014). Quoting from the article:

Stereotypes are hard to break, and when it comes to education and gender, parents — and students — stick with a firmly held belief that girls don’t do as well in math and science, while boys don’t have great language and reading skills.
But a review of 308 studies involving more than 1.1 million boys and girls who were students from 1914 to 2011 blows apart that idea. For 100 years, according to the data that included students from 30 countries, girls have been outperforming boys in all of their classes — reading, language and math and science. And they’ve been doing it throughout their academic careers, from elementary school to high school.

Teenage Brains

The young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine. (Aristotle; Greek philosopher and scientist; 384-322 BCE.)

My 5/10/2015 Google search of teenage brains produced over seven million hits. Brain development starts before birth and continues until full brain maturity is reached at about age 25 to 26. Parents who have raised children to adulthood recognize that, during their teens, many children became "sort of weird." The National Geographic article, Beautiful Brains, by David Dobbs help to explain this (October, 2001). Quoting from the article.

The first full series of scans of the developing adolescent brain—a National Institutes of Health (NIH) project that studied over a hundred young people as they grew up during the 1990s—showed that our brains undergo a massive reorganization between our 12th and 25th years. The brain doesn't actually grow very much during this period. It has already reached 90 percent of its full size by the time a person is six, and a thickening skull accounts for most head growth afterward. But as we move through adolescence, the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade.
These studies help explain why teens behave with such vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday. Along with lacking experience generally, they're still learning to use their brain's new networks. Stress, fatigue, or challenges can cause a misfire. Abigail Baird, a Vassar psychologist who studies teens, calls this neural gawkiness—an equivalent to the physical awkwardness teens sometimes display while mastering their growing bodies.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s TED Talk, The Mysterious Workings of the Adolescent Brain, focuses on the social brain of adolescents. (June, 2012). Quoting from the video:

So adolescence is defined as the period of life that starts with the biological, hormonal, physical changes of puberty and ends at the age at which an individual attains a stable, independent role in society. It can go on a long time. One of the brain regions that changes most dramatically during adolescence is called prefrontal cortex.
Prefrontal cortex is an interesting brain area. It's proportionally much bigger in humans than in any other species, and it's involved in a whole range of high level cognitive functions, things like decision-making, planning, planning what you're going to do tomorrow or next week or next year, inhibiting inappropriate behavior, so stopping yourself saying something really rude or doing something really stupid. It's also involved in social interaction, understanding other people, and self-awareness.
So MRI studies looking at the development of this region have shown that it really undergoes dramatic development during the period of adolescence. So if you look at gray matter volume, for example, gray matter volume across age from age four to 22 years increases during childhood, which is what you can see on this graph. It peaks in early adolescence. The arrows indicate peak gray matter volume in prefrontal cortex. You can see that that peak happens a couple of years later in boys relative to girls, and that's probably because boys go through puberty a couple of years later than girls on average.... [Bold added for emphasis.]

Pay particular attention to last sentence in the quote. On average, there is a substantial difference between the brains of boys and the brains of girls during this puberty time period.

The National Institute of Mental Health has published The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction (NIH, 2011). Quoting from the document:

An understanding of how the brain of an adolescent is changing may help explain a puzzling contradiction of adolescence: young people at this age are close to a lifelong peak of physical health, strength, and mental capacity, and yet, for some, this can be a hazardous age. Mortality rates jump between early and late adolescence. Rates of death by injury between ages 15 to 19 are about six times that of the rate between ages 10 and 14. Crime rates are highest among young males and rates of alcohol abuse are high relative to other ages. Even though most adolescents come through this transitional age well, it’s important to understand the risk factors for behavior that can have serious consequences. Genes, childhood experience, and the environment in which a young person reaches adolescence all shape behavior. Adding to this complex picture, research is revealing how all these factors act in the context of a brain that is changing, with its own impact on behavior.
The assumption for many years had been that the volume of gray matter was highest in very early childhood, and gradually fell as a child grew. The more recent scans, however, revealed that the high point of the volume of gray matter occurs during early adolescence.
While the details behind the changes in volume on scans are not completely clear, the results push the timeline of brain maturation into adolescence and young adulthood. In terms of the volume of gray matter seen in brain images, the brain does not begin to resemble that of an adult until the early 20s.

The Aging Brain and Dementia

An adult human brain declines in its capabilities as it grows older. The rate of decline varies considerably among different people, and it a product of both nature and nurture. Here is a definition of dementia from the Mayo Clinic:

Dementia isn't a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.
Dementia indicates problems with at least two brain functions, such as memory loss and impaired judgment or language, and the inability to perform some daily activities such as paying bills or becoming lost while driving.
Though memory loss generally occurs in dementia, memory loss alone doesn't mean you have dementia. There is a certain extent of memory loss that is a normal part of aging.

Alzheimer’s is a particularly devastating type of dementia and is a major problem throughout the world. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia among people aged 65 and older.

Quoting from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America:

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain's nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes.
These neurons, which produce the brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, break connections with other nerve cells and ultimately die. For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer's disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus, and language skills and judgment decline when neurons die in the cerebral cortex.

There is substantial ongoing research on how to detect, prevent, delay, and treat Alzheimer’s. Researchers at Ohio State University have developed a self-assessment dementia test. Click here for a short video. Quoting from the website (Ohio State University, n.d.):

The handwritten self-assessment, which can take less than 15 minutes to complete, is a reliable tool for evaluating cognitive abilities. Findings confirming the validity of the tool are reported in the current issue of the journal Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders. ]
Dr. Douglas Scharre, a neurologist at the Ohio State University Medical Center, developed the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE) to help identify individuals with mild thinking and memory impairments at an early stage. The research shows four out of five people (80 percent) with mild thinking and memory (cognitive) issues will be detected by this test, and 95% of people who are normal thinking will have normal SAGE scores.

Exercise and the Brain

My 5/10/2015 Google search of exercise and the brain produced about 180 million results. Exercise helps both your physical body and your brain/mind. Quoting from Heidi Godman’s article, Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills (Godman, 4/9/2014):

There are plenty of good reasons to be physically active. Big ones include reducing the odds of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Maybe you want to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, prevent depression, or just look better. Here’s another one, which especially applies to those of us (including me) experiencing the brain fog that comes with age: exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.

Click here for an IAE Blog entry discussing physical exercise and the human brain. In brief summary, physical exercise is good for your brain. Schools that are cutting down on recess for students are undermining this important, research-based finding. A recent study reports on the value of exercise to both boys and girls, but indicated boys benefit more than girls. Substantial research supports the value of older adults remaining physically fit.

Douglas (2014) is a website providing a number of links to websites discussing how to improve memory. Typically Douglas provides a brief “tidbit” and a citation. Here are three sample tidbits from this website:

  • Exercise increases hippocampus size and improves memory. One year of brisk walking by older adults caused their hippocampus to grow by 2 percent. They walked 40 minutes, three days a week. The control group that did not walk saw their hippocampus shrink by over 1 percent, due to normal aging.
  • Physically fit children perform better on memory tests. Children age 9 and 10 who were more physically fit had a 12 percent bigger hippocampus and scored higher on a test of relational memory (the memory-associated ability to relate and integrate information). Fitness was measured by how efficiently the student's body used oxygen while running on a treadmill ("the gold standard measure of fitness"). The size of their hippocampus was measured by MRI scan.
  • Aerobic fitness is correlated with hippocampal size. Physical fitness is directly associated with a larger hippocampus and better spatial memory in older adults. Participants in this study who were more fit were shown to have a significantly larger hippocampus.

You and Your Students

This chapter introduces a huge amount of information useful to teachers, parents, and students. Do you work with teenagers? Then you can help them understand how/why their brain is different than it was before they entered puberty, and how it will change as their brain grows to full maturity by about age 25 or so. This type of information makes a great topic for small group discussions in health and science classes, as well as between parents and their teenagers at home.

We and many of our students know older people who are suffering from dementia. Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, can be quite frightening to children who witness it. This situation provides a good opportunity for children to learn about empathy and compassion from their parents and caregivers.

All children and adults can understand the values of regular physical exercise. While students can easily see how such exercise helps to build their physical prowess, they may be surprised to learn that it also helps to build their brain/mind capabilities.

References and Resources for Chapter 3

Blakemore, S. (June, 2012). The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain. (Video, 14:26.) TED Talk. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from Quoting from the website:

Why do teenagers seem so much more impulsive, so much less self-aware than grown-ups? Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to show us how typically “teenage” behavior is caused by the growing and developing brain.

Cherry, K. (n.d.). What is nature versus nurture? About Education. Retrieved 5/8/2015 from Quoting from the article:

What researchers do know is that the interaction of heredity and environment is often the most important factor of all. Kevin Davies of PBS's Nova described one fascinating example of this phenomenon. Perfect pitch is the ability to detect the pitch of a musical tone without any reference.

Costandi, M. (10/6/2013). Male brain versus female brain: How do they differ? Science. Retrieved 5/9/2015 from The Science article consists of excerpts from Mo Costandi’s book, 50 human brain ideas you really need to know. Quoting Costandi:

[In the 50 short chapters of this 200-page book] I have covered what I believe to be many of the concepts that are fundamental to our current understanding of that wondrous lump of electrochemical jelly inside our heads.

Dobbs, D. (October, 2011). Beautiful brains. National Geographic. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from Quoting from the article:

[My teenage son’s] adventure raised the question long asked by people who have pondered the class of humans we call teenagers: What on Earth was he doing? Parents often phrase this question more colorfully. Scientists put it more coolly. They ask, What can explain this behavior?

Douglas (2014). The science behind memory improvement. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from Quoting from the website:

There has always been too much hype associated with memory improvement. It's easy to find "snake oil salesmen" selling magic pills they say give anyone a perfect memory. But you want good reasons for what you do, and so do I. Thus the importance of scientific research.

Godman, H. (4/9/2014). Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from Quoting from the document:

In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.

Golden, D. (n.d.). How to make your dendrites grow and grow. San Diego Brain Injury Foundation. Retrieved 5/8/2015 from Quoting from the article:

And remember, researchers agree that it’s never to late. Says Scheilbel [head of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute], “All of life should be a learning experience, not just for the trivial reasons but because by continuing the learning process, we are challenging our brain and therefore building brain circuitry. Literally. This is the way the brain operates.”

Hubel. D. (1995). Eye, brain, and vision. Retrieved 5/9/2015 from Quoting from the Preface:

This book is mainly about the development of our ideas on how the brain handles visual information; it covers roughly the period between 1950 and 1980.

Liou, S. (6/26/2010). Neurobiology. Huntington’s outreach project for education, at Stanford. Retrieved 5/9/2015 from Quoting from the article:

Research in the area of neurogenesis has resulted in an exciting recent discovery bearing on Huntington’s Disease (HD). By studying post-mortem brains of people with HD, researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand found evidence suggesting that HD-affected brains produce new neurons throughout the course of the disease.

MacNeilage, P.F., Rogers, J., & Vallortigara, G. (July, 2009). Evolutionary origins of your right and left brain. Scientific American. Retrieved 6/20/09: Quoting from the website:

The division of labor by the two cerebral hemispheres—once thought to be uniquely human—predates us by half a billion years. Speech, right-handedness, facial recognition and the processing of spatial relations can be traced to brain asymmetries in early vertebrates.

Merzenich, M. (2004). Growing evidence of brain plasticity. (Video, 23:07.) TED Talks. Retrieved 5/9/2015 from

In this video, Neuroscientist Michael Merzenich looks at one of the secrets of the brain's incredible power: its ability to actively re-wire itself. He's researching ways to harness the brain's plasticity to enhance our skills and recover lost function.

NIH (2011). The teen brain: Still under construction. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from Quoting from the document:

One of the ways that scientists have searched for the causes of mental illness is by studying the development of the brain from birth to adulthood. Powerful new technologies have enabled them to track the growth of the brain and to investigate the connections between brain function, development, and behavior.

Ohio State University (n.d.). OSU researchers design self-test for memory disorders. OSU Department of Neurology. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from Quoting from the website:

Many of the assessment tools for cognitive disorders being used today, while accurate, have aspects that deter their use. “Seldom are physicians reimbursed for the time and effort it takes to give such tests, or they tie up personnel to physically administer the test,” said Scharre, who advocates the use of routine screening for cognitive disorders in the primary care setting.

Park, A. (4/29/2014): Girls beat boys in every subject, and they have for a century. Time. Retrieved 5/9/2015 from Quoting from the article:

“We didn’t expect to find that girls did better at math and science as well,” says Daniel Voyer, professor of psychology, who published his results in the American Psychological Association journal Psychological Bulletin. “The girls did better whatever you give them.”

PBS (2002). Inside the teenage brain. (Video, 60:00.) PBS Frontline. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from Quoting from the website:

In "Inside the Teenage Brain," FRONTLINE chronicles how scientists are exploring the recesses of the brain and finding some new explanations for why adolescents behave the way they do. These discoveries could change the way we parent, teach, or perhaps even understand our teenagers.

Skaggs, W. (September/October, 2014). New neurons for new memories. Scientific American. Retrieved 5/8/2015 from

How does the brain remember and distinguish between quite similar events that occur at different places and/or times, without getting them mixed up? This is a challenging research problem.

Szalavitz, M. (9/28/2011). Could deep brain stimulation fend off Alzheimer’s? Time. Retrieved 5/8/2015 from Quoting from the article:

More than 60,000 patients with Parkinson’s, along with those with treatment-resistant cases of depression and severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, have been treated with DBS. Could it help some of the 5 million Americans — 13% of the population over 65 — living with Alzheimer’s?

Yandell, K. (2/20/2014). Lifelong neuronal rebirth. The Scientist. Retrieved 2/22/2014 from Quoting from the article:

“This is the clearest demonstration that [adult neurogenesis in the striatum] is happening in humans,” said Arnold Kriegstein, a developmental neurobiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. “It reenergizes the notion that . . . in the future, it would be possible to harness these cells in some way to repair the injured brain.”

Chapter 4. Three Brains: Human, Reading/Writing, and Computer

“The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” (B. F. Skinner; American psychologist; 1904-1990.)
“Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination.” (Leo Cherne; American economist, public servant and commentator; 1912-1999.)

You might wonder why a book about the human brain contains a chapter focusing on two non-human brains. Three good reasons for this are:

  1. Reading and writing are in some sense a type of human-created aid to human intelligence. Five thousand years of use of this auxiliary brain—an aid to our intelligence—has led to the development of electronic digital computers.
  2. Progress in artificial intelligence (machine intelligence) has helped us to better understand the human brain. As with many areas in science, computer modeling of the “real thing” helps us to better understand the real thing.
  3. We are making significant progress in human-brain-to-computer-brain interfaces. In essence, some of this progress makes a computer brain into an electronically connected extension of the human brain. See some examples in Eric Leuthardt’s five-minute video Mind, Powered.

Think about the invention of reading and writing. Reading and writing are a type of extension of the human brain, and they certainly changed the cognitive capabilities of humans. Computer technology incorporates reading and writing, and adds a great many other aids to human mind/brain capabilities.

We have long made use of simple aids to our brain’s input systems, such as eyeglasses, telescope, microscope, and hearing aids. Higher technology has brought us electron microscopes, cochlear implants for hearing, and bionic eye implants for vision. Computer technology now allows a person’s brain to send signals to a computer—a type of mind reading.

Search engines such as Google provide a different type of example of human-computer interface. Such search engines make extensive use of progress in artificial intelligence. They don’t yet read your mind, but they are getting better and better at figuring out what you might mean by your search requests.

Voice input systems and language translation systems are the product of progress in artificial intelligence, and both can be thought of as direct aids to human brains.

Technological Mini-singularities in Education

The steadily increasing capabilities of computer intelligence has been featured in many popular media publications in recent years. Quoting from (Moursund, 5/16/2015):

The term singularity has different meanings in different disciplines. For example, physicists consider a black hole to be a singularity. Mathematicians think about the function f(x) = 1/x and say that the point x = 0 is a singularity. (Division by zero is a “no-no” in math.)
In computer technology, the singularity is when computers become more intelligent than people. I have written about this idea in the articles (Moursund, 3/5/2015 and 2/25/2015).
Of course, we don’t know when—if ever—computers will become more intelligent than people. But, some people like to speculate about that possibility. They note that artificially intelligent computers and robots are steadily becoming more capable. They point to examples where, in an increasing number of problem-solving and task-accomplishing situations, computers and robots already are more capable than people.
Notice that in the previous paragraph I used the term more capable rather than more intelligent. I use the term capable to refer to the ability to solve problems and accomplish tasks. That is quite different from being intelligent. A computer can accurately add a list of a million integers in less than a second. This does not in any sense say that the computer is intelligent.
A computer can read and memorize thousands of books letter-perfect. Does that mean the computer is more intelligent than a person? No, it means that in the specific task of memorizing books, a computer is much more capable than a person.
I define the term mini-singularity to be a cognitive problem-solving or task-accomplishing situation in which a computer or robot can far out perform a human.

Think of a hand-held scientific calculator as a technological mini-singularity. For a much more sophisticated example, think of a search engine such as Google as being a technological mini-singularity. Each has a type of “intellectual” capability that is quite different from that of a human brain, and each has produced major changes in education.

Three Brains Are Better Than One

The following paragraphs are quoted from the first part of Moursund (2015b):

In the early days of electronic digital computers, such machines were often referred to as "brains" or "electronic brains." A much more accurate description for such early computers is "automated calculating machines." These early computers were designed to rapidly and accurately carry out a specified sequence of arithmetic calculations. Initially, one such computer could do the work of more than a hundred people equipped with the best calculators of that time.
Since mass production of computers first began in the very early 1950s, they have become about 10 billion times as cost effective as they were initially. Large numbers of computer programs have been written that solve a wide range of math and non-math problems. Artificial Intelligence (Machine Intelligence) has become a productive component of the field of Computer and Information Science.
[On August 4, 2009, I gave a conference presentation] on the role of three types of brains in representing and solving math problems:
  • Human brain (a "meat" brain).
  • Paper & pencil (reading and writing) brain. The external storage media is static, while the thinking is done by the meat brain.
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT) brain. The external storage can be static or dynamic. It can do things on its own, and it can interact with the human brain. Computers have a certain level/type of intelligence and this is steadily increasing.

Currently, we date the beginnings of anthropologically modern humans to about 200,000 years ago. It was only about 11,000 years ago that humans developed agriculture, and only about 5,300 years ago when they developed reading and writing. It took more than 5,000 years from the invention of reading and writing until it became clear that all children should learn to read and write. Now, this aspect of language arts is a requirement in elementary schools throughout the world.

Contrast this 5,000-year time period with how rapidly computer technology has developed and how rapidly people have learned to use it effectively. Observe an adolescent making full use of the features of a modern Smartphone and you will see how progress in deep and widespread use of this technology has moved about a hundred times as fast as the widespread adoption of reading and writing.

Since computers have become commonplace, our educational system has struggled with what students should be learning about Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and the roles of ICT in everyday schooling. We have accepted that students should be expected to use their reading and writing skills when they are being tested. We have accepted (and, indeed, begun to require) that students use ICT in all of their schooling except tests. Can allowing and requiring use of ICT on tests be too long in coming?

Brain-Computer Interface

For most students, initial instruction in reading begins well before they begin kindergarten. Parents and guardians routinely hold children on their laps and read picture books to them. Students are still working on their reading and writing skills when they get to college. Many of them find it is quite difficult to meet “contemporary standards.”

When electronic digital computers first began to be developed near the end of the 1930s and on into the late 1940s, the human-computer interface consisted of rewiring the computer to handle a specific problem. That is, computer programming was a rewiring process.

Then the idea of having a computer program produced outside of a computer and inserted into the computer’s memory circumvented the rewiring process. This idea of a stored program was a major breakthrough and a much better approach to the interface problem. People could learn to program in a machine language without having to understand details of wiring or electronics. A machine could be switched quickly from working on one problem to working on a different problem. Still, it took quite a long time—perhaps a year—to become a skilled programmer.

Then came “higher level” programming languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL. FORTRAN was developed for scientists during the period from 1953 to 1957 and required about 20 person-years of effort on the part of quite smart designers and programmers. The resulting human-computer interface allowed a person skilled in high school mathematics to begin writing quite useful programs after two weeks or so of instruction. Very roughly speaking, this advance in the human-computer interface speeded up the learning process and the productivity of a programmer by a factor of perhaps ten to twenty.

As it became clear that precollege students could learn to program and benefit through this experience, programming languages such as BASIC and Logo were developed for students and quickly became popular in precollege education.

Stephen Hawking

Over the years, there have continued to be very important advances in human-computer interfaces. Stephen Hawking is a well-known physicist who contracted amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS) in 1963 and has had to cope with declining physical capabilities ever since.

After Stephen Hawking lost his ability to speak in 1985, he initially communicated using a spelling card, patiently indicating letters and forming words with a lift of his eyebrows. Eventually, computer technology began to be used to allow him to produce voice and to use a word processor. Joao Medeiros’ article, Giving Steven Hawking a Voice, provides an excellent story of advances in computer technology that have helped Hawking (January, 2015).

In 2013, Hawking was provided with a new, state-of-the art computer interface. The following quoted material from Medeiros captures Hawking’s challenge of learning to make use of the new interface and the capabilities it provides.

It was many more months before the Intel team came up with a version that pleased Hawking. For instance, Hawking now uses an adaptive word predictor from London startup SwiftKey which allows him to select a word after typing a letter, whereas Hawking's previous system required him to navigate to the bottom of his user interface and select a word from a list. "His word-prediction system was very old," says Nachman. "The new system is much faster and efficient, but we had to train Stephen to use it. In the beginning he was complaining about it, and only later I realized why: he already knew which words his previous systems would predict. He was used to predicting his own word predictor." Intel worked with SwiftKey, incorporating many of Hawkins’s documents into the system, so that, in some cases, he no longer needs to type a character before the predictor guesses the word based on context. "The phrase 'the black hole' doesn't require any typing," says Nachman. "Selecting 'the' automatically predicts 'black'. Selecting 'black' automatically predicts 'hole'."
The new version of Hawking's user interface (now called ACAT, after Assistive Contextually Aware Toolkit) includes contextual menus that provide Hawking with various shortcuts to speak, search or email; and a new lecture manager, which gives him control over the timing of his delivery during talks.
There are many aspects of using computers that have been made so intuitive that little or no formal instruction is needed to learn to use them. Children are intrinsically motivated to learn from each other and by trial and error. Many adult learners have lost this valuable trait.

Machine Learning

Quoting from a Stanford machine learning MOOC:

Machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. In the past decade, machine learning has given us self-driving cars, practical speech recognition, effective web search, and a vastly improved understanding of the human genome. Machine learning is so pervasive today that you probably use it dozens of times a day without knowing it.

Quoting from Alex Woodie’s article, How Machine Learning Is Eating the Software World (5/18/2015):

In today’s big data world, the focus is all about building “smart applications.” The intelligence in those apps, more often than not, doesn’t come from adding programmatic responses to the code–it comes from allowing the software itself to recognize what’s happening in the real world, how it’s different from what happened yesterday, and adjust its response accordingly.

Armed with every-increasing volumes of data and sophisticated machine learning modeling environments, we’re able to discern patterns that were never detectable before. [Bold added for emphasis.]

A computer program can be thought of as a type of knowledge (a set of instructions) that can be inserted into a computer memory. That is, programming can be thought of as a process of teaching a computer how to solve a particular type of problem or accomplish a particular type of task.

However, it became clear in the early days of computer programming that computers were not really gaining in intelligence (acquiring artificial intelligence) through the human development of large libraries of computer programs.

While it was possible to write a program that would never lose when playing a simple game such as Tic-Tac-Toe with a human, a much greater challenge was to write a program that could play checkers or chess quite well. The number of possible moves in such games is so large that a rote memory approach—writing a program that has memorized the best move to make in every possible situation—will not work. The number of possible moves is so large that this is an impossible task.

So, some programmers set themselves the challenge of developing computer programs that could play checkers or chess using a combination of rote memory of “good moves” and by learning through trial and error (aided by humans). In essence, computer programs were developed that could play against other computer programs and learn in the process. Human trial and error learning tends to be very slow, because it takes a long time to develop a feasible trial, implement it, and figure out how well it works. A computer can be a million times as fast. In 1997 an IBM computer named Big Blue won a 6-game chess match against the world’s leading human chess player.

Years and years of progress in machine learning have led to the development of computer software that is quite good at learning to solve a variety of problems of interest to humans. Douglass Hofstadter has been working for years on exploring and developing computer programs that actually have intelligence—that “really think” (Somers, November, 2013). Quoting from the article:

“Cognition is recognition,” he Hofstadter Hofstadter likes to say. He describes “seeing as” as the essential cognitive act: you see some lines as “an A,” you see a hunk of wood as “a table,” you see a meeting as “an emperor-has-no-clothes situation” and a friend’s pouting as “sour grapes” and a young man’s style as “hipsterish” and on and on ceaselessly throughout your day. That’s what it means to understand. But how does understanding work? For three decades, Hofstadter and his students have been trying to find out, trying to build “computer models of the fundamental mechanisms of thought.”

Of course in Hofstadter’s telling, the story goes like this: when everybody else in AI started building products, he and his team, as his friend, the philosopher Daniel Dennett, wrote, “patiently, systematically, brilliantly,” way out of the light of day, chipped away at the real problem. “Very few people are interested in how human intelligence works,” Hofstadter says. “That’s what we’re interested in—what is thinking?—and we don’t lose track of that question.”

Building Computer Models of the Human Brain

This Three Brains chapter of Brain Science began with a discussion of the singularity (when computers become more capable—perhaps more intelligent—than humans). There are two general approaches to such a challenge in the discipline of Computer and Information Science. One is to develop computer programs that solve problems that humans consider to be challenging or quite difficult. The other is to develop a computer brain that is modeled on a human brain and functions like it. This section focuses on developing computer models of the human brain that can think and in some sense function like a human brain.

Modeling the human brain is certainly one of the grand challenges in the field of artificial intelligence (Crick, 1979). Some day—perhaps quite a few decades from now—humans may succeed in building a computer that has the cognitive capabilities of a human brain.

You might wonder why such forecasts are for quite far into the future, and accompanied by "we may succeed." After all, we have built a computer system that can play chess better than a world chess champion, and we have built a computer system that can play the TV game show Jeopardy better that human champions in the game. See and

These milestone successes depended on using some of the fastest computers of their time, devoting a huge number of human hours to analyzing the specific problems to be solved, developing programs to solve these problems, and limiting the quite narrow range of the problems. These successes were not based on computer programs that have human-like understanding.

There are many other intelligence-related areas in which significant progress is being made. Language translation and voice-to-text input are excellent examples. These problems have been solved at a useful/usable level, but the computer systems have no understanding of the meaning of the text they are processing. See

The article, IBM Teams With Leading Universities to Advance Research in Cognitive Systems (10/2/2013), discusses some current work being done by one of the major brain modeling projects. Clearly this project represents a number of different coming mini-singularities in medicine, business, education, and other fields. Here are several quotes from the article:

IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced a collaborative research initiative with four leading universities to advance the development and deployment of cognitive computing systems–systems like IBM Watson that can learn, reason and help human experts make complex decisions involving extraordinary volumes of fast-moving data.

"IBM has demonstrated with Watson that cognitive computing is real and delivering value today," said Zachary Lemnios, vice president of strategy for IBM Research. "It is already starting to transform the ways clients navigate big data and is creating new insights in healthcare, how research can be conducted and how companies can support their customers. But much additional research is needed to identify the systems, architectures and process technologies to support a new computing model that enables systems and people to work together across any domain of expertise."


"I believe that cognitive systems technologies will make it possible to connect people and computers in new ways so that—collectively—they can act more intelligently than any person, group, or computer has ever done before," said Thomas Malone, Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management. "I am excited to be working with IBM and these other universities to understand better how to harness these new forms of collective intelligence."

Ray Kurzweil has long been a leader in brain modeling. See The following quote is from an article by Kurzweil (7/28/2010) that indicates where we were in 2010:

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published Tuesday a landmark paper entitled “Network architecture of the long-distance pathways in the macaque brain” (an open-access paper) by Dharmendra S. Modha (IBM Almaden) and Raghavendra Singh (IBM Research-India) with major implications for reverse-engineering the brain and developing a network of cognitive-computing chips.
“We have successfully uncovered and mapped the most comprehensive long-distance network of the Macaque monkey brain, which is essential for understanding the brain’s behavior, complexity, dynamics and computation,” Dr. Modha says. “We can now gain unprecedented insight into how information travels and is processed across the brain."
“We have collated a comprehensive, consistent, concise, coherent, and colossal network spanning the entire brain and grounded in anatomical tracing studies that is a stepping stone to both fundamental and applied research in neuroscience and cognitive computing.”

A more recent article, Kurzweil: The Human Brain on IT, provides background about Kurzweil and some of his forecasts for the future of brain modeling (Tucci, September, 2013). Quoting from this article:

"Change is the new constant" is a saying you hear a lot at technology conferences. "But change is not constant," said inventor and futurologist Ray Kurzweil.
Consider our first information technology, he said—spoken language. A byproduct of our large brains, human language took hundreds of thousands of years to evolve. Written language, the next big advance in information technology, took tens of thousands of years to develop. The printing press took 400 years to become commonplace. The telephone, 50 years. The mass uptake of the cell phone by Western populations took seven years, according to his calculations, social networks even less time.
The big change to come? Look within. Our neocortex—the convoluted rind of the brain responsible for this sustained technology evolution—has already been extended by our computer-enabled access to information. In the next few decades, said Kurzweil, author of How to Create a Mind, our brains will essentially grow by harnessing the power of information technology. Why, if we can hang on long enough, information technology will extend not only our brains but our lives, perhaps forever.


My 5/22/2015 Google search of neuroprosthetics produced about 131,000 results. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Neuroprosthetics (also called neural prosthetics) is a discipline related to neuroscience and biomedical engineering concerned with developing neural prostheses. They are sometimes contrasted with a brain-computer interface, which connects the brain to a computer rather than a device meant to replace missing biological functionality.

The difference between human-machine and human-prosthetics interface is subtle. Brain control of a word processing machine is human-machine interface. Brain control of an artificial hand is neuroprosthetics. Neuroprosthetics has a long history and is making rapid progress. Quoting from Neuroprosthetics (Leuthardt, Roland, & Ray, 11/1/2014):

Neuroprosthetic research began long before it solidified as an organized academic field of study. In 1973, University of California, Los Angeles, computer scientist Jacques Vidal observed modulations of signals in the electroencephalogram of a patient and wrote in Annual Review of Biophysics and Bioengineering: “Can these observable electrical brain signals be put to work as carriers of information in man-computer communication or for the purpose of controlling such external apparatus as prosthetic devices or spaceships?” While we don’t yet have mind-controlled spaceships, neural control of a prosthetic device for medical applications is now becoming commonplace in labs around the world.
In its simplest form, a neuroprosthetic is a device that supplants or supplements the input and/or output of the nervous system. For decades, researchers have eyed neuroprosthetics as ways to bypass neural deficits caused by disease, or even to augment existing function for improved performance. Today, several different types of surgical brain implants are being tested for their ability to restore some level of function in patients with severe sensory or motor disabilities. In a very different vein, a company called recently started selling simple, noninvasive brain stimulators to improve normal people’s attention while gaming. And perhaps the most visible recent demonstration of the power of neuroprosthetics was a spinal cord–injured patient using a brain-controlled exoskeleton to kick off the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In short, tinkering with the brain has begun in earnest.
But information transfer via neuroprostheses is not a one-way street; some systems are able to convert environmental stimuli into perceptions by capturing an external input and translating it into an appropriate stimulus delivered directly to the nervous system. In this light, researchers have developed cochlear implants and functional retinal prostheses. (See

Deep Brain Stimulation

The history of performing operations on the brain and/or trying to stimulate the brain is quite long. Quoting from Andres Lozano’s article, Tuning the Brain, (10/28/2015):

The world’s first neurosurgeries took place about 7,000 years ago in South America with the boring of holes into hapless patients’ skulls, a process known as trephination. Practitioners of the day believed the source of neurologic and psychiatric disease to be evil spirits inhabiting the brain, and the way to treat such disorders, they reasoned, was to make holes in the skull and let the evil spirits escape. The procedure was surprisingly common, with as many as 1 percent of skulls at some archaeological sites having these holes.

Over the past 7,000 years we have moved past the "evil spirits" explanations, and have developed a wide variety of approaches to deal with brain pains and other brain disorders. Although we have come a long way, we still have a very long way to go. Deep brain electrical stimulation (DBS) is currently one of the new approaches that is proving successful. Quoting again from the Lozano article:

Today, neurosurgeons are still drilling into the brains of patients suffering from neurologic and psychiatric disorders, but rather than letting evil spirits escape, doctors are putting things in—inserting electrical probes to tame rogue neurons or to stimulate brain regions that are underperforming. This procedure, known as deep-brain stimulation (DBS), was first tried for the treatment of pain in the 1960s, and has since been attempted in patients with numerous other neurologic disorders. DBS is currently approved in the U.S. or Europe for the treatment of essential tremor, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia (a motor disorder that causes extreme twisting and repetitive motions), epilepsy, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The therapy is currently in clinical trials for depression, Alzheimer’s disease, addiction, and more.

Quoting from the article, Deep Brain Stimulation (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2015):

Deep brain stimulation involves implanting electrodes within certain areas of your brain. These electrodes produce electrical impulses that regulate abnormal impulses. Or, the electrical impulses can affect certain cells and chemicals within the brain. The amount of stimulation in deep brain stimulation is controlled by a pacemaker-like device placed under the skin in your upper chest. A wire that travels under your skin connects this device to the electrodes in your brain.

Deep brain stimulation is used to treat a number of neurological conditions, such as:

  • Essential tremor
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Dystonia (a neuromuscular disorder)

Deep brain stimulation is also being studied as a treatment for epilepsy, cluster headaches, Tourette syndrome, chronic pain, and major depression. Many candidates for deep brain stimulation are participants in clinical trials.

Finally, as noted in the Neurogenesis: Growing New Neurons section of Chapter 3, DBS is being used to help the hippocampus to grow new neurons.

You and Your Students

As your students make a place for themselves in the adult world, they will routinely encounter artificially intelligent computer systems that are steadily growing in capability.

As a teacher at any grade level and in any discipline, you are faced by the challenge of deciding what you want your students to know about the artificial intelligence of computers, and how computers gain that intelligence. You will want them to understand similarities and differences between human intelligence and computer intelligence. You will want to help them carve out a niche where they can achieve a high and satisfying quality of life.

Here is an activity you can use to introduce your students to the general idea of technological singularity and to specific examples of mini-singularities. You and your students can work together to discover and explore mini-singularities that are relevant to the content, instruction, and evaluation for the course material they are learning from you. See Moursund (2015a) to learn more about self-assessment and to access a number of self-assessment instruments available free on the Web.

If your students have reached a level at which they can make effective use of self-assessment instruments, use such materials as an example of a mini-singularity that is developing in the assessment component of education. You might try the following assignment.

Ask your students to select a topic or area that is personally interesting to them. If you think it is necessary, then add the requirement that the topic or area must be in some way related to the course you are teaching. But be aware that this requirement may damage intrinsic motivation on the part of your students to take the assignment seriously!

Select a topic or area that interests you. Decide on ways in which you can measure your own current knowledge and skills in this area. Develop a plan of action to improve your knowledge and skills, and carry your plan out for a “reasonable” period of time. Then assess yourself to see what progress you have made. Finally, produce a written or oral report on the overall process you carried out and the progress you made.

Note that developing skill in carrying out such an assignment—and gradually incorporating use of this skill into one’s overall life routines—can be thought of as developing a personal mini-singularity.

References and Resources for Chapter 4

Bull, B. (11/17/2013). 10 uses of MOOCs for high school students. Etale–Digital Age Learning. Retrieved 5/16/2015 from

It is interesting that college-level MOOCS are being used by many precollege students. In addition, MOOCS are being developed for precollege students.

Crick, F. (1979). Thinking about the brain. Scientific American. The article is pages 131-137 in the Scientific American book, The brain. Retrieved 5/17/2015 from

This 1979 book is a “golden oldie” of articles about the (then) state of the art of brain science. Quoting from Crick’s article:
…there are some human abilities that appear to me to defeat our present understanding.… This suggests that our entire way of thinking about such problems may be incorrect. In the forefront of the problems I would put perception, although here others might substitute conception, imagination, volition, or emotion.

Eagleman, D. (March, 2015). Can we create new senses for humans? TED Talks. (Video, 20:34.) Retrieved 4/27/2015 from Quoting from the website:

As humans, we can perceive less than a ten-trillionth of all light waves. “Our experience of reality,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman, “is constrained by our biology.” He wants to change that. His research into our brain processes has led him to create new interfaces — such as a sensory vest — to take in previously unseen information about the world around us.

IBM teams with leading universities to advance research in cognitive systems (10/2/2013). Retrieved 10/2/2013 from

IBM is implementing the idea of loaning a Watson computer to a leading research department in a leading university, and then drawing on the results they produce in using the computer system.

Kish, D. (March, 2015). How I use sonar to navigate the world. TED Talks. (Video, 13:03.) Retrieved 4/27/2015 from Quoting from the website:

Daniel Kish has been blind since he was 13 months old, but has learned to “see” using a form of echolocation. He clicks his tongue and sends out flashes of sound that bounce off surfaces in the environment and return to him, helping him to construct an understanding of the space around him.

Kurzweil, R. (7/28/2010). IBM scientists create most comprehensive map of the brain's network. Retrieved 8/2/2010 from fromthe article:

“We have successfully uncovered and mapped the most comprehensive long-distance network of the Macaque monkey brain, which is essential for understanding the brain’s behavior, complexity, dynamics and computation,” Dr. Modha says. “We can now gain unprecedented insight into how information travels and is processed across the brain.

Leuthardt, E. (11/1/2014). Mind, powered. The Scientist. (Video, 5:01.) Retrieved 5/17/2015 from

In this short video, neuroscientist Eric Leuthardt shows examples of mind-controlled human-computer interfaces.

Leuthardt, E., Roland, J., & Ray, W. (11/1/2014). Neuroprosthetics. The Scientist. Retrieved 5/17/2015 from

Lozana, A. (10/28/2015). Tuning the brain. New Scientist. Retrieved 5/21/2015 from Quoting from the article:

Deep-brain stimulation is allowing neurosurgeons to adjust the neural activity in specific brain regions to treat thousands of patients with myriad neurological disorders.

Mayo Clinic Staff (2015). Deep brain stimulation. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 5/21/2015 from Quoting from the website:

Mayo Clinic in Minnesota has been recognized as the best Neurology & Neurosurgery hospital in the nation for 2014-2015 by U.S. News & World Report.

Medeiros, J. (January, 2015). Giving Steven Hawking a voice. Originally published in Wire Magazine. Retrieved 5/17/2015 from Quoting from the article:

Stephen Hawking first met Gordon Moore, the cofounder of Intel, at a conference in 1997. Moore noticed that Hawking's computer, which he used to communicate, had an AMD processor and asked him if he preferred instead a "real computer" with an Intel micro-processor. Intel has been providing Hawking with customised PCs and technical support since then, replacing his computer every two years.

Moursund, D. (2015a). Self assessment. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/15/2015 from

One of the most important goals in education is to help students to gain steadily increasing knowledge and skills in taking responsibility for their own learning and for the effective and responsible use of their learning.

Moursund, D. (2015b). Two brains are better than one. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/17/2015 from

This extensive IAE-pedia entry includes background information in areas such as computational thinking, expertise, information overload, and problem solving.

Moursund, D. (5/16/2015). Technology-based mini-singularities. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/17/2015 from Quoting from the article:

We also now have Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that can simultaneously teach a class of a hundred thousand or more students. As MOOCs become more available and more like Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-assisted Learning (HIICAL) systems, they will constitute a mini-singularity of instructional delivery.

Moursund, D. (3/5/2015). Education for the coming technological singularity. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/15/2015 from Quoting from the article:

Right now the rate of technological change is both large and rapidly increasing. We have artificially intelligent computer systems that are more capable than humans in certain limited areas, and we have artificially intelligent robots that are taking over many jobs previously performed by human workers.

Moursund, D. (2/25/2015). The coming educational singularity. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/15/2015 from Quoting from the article:

The first use of the term singularity in this context was by mathematician John von Neumann. In 1958, regarding a summary of a conversation with von Neumann, Stanislaw Ulam [reported that von Neumann] described "ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue."

Moursund, D. (2005). Introduction to information and communication technology in education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Available for free downloads: Microsoft Word file from PDF file from This short book has three goals:

  1. To help to increase the reader's expertise as a teacher.
  1. To help to increase the reader's knowledge and understanding of various roles of ICT in curriculum content, instruction, and assessment.
  1. To help to increase the reader's higher-order, critical thinking, problem-solving knowledge and skills.

Moursund, D. (September, 2002). Getting to the second order: Moving beyond amplification uses of information and communications technology in education. Learning and Leading with Technology. Retrieved 5/15/2015 from Quoting from the article (written 13 years ago):

My prediction is that the next three decades will see ICT being a disruptive force in education. Large changes will occur, and many of our schools and school systems that attempt to follow the “traditional” path of the past decades will not prosper. This article looks at where ICT in education is headed and what educators can do now to help significantly improve the quality of education our students are receiving.

Somers, J. (November, 2013). The man who would teach machines to think. The Atlantic. Retrieved 5/18/2015 from Quoting from the document:

Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, thinks we've lost sight of what artificial intelligence really means. His stubborn quest [is] to replicate the human mind.

Tucci, L. (September, 2013). Kurzweil: The human brain on IT. Pro+. Retrieved 5/20/2015from Quoting from the article:

[Kurzweil] is the inventor of the first charge-coupled device, or CCD, flatbed scanner; the first omni-font character recognition technology; the first print-speech reading machine for the blind; the first text-to-speech synthesizer; and the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the sounds of orchestral instruments. Recently he was named director of engineering at Google, where he is working on understanding natural language.

Woodie, A. (5/18/2015). How machine learning is eating the software world. Datanimi. Retrieved 5/18/2015 from Quoting from the article:

The big cloud players, Amazon, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, have all launched cloud-based machine learning systems that allow developers to call machine learning tasks through an Application Program Interface (API).

A Collection of Brain Science Videos

Allan Institute (2015). Allan Institute for Brain Science: Fueling discovery. (Video, 5:37.) Retrieved 4/27/2015 from

The non-profit Allan Institute was founded by Paul Allan, one of the founders of Microsoft. The Institute carries out research on fundamental, challenging brain science topics, and shares its results with researchers throughout the world.

Anderson, P. (2015). The brain: Structure and function. (Video, 13:55.) Bozeman Science. Retrieved 4/27/2015 from

A lecture with a substantial number of graphics starting at the spinal cord and hindbrain, and presenting information about 17 parts of the brain.

How Stuff Works. (2015). The human brain. Retrieved 4/27/2015 from

This site provides nine brain science videos, with ads between videos. Examples:

Leuthardt, E. (11/1/2014). Mind, Powered. New Scientist. (Video, 5:01.) Retrieved 5/18/2015 from

The video begins with the question, “How do we fix the brain when it has been injured.” Examples of success are demonstrated in the video.

Merzenich, M. (2004). Growing evidence of brain plasticity. (Video, 23:07.) TED Talks. Retrieved 5/9/2015 from

This is a delightful “golden oldie” 23-minute video presentation by Michael Merzenich and is a good starting point for people who want to better understand their brains. Merzenich is a world-class researcher and developer in educational applications of brain science.

NOVA (2005). Mirror neurons. (Video, 14:00.) NOVA science NOW. Retrieved 5/4/2015 from Quoting from the website:

According to provocative discoveries in brain imaging, inside our heads we constantly "act out" and imitate whatever activity we're observing. As this video reveals, our so-called "mirror neurons" help us understand the actions of others and prime us to imitate what we see.

PBS (2002). Inside the teenage brain (Video, 60:00.) PBS Frontline. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from Quoting from the website:

The vast majority of brain development occurs in two basic stages: growth spurts and pruning. In utero and throughout the first several months of life, the human brain grows at a rapid and dramatic pace, producing millions of brain cells.
This second wave—occurring roughly between ages 10 and 13—is quickly followed by a process in which the brain prunes and organizes its neural pathways. "In many ways, it's the most tumultuous time of brain development since coming out of the womb," says Giedd.

Sousa, D.A. (2013). ADHD–a case of over diagnosis? (Video, 18:25.) TEDx. Retrieved 5/9/2015 from Quoting from the website:

Dr. David A. Sousa is an international consultant in educational neuroscience and author of more than a dozen books that suggest ways that educators and parents can translate current brain research into strategies for improving learning. A member of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, he has conducted workshops in hundreds of school districts on brain research, instructional skills, and science education at the Pre-K to 12 and university levels.

This is the End of the Revised Part of the Brain Science Document

Introduction to the Unrevised Parts of This Document)

“No computer has ever been designed that is ever aware of what it's doing; but most of the time, we aren't either.” (Marvin Minsky; American cognitive scientist in the field of artificial intelligence; 1927-.)
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” (Stephen W. Hawking; British theoretical physicist and cosmologist; 1942-.)

Brain science has a quite long history. However, it is only in recent years that technology and brain theory have progressed to a stage that allows us to gain an understanding of how brains work at the neuron level. In addition, our increased understanding of genes is providing information about a variety of brain "defects" and diseases. We are developing useful interventions based on brain education (training, retraining) and drugs.

The field of brain science (cognitive neuroscience) is expanding quite rapidly. It may well be that the totality of knowledge in this area is doubling every five years. We can now speak more confidently about nature, nurture, and brain plasticity.

Increased understanding of brain functioning is quite important in education. A superb example is provided by the research and development in dyslexia, a relatively common reading disorder. Appropriate interventions can actually "rewire" the brain and help many dyslexics to become good readers.

Of course, all learning involves rewiring of the brain. As we understand this process more clearly, we are better able to deal with a variety of learning differences and the education of all students.

If you have not read much about recent progress in brain science, especially its applications in education, here are five "quick" sources of information that you might want to check out:

  • Here is an overview article:
Sparks, S.D. (6/4/2012). Experts Call for Teaching Educators Brain Science. Education Week. Retrieved 6/14/2012 from Quoting from the article:
"For the most part, teachers are not exposed systemically in a way that allows them to understand things like brain plasticity," said Michael J. Nakkula, the chairman of applied psychology and human development at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. Mr. Nakkula is part of the Students at the Center project, a series of reports on teaching and learning launched this spring by the Boston-based nonprofit group Jobs for the Future. [See papers by Hilton, Ficher, and Glennon available at]

A Variety of Interesting and Important Topics. The Revised Sections Included Above Have Been Deleted from this List

The following is a list of brain science topics that I have found interesting and useful to me. They are arranged in alphabetical order, and each topic is just a brief summary/introduction to a deep area of study. These short sections are designed to whet your appetite! In each of the topic areas there are many researchers and practitioners who spend their full professional time and effort working to advance the area and to apply their new knowledge to address people's problems.


Brain Science research is contributing to our understanding of addiction. What is being learned applies to addiction to various drugs and alcohol, to gambling and other types of games and entertainment, and to other forms of addiction. A quick overview of work being done by David Nutt is offered in a short video Just Can't Get Enough. Quoting from the website:

Professor David Nutt was famously sacked from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs by the UK’s Labour Government at the time, apparently for being rational about scientific evidence. He now chairs the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, and is head of the Department of Neuropsychopharmacology and Molecular Imaging, Imperial College London. He is also a Section Head of Substance Abuse in our Psychiatry Faculty.
His recent work in the Lancet discusses a rational approach to measuring drug harm, concluding that current UK policy is not based on considerations of harm—especially when alcohol is considered.

Marijuana (pot) has long been a popular drug.

Quoting from an article by Eliza Gray in Time (6/5/2014):

In the midst of the drumbeat toward legalization, it’s easy to forget that smoking pot isn’t great for you. Especially if you are a teenager.
A review of the research on the negative health affects of marijuana published today in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that smoking pot as a kid may have lasting impacts on intelligence and achievement.
For starters, smoking pot regularly from an early age is correlated with a lower IQ. The mechanism is not fully understood—experts are not claiming one necessarily causes the other—but scientists speculate the drug can interfere with a critical period for brain development during the teen years. “Adults who smoked regularly during adolescence” according to the review, have “impaired neural connectivity” in parts of the brain involving alertness and self conscious awareness, executive function, processing of habits and routines, learning, and memory.

An article by Schulzke reports on some ongoing studies in other countries.

Schulzke, E. (6/20/2014). Dumb and dumber? Teen marijuana use linked to lower IQ in later life. Discrete National News. Retrieved 7/27/2014 from Quoting from this article:
Earlier this month, three researchers at the National Institute of Drug Abuse published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine surveying the current state of the evidence. According to their report, marijuana use in adolescence and early adulthood may measurably lower users’ IQ decades later down the road.
They conclude there is reason to believe marijuana may permanently harm the adolescent brain. Until the age of 21, the piece notes, the brain “is intrinsically more vulnerable than a mature brain to the adverse long-term effects of environmental insults.”
The Office of National Drug Control Policy reported last year that one in four Boulder County high school students now use pot — more than three times the national average.
And the numbers are shifting fast. In Adams County, a Denver suburb, high school marijuana use jumped from 21 percent in 2008 to 29 percent in 2012. Middle school pot use in Adams County jumped 50 percent during that period — from 5.7 to 8.5 percent.


I (David Moursund, the author of this IAE-pedia page) am somewhat addicted to computer games. Read more about this at Moursund Likes to Play DragonVale.

A great many people have somewhat similar addictions to various forms of electronic entertainment. And, the games need not be electronic. A very smart graduate student–and good friend of mine–flunked out mainly due to his addition to solitaire games played with one or two decks of cards.

Animal Cognition

How intelligent is a chimpanzee, a dog, or a rat? How about a fish or a reptile? How are their brains similar to and different from human brains? For an overview of this topic, go to Animal Cognition in the Wikipedia.

Animal brains, including animal intelligence, is a challenging area of study. How do you design an IQ test for an animal? Probably you have read articles that compare the "intelligence" of a young chimpanzee with that of a young human child. The following article compares chimpanzee intelligence with human intelligence.

Last, Cadell (6/13/2013). 5 Human/Chimpanzee Differences. Retrieved 11/20/2013 from Quoting Charles Darwin from the article:
[Chimpanzees] make tools, use language, understand symbols and build shelters. They also develop long-term bonds, live in highly social groups, make jokes, manipulate, deceive, empathize, and show care for other members of their group and other species. The behavioural differences have been relegated to artificial human-constructed continuums of complexity.

The same article provides a number of examples of intelligence-related activities that chimpanzees can learn to do and also discusses limits to their learning powers. For example:

The desire for humans to ask questions is remarkable. And it is even more remarkable to know that after decades of linguistic training, no chimpanzee has ever asked a question. No other animal on the planet has ever asked a question. Only humans do this. [Bold added for emphasis.]

A Google search on 11/20/2013 of the expression human child chimpanzee intelligence returned about 1.25 million hits. For example:

Neighmond, Patti (9/07/2007). Toddlers Outsmart Chimps in Some Tasks, Not All. NPR. Retrieved 11/20/2013 from Quoting from this article:
To investigate what makes human intelligence so different from ape intelligence, the researchers designed over two dozen tests to measure different kinds of intelligence between the two species.

Quoting the researcher anthropologist Brian Hare in the same article:

Our subjects in this study were 2-and-a-half-year-old children.
Children did not perform any better than apes on many tests that measured concrete knowledge.
They weren't any better than the apes at doing things like adding, counting, remembering where something was hidden.
But when it came to solving more social problems, children excelled. Hare defines a "social problem" as the ability to watch somebody else and figure out what they're trying to do — and what they want you to do. In his study, certain tests looked at how adept children and apes were at understanding someone else's intention.
In one test, treats were placed in a tube purposely designed to be difficult to open. After researchers demonstrated how to open it, most of the toddlers were able to imitate and open it. On the other hand, the apes did not follow suit.

Clearly, apes and many other animals learn by imitation.

Read about Natasha, an extremely intelligent chimpanzee, in the following newspaper article:

Williams, Sarah (8/28/2012). Natasha, 'Genius Chimp,' Aces Intelligence Tests. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11/20/2013 from Note: This article summarizes findings reported in a research article available at Quoting from this article:
Herrmann and her colleagues had previously tested chimps in a study designed to compare the skills of the animals with those of human children. During the study, they noticed a wide range of skills among the chimps and wondered whether they could measure this variation in ability—and whether there were studies that could predict the chimps’ overall performance in all areas, like an IQ test in humans. So they gave a battery of physical and social tests to 106 chimps at Ngamba Island and the Tchimpounga chimpanzee sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo, and to 23 captive chimpanzees and bonobos in Germany. In one experiment, chimps were asked to find food in a container after it had been shuffled around with empty containers. In another, they had to use a stick to get food placed on a high platform. The researchers analyzed the data to determine if the scores in some tests helped predict performance in others.
"In general, we don’t find any kind of general intelligence factor that can predict intelligence in all areas," Herrmann says. "But we did find a big variation overall, and this one outstanding individual."
"This study is top-notch and shows clearly that our traditional ideas about intelligence no longer hold," Hare says. "There are many different types of intelligence that vary independently of one another. This means there are many different types of genius, even in animals."

The following article from The New York Times discusses the intelligence of reptiles.

Anthes, Emily (11/18/2013). Coldblooded Does Not Mean Stupid. The New York Times. Retrieved 11/20/2013 from Quoting from the article:
Humans have no exclusive claim on intelligence. Across the animal kingdom, all sorts of creatures have performed impressive intellectual feats. A bonobo named Kanzi uses an array of symbols to communicate with humans. Chaser the border collie knows the English words for more than 1,000 objects. Crows make sophisticated tools, elephants recognize themselves in the mirror, and dolphins have a rudimentary number sense.

Quoting from a section in the article about a female red-footed tortoise named Moses:

Things became even more interesting when Dr. Wilkinson hung a black curtain around the maze, depriving Moses of the rich environmental cues that had surrounded her. The tortoise adopted a new navigational strategy, exploring the maze systematically by entering whatever arm was directly adjacent to the one she had just left. This approach is “an enormously great” way of solving the task, Dr. Wilkinson said, and a strategy rarely seen in mammals.
Navigational skills are important, but the research also hints at something even more impressive: behavioral flexibility, or the ability to alter one’s behavior as external circumstances change. This flexibility, which allows animals to take advantage of new environments or food sources, has been well documented in birds and primates, and scientists are now beginning to believe that it exists in reptiles, too.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

"The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do." (B.F. Skinner; American psychologist; 1904-1990.)

The discipline of artificial intelligence (AI) focuses on developing computer systems that can solve problems and accomplish tasks which—if done by humans—would be considered evidence of intelligence. In many different and relatively restricted areas, AI now surpasses human intelligence. An often referenced example goes back to 1997 when a computer system named Big Blue beat Garry Kasparov, who was the reigning human world chess champion.

Historically, there have been two common approaches to the development of artificially intelligent computer systems. One approach was to attempt to model the human brain's approaches to solving problems and accomplishing tasks. The other was to make use of the "brute force" capabilities of computers by any means possible. For example, if a particular problem could be solved by examining a hundred million possible solutions, this brute force approach became feasible as computers became faster and faster.

While both approaches are still being used, the idea of human and computer "brains" working together has gained prominence. A simple example is illustrated by search engines used to search the Web. A human and a computer system combine their capabilities in an attempt to find information that meets the needs of the human.

We have already reached a stage in which computerized implants into human bodies is relatively common. Examples include pacemakers, cochlear implants, and brain implants used for a variety of purposes. Research on implants to increase intelligence is now at the level of experimenting with rats.

The following article focuses on progress in developing computer programs that "think" like a human brain.

Somers, James (11/23/2013). The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think. The Atlantic. Retrieved 11/2/2013 from Quoting from the article:
Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, thinks we've lost sight of what artificial intelligence really means.
“It depends on what you mean by artificial intelligence.” Douglas Hofstadter is in a grocery store in Bloomington, Indiana, picking out salad ingredients. “If somebody meant by artificial intelligence the attempt to understand the mind, or to create something human-like, they might say—maybe they wouldn’t go this far—but they might say this is some of the only good work that’s ever been done.”
Hofstadter says this with an easy deliberateness, and he says it that way because for him, it is an uncontroversial conviction that the most-exciting projects in modern artificial intelligence, the stuff the public maybe sees as stepping stones on the way to science fiction—like Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy-playing supercomputer, or Siri, Apple’s iPhone assistant—in fact have very little to do with intelligence. For the past 30 years, most of them spent in an old house just northwest of the Indiana University campus, he and his graduate students have been picking up the slack: trying to figure out how our thinking works, by writing computer programs that think.

Arts and the Brain

There has been substantial research on the arts and the brain. This topic is discussed in a video of a AAAS/Dana public event held on October 24, 2013. The title of the event is The Arts and the Brain: What Does Your Brain See? What does Your Brain Hear? Quoting from the Website:

When you listen to music or look at a painting, your brain is busy. Recent advances in neuroimaging allow a more sophisticated understanding of the brain processes underlying sound and vision.

The Dana Foundation supports a number of brain research projects. Here is some information about their project titled Learning, Arts, and the Brain. Download a PDF of the report from,%20Arts%20and%20the%20Brain_ArtsAndCognition_Compl.pdf. Quoting from the article:

Learning, Arts, and the Brain, a study three years in the making, is the result of research by cognitive neuroscientists from seven leading universities across the United States. In the Dana Consortium study, released in March 2008, researchers grappled with a fundamental question: Are smart people drawn to the arts or does arts training make people smarter?
For the first time, coordinated, multi-university scientific research brings us closer to answering that question. Learning, Arts, and the Brain advances our understanding of the effects of music, dance, and drama education on other types of learning. Children motivated in the arts develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that also apply to other subject areas.
The research was led by Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga of the University of California at Santa Barbara. “A life-affirming dimension is opening up in neuroscience,” said Dr. Gazzaniga, “to discover how the performance and appreciation of the arts enlarge cognitive capacities will be a long step forward in learning how better to learn and more enjoyably and productively to live. The consortium’s new findings and conceptual advances have clarified what now needs to be done.”


Quoting from

Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. Attention has also been referred to as the allocation of processing resources.
Attention is one of the most intensely studied topics within psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Attention remains a major area of investigation within education, psychology and neuroscience. Areas of active investigation involve determining the source of the signals that generate attention, the effects of these signals on the tuning properties of sensory neurons, and the relationship between attention and other cognitive processes like working memory and vigilance. A relatively new body of research is investigating the phenomenon of traumatic brain injuries and their effects on attention.

Quoting from

Beginning with Mackworth’s experiments in the 1950s, the assessment of sustained attention (or vigilance) performance typically has utilized situations in which an observer is required to keep watch for inconspicuous signals over prolonged periods of time. The state of readiness to respond to rarely and unpredictably occurring signals is characterized by an overall ability to detect signals (termed ‘vigilance decrement') The psychological construct of ‘vigilance’, or ‘sustained attention’, has been greatly advanced in recent decades, allowing the development and validation of diverse tasks for the test of sustained attention in human and animals and thereby fostering research on the neuronal circuits mediating sustained attention performance in humans and laboratory animals.

A longitudinal study and other research projects are reported in an article by Katrina Schwartz.

Schwartz, Katrina (12/5/2013). Age of Distraction: Why It's Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus. Mind/Shift. Retrieved 12/7/2013 from Quoting from the article:
The ubiquity of digital technology in all realms of life isn’t going away, but if students don’t learn how to concentrate and shut out distractions, research shows they’ll have a much harder time succeeding in almost every area.
“The real message is because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before, we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention,” said Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and other books about social and emotional learning on KQED’s Forum program.
Perhaps the most well-known study on concentration is a longitudinal study conducted with over 1,000 children in New Zealand by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, psychology and neuroscience professors at Duke University. The study tested children born in 1972 and 1973 regularly for eight years, measuring their ability to pay attention and to ignore distractions. Then, the researchers tracked those same children down at the age of 32 to see how well they fared in life. The ability to concentrate was the strongest predictor of success.
“This ability is more important than IQ or the socio economic status of the family you grew up in for determining career success, financial success and health,” Goleman said.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD) are relatively prevalent learning disorders. Quoting from

The symptoms of ADHD include inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. These are traits that most children display at some point or another. But to establish a diagnosis of ADHD, sometimes referred to as ADD, the symptoms should be inappropriate for the child's age.
Adults also can have ADHD; in fact, up to half of adults diagnosed with the disorder had it as children. When ADHD persists into adulthood, symptoms may vary. For instance, an adult may experience restlessness instead of hyperactivity. In addition, adults with ADHD often have problems with interpersonal relationships and employment.

There is a lot of literature on ADD and ADHD available on the Web. A 11/2/2013 Google search of the term ADD ADHD produced over 43 million hits. The website indicates that ADHD affects an estimated 3% to 5% of children and adults in the United States. See also

For some of the underlying cognitive neuroscience of ADHD see the 2011 article, Neurobiology of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Quoting from the abstract of this article:

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder, has been associated with various structural and functional CNS abnormalities but findings about neurobiological mechanisms linking genes to brain phenotypes are just beginning to emerge. Despite the high heritability of the disorder and its main symptom dimensions, common individual genetic variants are likely to account for a small proportion of the phenotype's variance. Recent findings have drawn attention to the involvement of rare genetic variants in the pathophysiology of ADHD, some being shared with other neurodevelopmental disorders. Traditionally, neurobiological research on ADHD has focused on catecholaminergic pathways, the main target of pharmacological treatments. However, more distal and basic neuronal processes in relation with cell architecture and function might also play a role, possibly accounting for the coexistence of both diffuse and specific alterations of brain structure and activation patterns. This article aims to provide an overview of recent findings in the rapidly evolving field of ADHD neurobiology with a focus on novel strategies regarding pathophysiological analyses.

Brain Disorders and Learning

There are a number of brain disorders that affect learning. The Dana Foundation—"Your Gateway to information about the brain and brain research"—funds many projects and is a good source of information. For example, see their Brain Connections PDF:

[It] lists more than 240 organizations in the United States likely to help those looking for information, referrals, and other guidance in connection with brain-related disorders. Listings provide mailing addresses, toll-free numbers, e-mail and clickable Web site addresses, and identify the primary services each organization provides.

The Dana Foundation site Brainy Kids provides links to a number of educational resources for kids, parents, and teachers.

The following article provides information on the number of children receiving behavioral modification medications.

Fox, M. (4/23/2014). More than 7 Percent of Kids on Behavioral Meds. NBC News. Retrieved 4/26/2014 from

Quoting from the article:

A new survey finds that 7.5 percent of children aged 6–17 are taking some sort of prescription medicine for emotional or behavioral difficulties.
It’s a first look at the problem, and supports evidence that more and more U.S. kids are getting drugs for conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The good news is that more than half of their parents said the medication helped their children “a lot." The troubling news is that low-income kids were more likely to be given such drugs.
LaJeana Howie and colleagues at the National Center for Health Statistics used data from interviews of the parents of 17,000 children in 2011-2012 for the study.
And, unsurprisingly, more boys than girls were being medicated — 9.7 percent compared to 5.2 percent of girls.

There has been considerable research on specific brain disorders that affect the learning ability of children and adults. Here are some very important examples.


Quoting from

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.
Children with ADHD also may struggle with low self-esteem, troubled relationships and poor performance in school. Symptoms sometimes lessen with age. However, some people never completely outgrow their ADHD symptoms. But they can learn strategies to be successful.

The number of children being diagnosed as ADHD is growing. See:

Strauss, V. (7/8/2014). Why so many children can's sit still in school today. The Washington Post. Retrieved 1/28/2015 from Quoting from this article:
The Centers for Disease Control tells us that in recent years there has been a jump in the percentage of young people diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD: 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 and to 11 percent in 2011. The reasons for the rise are multiple, and include changes in diagnostic criteria, medication treatment and more awareness of the condition. In the following post, Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and the founder of TimberNook, a nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors in New England, suggests yet another reason more children are being diagnosed with ADHD, whether or not they really have it: the amount of time kids are forced to sit while they are in school.

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction, by impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood. It is one of three recognized disorders in the autism spectrum (ASDs), the other two being Asperger syndrome, which lacks delays in cognitive development and language, and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (commonly abbreviated as PDD-NOS), which is diagnosed when the full set of criteria for autism or Asperger syndrome are not met.

For more details, visit the National Institute of Health. Quoting from that site:

Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group. Experts estimate that 1 out of 88 children age 8 will have an Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 30, 2012). Males are four times more likely to have an ASD than females.

Asperger Syndrome (Asperger's) is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Quoting from the Wikipedia:

[ASD] is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported.

Temple Grandin is autistic and has made major contributions in science and in public understanding autism.

Akst, Jef (5/5/2014). Half Genes, Half Environment. The Scientist. Retrieved 5/5/2014 from Quoting from this report:
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a complex developmental disease that affects nearly 1 percent of US children, has long been recognized to have both genetic and environmental influences. Now, through a review of more than 2 million births in Sweden between 1982 and 2006, researchers led by Sven Sandin of King’s College London and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm determined that both the heritability of ASD the environmental component each comprise approximately 50 percent of the risk. Moreover, children born into a family in which a sibling or cousin has previously been diagnosed with ASD are at a greatly increased risk: those with an autism-afflicted sibling have a 10-fold greater risk of being affected themselves, while those with an autism-afflicted cousin are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ASD. The team’s results were published this weekend (May 3, 2014) in JAMA.
Grandin, Temple (February, 2010). Temple Grandin: The World Needs All Kinds of Minds. 19-minute video. Retrieved 5/3/2014 from Quoting from the Website:
Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, talks about how her mind works -- sharing her ability to "think in pictures," which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids.

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Dyscalculia is difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic, such as difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, and learning math facts. It is generally seen as a specific developmental disorder like dyslexia.
Dyscalculia can occur in people from across the whole IQ range, often, but not always, involving difficulties with time, measurement, and spatial reasoning, Estimates of the prevalence of dyscalculia range between 3 and 6% of the population. A quarter of children with dyscalculia have ADHD.
Math disabilities can occur as the result of some types of brain injury, in which case the proper term is acalculia, to distinguish it from dyscalculia which is of innate, genetic or developmental origin.

Another website defines dyscalculia and suggests a large co-incidence of dyscalculia and dyslexia. Quoting from this site:

Does dyscalculia also affect people with dyslexia?
Research suggests that 40-50% of dyslexics show no signs of dyscalculia. They perform at least as well in maths as other children, with about 10% achieving at a higher level.
The remaining 50-60% do have difficulties with maths. Not surprisingly, difficulty in decoding written words can transfer across into a difficulty in decoding mathematical notation and symbols.
For some dyslexic pupils, however, difficulty with maths may in fact stem from problems with the language surrounding mathematical questions rather than with number concepts – e.g. their dyslexia may cause them to misunderstand the wording of a question.
In summary, dyscalculia and dyslexia occur both independently of each other and together. The strategies for dealing with dyscalculia will be fundamentally the same whether or not the learner is also dyslexic.

Estimates of the incidence of dyscalculia are in the 3% to 6% range. A May 21, 2012 article in the Post-Gazette reports:

Severe learning disabilities in math, affecting up to 7 percent of all students, have been described as the mathematics version of dyslexia, the reading disorder in which people have trouble understanding or interpreting letters, words and symbols.
The math disorder—dyscalculia—has long been overlooked in the public schools, where the focus traditionally has been reading.

Click here and also here for more about the combination/interaction of dyscalculia and dyslexia.


Dysgraphia is a writing disability. It is a relatively common disorder, with various sources quoting a 5% to 20% range. The Wikipedia indicates:

The number of students with dysgraphia may increase from 4 percent of students in primary grades, due to the overall difficulty of handwriting, and up to 20 percent in middle school because written compositions become more complex. With this in mind, there are no exact numbers of how many individuals have dysgraphia due to its difficulty to diagnose. There are slight gender differences in association with written disabilities; overall it is found that males are more likely to be impaired with handwriting, composing, spelling, and orthographic abilities than females.

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Dysgraphia is a transcription disability, meaning that it is a writing disorder associated with impaired handwriting, orthographic coding (orthography, the storing process of written words and processing the letters in those words), and finger sequencing (the movement of muscles required to write). It often overlaps with other learning disabilities such as speech impairment, attention deficit disorder, or developmental coordination disorder.
Dysgraphia is often, but not always, accompanied by other learning disabilities such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder, and this can impact the type of dysgraphia a person might have.

Quoting from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD):

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that affects writing, which requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills. Dysgraphia makes the act of writing difficult. It can lead to problems with spelling, poor handwriting and putting thoughts on paper. People with dysgraphia can have trouble organizing letters, numbers and words on a line or page. This can result partly from:
• Visual-spatial difficulties: trouble processing what the eye sees.
• Language processing difficulty: trouble processing and making sense of what the ear hears.
Just having bad handwriting doesn’t mean a person has dysgraphia. Since dysgraphia is a processing disorder, difficulties can change throughout a lifetime. However since writing is a developmental process—children learn the motor skills needed to write, while learning the thinking skills needed to communicate on paper—difficulties can also overlap.

The article provides "warning signs" for three different age groups of children. Possible accommodations include using a word processor. Quoting again from the NCLD site:

Introduce a word processor on a computer early; however do not eliminate handwriting for the child. While typing can make it easier to write by alleviating the frustration of forming letters, handwriting is a vital part of a person's ability to function in the world.…
Encourage use of a spell checker.…
Use assistive technology such as voice-activated software if the mechanical aspects of writing remain a major hurdle.


Quoting Maryanne Wolf from Annie Murphy Paul's The Brilliant Report:

"Dyslexia is our best, most visible evidence that the brain was never wired to read. I look at dyslexia as a daily evolutionary reminder that very different organizations of the brain are possible.… [We must begin] to view children's learning differences in terms of different patterns of brain organization, with genetic variations that bestow both strengths and weaknesses."

The website defines dyslexia as follows:

The term dyslexia is used to describe difficulty in the acquisition of reading, writing and spelling skills but not all poor readers are dyslexic. The child's learning difficulties may be caused by:
* Visual problems through not being able to recognise shape and form.
* Reading speed, accuracy or comprehension.
* Phoneme segmentation (cannot see or hear the components and then put them together to create meaning and to spell the words).
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for the diagnosis of dyslexia are:
* Reading achievement substantially below that expected for the person's age, measured intelligence and age-appropriate education.
* The disturbance in reading ability interferes with academic achievement or activities of daily living that require reading skills.
* If a sensory deficit is present, the reading difficulties are in excess of those usually associated with the specific sensory deficit.

The incidence level of dyslexia varies with the definition being used. Quoting again from the website above:

It has been suggested that up to 10% of the population (or even more) show some signs of dyslexia, particularly when it is present in other members of the family.

Quoting from

Although it is a common belief that men are significantly more likely to be dyslexic than women, this assumed sex imbalance is not substantiated by recent research. There may be slightly more men than women who have dyslexia, but the difference is not significant.

The following article provides new insight into adult dyslexia:

Vence, Tracy (12/5/2013). Deconstructing Dyslexia. The Scientist. Retrieved 12/11/2013 from Quoting from this article:
Scanning the brains of adults with dyslexia and normal readers, scientists found no differences in phonetic representations—the brain’s interpretations of human speech sounds. Rather, adults with dyslexia may have difficulty processing speech sounds because of a dysfunctional connection between frontal and temporal language areas of the brain that impairs access to otherwise intact phonetic representations.
The findings, published today (December 5) in Science, came as quite a surprise to the research team. “The main aim of the study was to finally objectively demonstrate that the quality of phonetic representations is impaired in individuals with dyslexia,” said Katholieke Universiteit Leuven’s Bart Boets, who led the work. But that’s not at all what they found. “Even while scanning throughout the whole brain for local regions where the representations may be impaired...we could not find a single region with inferior phonetic representations in dyslexics as compared to typical readers,” Boets explained in an e-mail.
Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia)

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Prosopagnosia, also called face blindness, is a cognitive disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing (e.g., object discrimination) and intellectual functioning (e.g., decision making) remain intact. The term originally referred to a condition following acute brain damage (acquired prosopagnosia), but a congenital or developmental form of the disorder also exists, which may affect up to 2.5% of the population.

I (David Moursund), have face blindness. I did not discover this until I was well into my 50's. Needless to say, it is a major handicap being a teacher working with a great many students, and not being able to learn to recognize them by their faces!

There are many free self-assessment tests for face blindness available on the Web. For example:

CBS News (8/5/2012). Do You Have Troubles Recognizing Faces? Take a Test. Retrieved 5/5/2014 from Quoting from the website:
This week on "60 Minutes" Lesley Stahl reports on people who are "face blind." It's a mysterious and sad condition that keeps sufferers from recognizing or identifying faces -- even the faces of close family members, children, or spouses. Many "face blind" people don't even know they have it.

The Prosopagnosia Research Center at Bournemouth University, UK provides a list of symptoms that are useful in identifying prosopagnosia in young children. The site provides advice to parents, teachers, and others who suspect a child may be face blind.

Nancy Kanwisher is a highly regarded brain science researcher. The following TED Talk begins with a presentation of some of her research on face blindness.

Kanwisher, N. (March, 2014). A neural portrait of the human mind. TED Talks. Retrieved 10/5/2014 from Learn more about Nancy Kanwisher and her research lab at MIT from the website This site contains a number of her brain science talks.

At the current time, face blindness is considered to be an incurable neurological disorder. A 5/5/2014 Google search of the term face blindness test produced over 5.8 million hits.

People with face blindness develop a variety of coping mechanisms. See a video featuring Oliver Sacks, a well known neuroscientist, and artist Chuck Close at Quoting from the website:

Oliver and Chuck—both born with the condition known as Face Blindness—have spent their lives decoding who is saying hello to them. You can sit down with either man, talk to him for an hour, and if he sees you again just fifteen minutes later, he will have no idea who you are. (Unless you have a very squeaky voice or happen to be wearing the same odd purple hat.) Chuck and Oliver tell Robert what it's like to live with Face Blindness in a conversation recorded for the World Science Festival, and they describe two very different ways of coping with their condition (which may be more common than we think).

Brain Growth Spurts and Cognitive Development

Brain science has been a relatively hot topic in education for more than 20 years. For example, the ASCD published a pair of articles on this topic in the February, 1984, issue of Educational Leadership. These articles focused on brain growth spurts and argued that these growth spurts were times when the brain was extra conducive to learning.

These arguments have continued over the years. Kurt Fischer is a world class educator and brain scientist in the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He discusses brain growth spurts in [ three short videos. Quoting from the first of these videos:

Hi, I'm Kurt Fischer. I study cognitive development and learning, and how they connect to brain development. In research over the years, we came up with a remarkable surprise, which is a discovery of a close connection between the growth cycles of cognition, how we develop new capacities, and the growth cycles of brain activity. I'm going to tell you about that today.
So in cognitive development, there's a series of capacities that emerge during the childhood and adolescent years. And these changes, these emerging capacities can be seen very simply when you look at the best performance that children show. You look at how they solve problems or how they learn in situations where they're given support by a good teacher, by a parent, by a good textbook, helping them to do their best in the task or problem.

The Charlie Rose Brain Series (2009-2012) has five videos, each about 55 minutes in length. They provide an excellent introduction to brain science and brains. Retrieved 10/8/2012 from For a discussion of these videos, see Quoting from the website:

Charlie Rose Brain Series Episode One. Tonight’s introductory topic: The Great Mysteries of the Human Brain: consciousness, free will, perception, cognition, emotion and memory with a roundtable of brain researchers. Co-Host Eric Kandel from Columbia University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Cornelia Bargmann from Rockefeller University, Tony Movshon from New York University, John Searle from University of California Berkeley and Gerald Fischbach of the Simons Foundation.

A 2009 U.S. government article provides a good overview of the topic of brain growth spurts. For example, here is part of what it says about the newborn baby:

The raw material of the brain is the nerve cell, called the neuron. When babies are born, they have almost all of the neurons they will ever have, more than 100 billion of them. Although research indicates some neurons are developed after birth and well into adulthood, the neurons babies have at birth are primarily what they have to work with as they develop into children, adolescents, and adults.
During fetal development, neurons are created and migrate to form the various parts of the brain. As neurons migrate, they also differentiate, so they begin to "specialize" in response to chemical signals (Perry, 2002). This process of development occurs sequentially from the "bottom up," that is, from the more primitive sections of the brain to the more sophisticated sections (Perry, 2000a). The first areas of the brain to fully develop are the brainstem and midbrain; they govern the bodily functions necessary for life, called the autonomic functions. At birth, these lower portions of the nervous system are very well developed, whereas the higher regions (the limbic system and cerebral cortex) are still rather primitive (ZERO TO THREE, 2009).
Brain development, or learning, is actually the process of creating, strengthening, and discarding connections among the neurons; these connections are called synapses. Synapses organize the brain by forming pathways that connect the parts of the brain governing everything we do—from breathing and sleeping to thinking and feeling. This is the essence of postnatal brain development, because at birth, very few synapses have been formed. The synapses present at birth are primarily those that govern our bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing, eating, and sleeping.
The development of synapses occurs at an astounding rate during children's early years, in response to the young child's experiences. At its peak, the cerebral cortex of a healthy toddler may create 2 million synapses per second (ZERO TO THREE, 2009). By the time children are 3, their brains have approximately 1,000 trillion synapses, many more than they will ever need. Some of these synapses are strengthened and remain intact, but many are gradually discarded. This process of synapse elimination—or pruning—is a normal part of development (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). By the time children reach adolescence, about half of their synapses have been discarded, leaving the number they will have for most of the rest of their lives. Brain development continues throughout the lifespan. This allows us to continue to learn, remember, and adapt to new circumstances (Ackerman, 2007).

Brain Injuries and Cognitive Reserve

The following definition is from the Mayo Clinic:

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.
Although concussions usually are caused by a blow to the head, they can also occur when the head and upper body are violently shaken. These injuries can cause a loss of consciousness, but most concussions do not. Because of this, some people have concussions and don't realize it

Currently there are many research projects on how to prevent concussions, how to reduce the severity of concussions and how treat concussions. The following article indicates that a person's level of education is a factor in recovery from a concussion.

The following definitions of brain reserve and cognitive reserve are quoted from the Wikipedia:

The term cognitive reserve describes the mind's resistance to damage of the brain. The mind's resilience is evaluated behaviorally, whereas the neuropathological damage is evaluated histologically, although damage may be estimated using blood-based markers and imaging methods. There are two models that can be used when exploring the concept of "reserve": brain reserve and cognitive reserve. These terms, albeit often used interchangeably in the literature, provide a useful way of discussing the models. Using a computer analogy brain reserve can be seen as hardware and cognitive reserve as software. All these factors are currently believed to contribute to global reserve. Cognitive reserve is commonly used to refer to both brain and cognitive reserves in the literature.

The following article discusses evidence of education level (which builds cognitive reserve) helps in recovery from concussion.

Hamilton, J. (4/23/2014). Education May Help Insulate the Brain Against Traumatic Injury. NPR. Retrieved 4/27/2014 from

Quoting from the document:

A little education goes a long way toward ensuring you'll recover from a serious traumatic brain injury. In fact, people with lots of education are seven times more likely than high school dropouts to have no measurable disability a year later.
"It's a very dramatic difference," says Eric Schneider, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins and the lead author of a new study. The finding suggests that people with more education have brains that are better able to "find ways around the damage" caused by an injury, he says.
One reason for the difference may be something known as "cognitive reserve" in the brain, Schneider says. The concept is a bit like physical fitness, he says, which can help a person recover from a physical injury. Similarly, a person with a lot of cognitive reserve may be better equipped to recover from a brain injury.

For more on this topic see

Cognitive reserve plays a major role in brain recovery from traumatic injury.

Tucker, A. and Stern, Y. (6/1/2011). Cognitive Reserve in Aging. US National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 4/27/2014 from

Here is the abstract of the research paper:

Cognitive reserve explains why those with higher IQ, education, occupational attainment, or participation in leisure activities evidence less severe clinical or cognitive changes in the presence of age-related or Alzheimer’s disease pathology. Specifically, the cognitive reserve hypothesis is that individual differences in how tasks are processed provide reserve against brain pathology. Cognitive reserve may allow for more flexible strategy usage, an ability thought to be captured by executive functions tasks. Additionally, cognitive reserve allows individuals greater neural efficiency, greater neural capacity, and the ability for compensation via the recruitment of additional brain regions. Taking cognitive reserve into account may allow for earlier detection and better characterization of age-related cognitive changes and Alzheimer’s disease. Importantly, cognitive reserve is not fixed but continues to evolve across the lifespan. Thus, even late-stage interventions hold promise to boost cognitive reserve and thus reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related problems.

Quoting from the paper:

There are two kinds of reserve that have been reported to make independent and interactive contributions to preserving functioning in the face of brain injury: brain reserve and cognitive reserve. Brain reserve refers to quantitative measures such as brain size [12] or neuronal count [13]. Those with more brain reserve tend to have better clinical outcomes for any given level of pathology [14, 15] although for a negative report and dissenting view see [16]. According to the brain reserve model, there is some threshold at which clinical deficits will become apparent and those individuals with more brain reserve require more pathology to reach that threshold. That is, in the case of Alzheimer’s for example, the disease will progress longer and more pathology will accumulate before deficits will be seen in those that start out with a bigger brain and/or more neurons.
Cognitive reserve, by contrast, refers to how flexibly and efficiently one can make use of available brain reserve [28]. Standard proxies for cognitive reserve include education [29] and IQ [30] although this has expanded to include literacy [31, 32], occupational attainment [27, 33, 34], engagement in leisure activities [35–37], and the integrity of social networks [38, 39].

Many different sports carry the threat of concussion. The following article discusses this topic.

Pearl, R. (4/17/2014). A Doctor's Take on Sports-Related Concussions. Forbes. Retrieved 4/27/204 from

Quoting from the article:

“Simply put, a concussion is caused by a blow or jolt to the head or body that disrupts the function of the brain,” Dr. Umphrey said. “The paradox of a concussion is that initial symptoms often appear quite mild but can lead to significant and lifelong impairment.”
Still, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that as many as 3.8 million sports-related traumatic brain injuries occur in the United States each year, most of which go unreported and untreated.
The CDC has clarified the impact that this complex pathological and physiological process has on the brain and provided treatment recommendations. Neurologists and sports medicine physicians have started to recognize that when the brain is not given enough time to heal from injury, concussions produce a wide range of chronic problems that affect the way individuals think, learn and act. [Bold added for emphasis.]
The latest and most widely accepted treatment guidelines for concussions are based on the Consensus Statement on Concussions in Sport created at the fourth “International Conference on Concussion in Sport” in Zurich.


I know that it is possible to teach children to think creatively and that it can be done in a variety of ways. I have done it. I have seen my wife to it; I have seen other excellent teachers do it. I have seen children who had seemed previously to be “non-thinkers” learn to think creatively, and have seen them continuing for years thereafter to think creatively. (Ellis Paul Torrance; American psychologist; 1915–2003.)

E. Paul Torrance was a pioneer and world leader in the study of creativity. The 1972 quote given above reflects the insights of a scholar whose major accomplishments include 1,871 publications: 88 books; 256 parts of books or cooperative volumes; 408 journal articles; 538 reports, manuals, tests, etc.; 162 articles in popular journals or magazines; 355 conference papers; and 64 forewords or prefaces. E. Paul Torrance (1915-2003 was a pioneer in the study of creativity. Learn more about Torrance from the following article:

Hébert, T.P., et al. (February, 2002). E. Paul Torrance: His Life, Accomplishments, and Legacy. Retrieved 9/3/2014 from

Quoting from the article: His [Torrance’s] interests in creativity began as he encountered difficult students as a high school teacher. Sensing their creative potential, he perceived these students to be more than problem children and wanted to understand more about the characteristics of creative individuals. … He developed a series of instruments designed to measure creativity, the most widely known, The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. In addition, he also began his longitudinal study of highly creative elementary school students. [After teaching at the University of Minnesota] Torrance left Minnesota to return to Georgia, where he spent the remainder of his career in higher education at the University of Georgia. Torrance refined his creativity assessments, created the Future Problem Solving Program, developed the Incubation Model of Teaching, and continued his study of the Minnesota participants in his longitudinal study of creativity.

It is clear that some people are more creative than others. However, it requires a lot of creativity just to participate in a meaningful back-and-forth conversation. This takes a lot of creativity. So, a good place to start the study of human creativity is to assume that every intact human brain is quite creative and has a great capacity for learning.

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created (such as an idea, a joke, an artistic or literary work, a painting or musical composition, a solution, an invention etc.). The ideas and concepts so conceived can then manifest themselves in any number of ways, but most often, they become something we can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste. The range of scholarly interest in creativity includes a multitude of definitions and approaches … [and study of] the potential for fostering creativity through education and training, especially as augmented by technology, and the application of creative resources to improve the effectiveness of learning and teaching processes.

There is a substantial literature about creativity. My 8/9/2014 Google search of creativity returned more than 60 million hits. See, for example, the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development. Quoting from the website:

The Torrance Center™ for Creativity and Talent Development is a service, research, and instructional center concerned with the identification and development of creative potential and with gifted and future studies. Its goals are to investigate, implement, and evaluate techniques for enhancing creative thinking and to facilitate national and international systems that support creative development.

Declining Creativity?

There is some evidence that the average level of student creativity is declining.

Retner, R. (8/12/2011). Not Your Imagination: Kids Today Really Are Less Creative, Study Says. Today Parenting. Retrieved 10/3 2011 from

Quoting from the article:

It sounds like the complaint of a jaded adult: Kids these days are narrow-minded and just not as creative as they used to be.
But researchers say they are finding exactly that. In a 2010 study of about 300,000 creativity tests going back to the 1970s, Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, found creativity has decreased among American children in recent years. Since 1990, children have become less able to produce unique and unusual ideas. They are also less humorous, less imaginative and less able to elaborate on ideas, Kim said.
Interestingly, scores on the Torrance test have been decreasing while SAT scores are increasing. However, better test scores do not necessarily translate to improved creativity, Kim said. You can do well on a test by studying a lot, but it won't encourage original thinking. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Learn more about Dr. Kyung-Hee Kim at the website The site contains several videos of Dr. Kim discussing her research on creativity. Quoting from this website:

In 2010, her study “the Creativity Crisis (Kim, 2011)," featured in Newsweek opened a national and international dialogue on the importance of creativity in education and business. The study showed the United States has been experiencing a decline in creativity since 1990. Previously in 2005, she dispelled the myth that intelligence and creativity are the same, and her meta-analysis showed that there is only a negligible relationship between IQ and creativity test scores (Kim, 2005).

The most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is designed to measure 15 year olds in math, science, and reading. In addition, it is designed to measure creative problem solving. This is discussed in the following article:

Yettick, H. (4/1/2014). U.S. Students Score Above Average on First PISA Problem-Solving Exam. Education Week. Retrieved 9/2/2014 from Quoting from the article:
U.S. 15-year-olds scored above average on a first-of-its-kind international assessment that measured creative problem-solving skills.
However, their mean scores were significantly lower than those earned in ten of the 44 countries and economies that took the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 problem-solving assessment.
The assessment, which was the subject of an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report released Tuesday, defined creative problem-solving as the ability to "understand and resolve problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious." Worldwide, a representative sample of 85,000 students took the exam, including 1,273 U.S. students in 162 schools. [Bold added for emphasis.]
U.S. performance was especially strong on tasks designed to measure interactive problem solving, which requires students to find some of the information they need on their own.
Creativity and Mental Illness

Nancy Andreasen has spent many years doing research on possible relationships between creativity and mental illness. Her work is explored in a PBS video:

Woodruff, Judy (7/25/2014). Connecting strength and vulnerability of the creative brain. PBS Newshour. Retrieved 8/9/2014 (8:37)

Quoting from the website:

Why have so many creative minds suffered from mental illness? Nancy Andreasen, Andrew H. Woods Chair of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa, has devoted decades of study to the physical differences in the brains of writers and other highly accomplished individuals. Produced in partnership with The Atlantic magazine, Judy Woodruff visits Andreasen to explore her work.

There also is an article by Andreasen in The Atlantic:

Andreasen, Nancy (6/25/2014). Secrets of the creative brain. The Atlantic. Retrieved 8/9/2014 from Quoting from Andreasen's article:
I have spent much of my career focusing on the neuroscience of mental illness, but in recent decades I’ve also focused on what we might call the science of genius, trying to discern what combination of elements tends to produce particularly creative brains. What, in short, is the essence of creativity? Over the course of my life, I’ve kept coming back to two more-specific questions: What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not? And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted? My latest study, for which I’ve been scanning the brains of some of today’s most illustrious scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers, has come closer to answering this second question than any other research to date.
Teaching Creativity

The following IAE Blog entry discusses the importance of creativity in learning to ask researchable questions in science. Such question asking and problem posing are essential components in each area of human study.

Moursund, D. (3/31/2011). Teaching for creativity in science. IAE Blog. Retrieved 8/9/2014 from

Quoting from this entry:

The following article provides some interesting insights into science education and fostering creativity among science students.
Giddings, M. (3/29/2011). What kind of scientist are you? The Scientist. Retrieved 3/31/2011 from
The article focuses on graduate school education, but I think it is applicable at all levels of science education. First, a quote from the author that helps to identify a science education problem, that of a graduate student defending his or her chosen dissertation topic:
Yet in all the questioning posed by the serious professors, and in all the fear that the student was experiencing, there was an elephant in the room that nobody discussed: was the hypothesis good enough to begin with? Were the questions really worth asking? If they weren’t, how would he improve them?
Some students had flunked out at the written prelim stage due to having poorly constructed hypotheses and questions. Sometimes it was difficult to separate bad writing from inadequate ideas. But in every case, the students were sent back to do it all over again, without a lot of guidance on a key point: how do you come up with really good questions? [Bold added for emphasis.]

There has been considerable research on teaching and fostering creativity. See, for example, the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Quoting from this site:

To make the most of student’s creativity, plan assignments and activities that challenge students but do not overwhelm them. Generally, learning is “inhibited by threat and enhanced by challenge” (Caine, xvii). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s pioneering work on the concept of “flow” persuaded him that that seemingly effortless creative state occurs when high levels of ability and high levels of challenge. For Csikszentmihalyi, achieving a state of “flow” requires that the actor (or learner) have clear goals and expectations, a degree of skill and chance to focus on practicing the skill, and direct and immediate feedback.
Creativity in the Arts

The following Information Age Education Newsletter discusses creativity in the arts.

Stauter, S. (January, 2012). Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education: The Positive Roles That the Arts, Arts Education, and Creative Obsession Will Play. IAE Newsletter. Retrieved 8/15/2014 from Quoting from the article:
Our brain's basic task is to plan, regulate, and predict our movements, and to predict the movements of others and objects. Humans often add aesthetics to various movements and call it the Arts, a phenomenon deeply imbedded in human psyche and history. The artist articulates the culture—defining and challenging in ways that reflect personal truth but also become aesthetic cultural hallmarks. Those who wish to understand the history of a culture need to listen to its music, observe its clothing and architecture, and read its plays, poetry, and literature—all of which describe humans who are moving physically, emotionally, and intellectually.

Critical Thinking

In any discipline of study, problem solving includes:

  • Question situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and answering questions.
  • Problem situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and then solving problems.
  • Task situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and accomplishing tasks.
  • Decision situations: recognizing, posing, clarifying, and then making good decisions.
  • Using higher-order critical, creative, wise, and foresightful thinking to do all of the above. Often the results are shared, demonstrated, or used as a product, performance, or presentation.

The last of the five bulleted items above is quite a bit different from the first four. It helps to define maturity in problem solving. An increasing level of math maturity is evidenced by an increasing ability to use higher-order critical, creative, wise, and foresightful thinking in dealing with math problems and math related problems.

In general, the scholars listed above agree that critical thinking entails an interpretation or analysis, usually followed by evaluation or judgment. It requires that learners have mastered some subject matter to think about, so it can't be done in a knowledge vacuum. It is difficult and unnatural, and it takes time and effort to learn. And it involves not only cognition but also character and metacognition/self-regulated learning. This means that learners must be willing to pursue "truth" to wherever it may lie, persist through challenges, evaluate their own thinking fairly, and abandon faulty thinking for new and more valid ways of reasoning. These are intellectual "virtues" that don't come easily to people and must be cultivated.
The scholars also generally agree that students learn critical thinking by answering challenging, open-ended questions that require genuine inquiry, analysis, or assessment.

Here is another good reference:

Schrock, J. Benko, S. (1/12/2015). Using fundamental concepts and essential questions to promote critical thinking. Retrieved 1/14/2015 from Quoting from the document:

Could your students identify the most important concepts in your discipline? Do they leave your class understanding these most fundamental concepts, including the ability to reason using these concepts to answer essential questions? Do your students become critical thinkers who connect concepts and practices in your course with other courses? With their future professional lives?
Traditional ways of teaching and the customary use of textbooks can hinder the development of critical thinking and meaningful learning. Instructors often resort to lecture because of its efficiency in covering content. However, student attention often wanes quickly, and students end up memorizing notes they wrote down during the lecture and developing only a superficial understanding of course material. Also problematic is that textbooks highlight more concepts than students can possibly learn in a meaningful way. Many textbooks have as many as 45 concepts, or more, per chapter. In a text with, for example, 15 chapters, that is approximately 700 concepts. Often students have absolutely no idea which of the 700 concepts is more important than any other. As a result, they try to memorize as many as possible and leave the course with little deep understanding of any. Students can, however, develop the skills they need to find connections among concepts, assess their relative importance in the discipline, and then use them to think critically about a wide variety of concepts, principles, ideas, and questions. You can facilitate this process by structuring your course around the fundamental and powerful concepts, and essential questions of the discipline.

The following article argues that our overall educational system is not doing well in its efforts to increase students' critical thinking ability.

Wolpert, Stuart (1/27/09). Is Technology Producing a Decline in Critical Thinking and Analysis? UCLA Newsroom. Retrieved 1/29/2009: Quoting from the report:
As technology has played a bigger role in our lives, our skills in critical thinking and analysis have declined, while our visual skills have improved, according to research by Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children's Digital Media Center, Los Angeles.
Learners have changed as a result of their exposure to technology, says Greenfield, who analyzed more than 50 studies on learning and technology, including research on multi-tasking and the use of computers, the Internet and video games. Her research was published this month WHEN? in the journal Science.
Reading for pleasure, which has declined among young people in recent decades, enhances thinking and engages the imagination in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not, Greenfield said.
Visual intelligence has been rising globally for 50 years, Greenfield said. In 1942, people's visual performance, as measured by a visual intelligence test known as Raven's Progressive Matrices, went steadily down with age and declined substantially from age 25 to 65. By 1992, there was a much less significant age-related disparity in visual intelligence, Greenfield said. "In a 1992 study, visual IQ stayed almost flat from age 25 to 65."

Curious Brain

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” (Anatole France; French novelist and poet; 1844-1924.)
“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” (Albert Einstein; German-born theoretical physicist and 1921 Nobel Prize winner; 1879-1955.)

Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something. A child’s healthy brain has a tremendous capability to learn. It is naturally curious and is always learning—and it learns at an amazing rate.

There is substantial research on roles that curiosity plays in learning. Click here for a short summary article summarizing some of the findings. Quoting from that article:

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it's good for the student. That's the conclusion of a new [2011]study published in Perspectives in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The authors show that curiosity is a big part of academic performance. In fact, personality traits like curiosity seem to be as important as intelligence in determining how well students do in school. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Curiosity is a "natural" driving force, and some people seem to much more of it than others. And, as Einstein points out in his quote given above, our educational system can have a strong impact on children's level of curiosity.

As I (Dave Moursund) reread the previous paragraph, I became curious about what the Web might be able to tell me about curiosity and education. My 8/16/2014 Google search of the expression curiosity education produced over 37 million hits! The second in the list of hits refers to the following TED Talk that I have viewed several times.

Robinson, Ken (February, 2006). How schools kill creativity. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from

In revisiting the site, I noticed that the 19 minute talk has had more than 27 million views and it includes subtitles in 58 languages. This data suggests to me that curiosity is an educational topic of worldwide interest.

After giving several examples of children being creative, Robinson continues:

What these things [stories] have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don't know, they'll have a go. Am I right? They're not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original—if you're not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Here is a reference from a brief article in Psychology Today:

Austin, M. (4/3/2014). Intellectual Curiosity. Psychology Today. Retrieved 8/15/2014 from Quoting from the article:
As children, we were naturally curious about almost everything. This may have annoyed our parents and teachers, but it is also an essential part of human development. If we want to grow intellectually, morally, socially, and spiritually, we need to ask questions and seek answers. We need intellectual curiosity. At some point, however, many of us lost this initial curiosity. Perhaps we feared looking unintelligent or ignorant, or perhaps a peer in school mocked us for our curiosity. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to retrieve this trait.
What is intellectual curiosity? The intellectually curious person has a deep and persistent desire to know. She asks and seeks answers to the “why” questions. And she doesn’t stop asking at a surface level, but instead asks probing questions in order to peel back layers of explanation to get at the foundational ideas concerning a particular issue.

Are you curious about what makes others curious? See: (n.d.). What makes you curious? Answered by Tiffany Shlain, Dr. Michio Kaku and 125 others. Retrieved 8/15/2024 from Here are a few brief quotes from this website:
Dr. Michio Kaku: I've often wondered, "Where did it all come from?" At night, when you look at the stars, you say to yourself, "Wow, the universe is incredible. But where did it come from?" I first bumped up against this when I was a child.
Dr. Dean Ornish: I don't know what makes me curious. I'm curious because the antithesis is being bored, and I think being curious is a lot more fun. I'm always interested in understanding, really, the underlying cause of what causes things to happen. If there's anything that really ties all of my work together, it's that very simple question that I'm curious about, which is, "What is the cause?" There's usually a chain of causation: what causes this and that, and what's behind that, and what's behind that? Then, the questions get very interesting. If we don't treat the underlying cause of a problem -- any problem, whether it's a medical problem or a social or a health policy issue -- then the same problem tends to come back again.

Dr. Astro Teller: What makes me curious is the very fact that I don't know things. While that comment sounds self-referential, it’s more about my desire to learn and the stimulation and satisfaction that ensues. Curiosity is my prime mover and motivation, as opposed to the result of my observations of what happens to me. I don't need love or money in order to be curious. Curiosity is what drives me to participate more fully in my personal and my business life.

Are you interested in assessing your own level of curiosity? See:

Deitering, Anne-Marie (2/6/2014). Curiosity, Browsing & Online Environments–Further Reading. Retrieved 8/15/2014 from
Deitering, Anne-Marie (2/7/2014). Curiosity Self-Assessment-scoring. Retrieved 8/15/2014 from

This site provides details for scoring a free 30-question self-assessment instrument from Oregon State University that is available at Quoting from the Deitering site:

There is more than one type of curiosity identified in the literature, and we decided to focus on 3 of those in this instrument: epistemic, perceptual and interpersonal.
Epistemic curiosity is triggered by a drive to know about things — to know about concepts and ideas, and to understand how things work. This is the type of curiosity that we think probably comes to mind first when people think of school-related work. Some of the items on the self-assessment that point to this type of curiosity are:
* When I see a riddle I am interested in trying to solve it.
* I enjoy discussing abstract concepts
Perceptual curiosity is triggered by a drive to know how things feel, taste, smell, look, and sound. Some of the items that point to this one are:
* I enjoy trying different foods.
* When I see new fabrics, I want to touch and feel it.
We (the general “we” here) don’t usually think about the types of questions that would include a touching or perceiving component when we think of class-related research.
Interpersonal curiosity is triggered by a desire to know more about other people. Some of the items connected to this type have a snooping or spying connotation to them, and others focus more on the type of curiosity that happens during direct interactions with others:
* People open up to me about how they feel.
* I enjoy going into other houses to see how people live.

Here is a book on the topic of curiosity:

Leslie, I. (August, 2014). Curious. The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It. Basic Books.

Quoting from the publisher's description of the book:

"I have no special talents," said Albert Einstein. "I am only passionately curious."
Everyone is born curious. But only some retain the habits of exploring, learning, and discovering as they grow older. Those who do so tend to be smarter, more creative, and more successful. So why are many of us allowing our curiosity to wane?
In Curious, Ian Leslie makes a passionate case for the cultivation of our "desire to know." Just when the rewards of curiosity have never been higher, it is misunderstood, undervalued, and increasingly monopolized by a cognitive elite. A "curiosity divide" is opening up.
This divide is being exacerbated by the way we use the Internet. Thanks to smartphones and tools such as Google and Wikipedia, we can answer almost any question instantly. But does this easy access to information guarantee the growth of curiosity? No—quite the opposite. Leslie argues that true curiosity the sustained quest for understanding that begets insight and innovation—is in fact at risk in a wired world.
Drawing on fascinating research from psychology, economics, education, and business, Curious looks at what feeds curiosity and what starves it, and finds surprising answers. Curiosity isn't, as we're encouraged to think, a gift that keeps on giving. It is a mental muscle that atrophies without regular exercise and a habit that parents, schools, and workplaces need to nurture. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs

Caffeine is an example of a widely used cognitive-enhancing drug. Here is an example of research on caffeine and long-term memory:

Makin, Simon (1/12/2014). Drink Two Expressos to Enhance Long-term Memory. NewScientist. Retrieved 2/20/2014 from

The article focuses on human use of caffeine. Quoting from the article:

To investigate further, Michael Yassa, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, recruited 160 adults who normally consume only minimal amounts of caffeine. The volunteers first studied images of objects, before randomly receiving a pill containing either 200 milligrams of caffeine – equivalent to two espressos – or a placebo. Receiving the caffeine after studying the images helped to isolate the effect of caffeine on memory, as you wouldn't expect alertness to matter at this point.
He concludes that caffeine enhances long-term memory by improving the process of memory consolidation. "This doesn't mean people should only drink coffee after they've studied, and not before," says Yassa. "I think you would get the boost regardless." That's because the process of consolidation is likely to begin as soon as new memories form.
However, caffeine isn't much use once consolidation is finished. The team ran a second experiment in which caffeine wasn't administered until one hour before the memory test, to check for any effects on memory retrieval. They found no such effect. "So let's say you studied without coffee and decided to drink a cup right before an exam – that's not going to help you retrieve memories better," says Yassa.

Caffeine research has been conducted with other animals. Quoting again from the article:

The results have impressed Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University, UK, who last year showed the link between caffeine and long-term memory in honeybees.
Wright's team found a similar effect in bees. "[But] in high concentrations it looks like [caffeine] is bad for learning – so don't drink too much!" says Wright's colleague Julie Mustard at Arizona State University in Phoenix.

The following article summarizes some important ideas about the growing availability and use of a variety of cognitive-enhancing drugs.

Kaplan, Karen, and Gellene, Denise (12/20/07). Brain Boosters: The Mental Edge? The Seattle Times. retrieved 12/20/07: Quoting from the article:
The medicine cabinet of so-called cognitive enhancers also includes Ritalin, commonly given to children for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and beta blockers, such as the heart drug Inderal. Researchers have been investigating the drug Aricept, which is normally used to slow the decline of Alzheimer's patients.
They are all just precursors to the blockbuster drug that labs are racing to develop. "Whatever company comes out with the first memory pill is going to put Viagra to shame," said University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Paul Root Wolpe.
The use of cognitive-enhancing drugs has been well-documented among high-school and college students. A 2005 survey of more than 10,000 college students found 4 percent to 7 percent of them tried ADHD drugs at least once to remain focused on exams or pull all-nighters. At some colleges, more than one-quarter of students surveyed said they had sampled the pills.

According to this article by Steve Bird, student use of such drugs is growing rapidly.

Bird, Steve (10/9/2013). The Dangers for Students Addicted to Brain Viagra: Drugs Claimed to Boost Your Intellect Are Sweeping Universities – But at What Cost? Mail Online. Retrieved 11/2/2013 from Quoting from this article:
Generations of students have depended on nothing more potent than gallons of black coffee to enable them to burn the midnight oil when studying. But now a far more sinister stimulant is sweeping campuses.
With unemployment among graduates at record levels, more and more students are turning to 'cognitive enhancing drugs’ in the hope of boosting their grades and therefore their job prospects. The most popular of these drugs is Modafinil, a prescription-only stimulant used by doctors to treat patients suffering from the sleeping disorder narcolepsy.
Indeed, a new inquiry suggests that up to a quarter of students at some leading universities have experimented with it.
As a result, a highly profitable black market has developed in this and other prescription-only medicines designed to treat acute neurological conditions.
Modafinil pills are being sold for as little as 50p each and have been proven to improve memory by 10 per cent. They keep users alert and awake, increasing their ability to concentrate and process information.

Consciousness and Self-awareness

What is consciousness? What might it mean to say that we understand what consciousness is and what makes/creates consciousness? This is one of the most challenging questions in cognitive neuroscience.

If such questions interest you, then you may enjoy the following article:

Pinker, Steven (1/19/2007). The Mystery of Consciousness. Retrieved 3/10/09:,9171,1580394,00.html. Quoting from the article:
It shouldn't be surprising that research on consciousness is alternately exhilarating and disturbing. No other topic is like it. As René Descartes noted, our own consciousness is the most indubitable thing there is. The major religions locate it in a soul that survives the body's death to receive its just deserts or to meld into a global mind. For each of us, consciousness is life itself, the reason Woody Allen said, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying." And the conviction that other people can suffer and flourish as each of us does is the essence of empathy and the foundation of morality.
The Easy Problem, then, is to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved. Substantial progress is occurring in this area.
The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place. And not surprisingly, everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.

The following short article discusses a possible breakthrough in brain research on consciousness.

Koch, C. (10/16/2014). Neuronal "Superhub" Might Generate Consciousness. Scientific American. Retrieved 10/26/2014 from Quoting from this article:
Led by Mohamad Z. Koubeissi, an associate professor in the department of neurology at George Washington University, the clinical team made a remarkable observation: electrically stimulating a single site with a fairly large current abruptly impaired consciousness in 10 out of 10 trials—the patient stared blankly ahead, became unresponsive to commands and stopped reading. As soon as the stimulation stopped, consciousness returned, without the patient recalling any events during the period when she was out. Note that she did not become unconscious in the usual sense, because she could still continue to carry out simple behaviors for a few seconds if these were initiated before the stimulation started—behaviors such as making repetitive tongue or hand movements or repeating a word. Koubeissi was careful to monitor electrical activity throughout her brain to confirm that episodes of loss of consciousness did not accompany a seizure.
Two aspects of this patient's case had never been seen before. First, no abrupt and specific cessation and resumption of consciousness have previously been reported, despite decades of electrically stimulating the forebrain of awake patients in the operating room. Depending on the location of the stimulating electrode, patients usually do not feel anything in particular. Less frequently, a patient may report flashes of light, smells or some difficult-to-verbalize body feelings, or perhaps even a specific memory from long ago that the electric current evokes. Or the patient will twitch a finger or a muscle. But this case was different. Here consciousness as a whole appeared to be turned off and then on again. Second, it happened only at a single place, in the white matter close to the claustrum and the cortex. Because electrical stimulation of the nearby insula is not known to elicit a loss of consciousness, the researchers implicated the claustrum. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Here is a free Information Age Education book on the topic of consciousness and morality:

Sylwester, R., & Moursund, D., eds. (2013). Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Free download of this book. Microsoft Word: PDF:

Declining Cognitive Development

The following article reports on a large scale longitudinal study of cognitive development in England.

Crace, John (1/24/2006). Children Are Less Able than They Used to Be. The Guardian. Retrieved 6/21/09: Quoting from the article:
New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and conducted by Michael Shayer, professor of applied psychology at King's College, University of London, concludes that 11- and 12-year-old children in year 7 are "now on average between two and three years behind where they were 15 years ago," in terms of cognitive and conceptual development.
"It's a staggering result," admits Shayer, whose findings will be published next year in the British Journal of Educational Psychology. "Before the project started, I rather expected to find that children had improved developmentally. This would have been in line with the Flynn effect on intelligence tests, which shows that children's IQ levels improve at such a steady rate that the norm of 100 has to be recalibrated every 15 years or so. But the figures just don't lie. We had a sample of over 10,000 children and the results have been checked, rechecked and peer reviewed."

Michael Shayer and others speculate about possible reasons for this decline. For example, perhaps it is due to children spending too much time watching television, playing computer games, and making use of cell phones and social networking systems.

Suppose that a similar decline in general cognitive development (and a corresponding decline in math cognitive development) is occurring for students in the U.S. This would be an indicator that perhaps an increasing number of students are enrolled in math courses that require a level of math cognitive development that is quite a bit above their current skill/ability level. One can argue that such a situation is not supportive of students making good progress in increasing their levels of math maturity.

For a report on more of Shayer's work, click here. Also see:

Shayer, M., & Ginsburg, D. (12/24/2010). Thirty Years On – A Large Anti-Flynn Effect/ (II): 13- and 14-year-olds. Piagetian Tests of Formal Operations Norms 1976–2006/7. Retrieved 10/5/2013 from


Flow is a term coined by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyim who was an early proponent of positive psychology. See a 18:55 TED Talk by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (February, 2004). Flow, the secret to happiness. TED. Retrieved 11/16/2014 from

The following article provides a sense of use of Flow in schools:

Suttie, J. (4/16/2012). Can Schools Help Students Find Flow? Greater Good. Retrieved 11/16/2012 from Quoting from the article:
Since Csikszentmihalyi started studying flow more than 40 years ago, he and other researchers have found that it is associated with high levels of creativity and optimal performance in a wide variety of activities, and that it evokes feelings of happiness and even euphoria. They’ve observed benefits of flow among musicians, mountain climbers, basketball players, scientists, and many others.
You can probably recall times you’ve experienced flow yourself—when you were “in the zone” on a sports field or when you were deeply engaged in a work project and the hours flew by like minutes.
But one place where we might not find too much flow these days, sadly, is in American schools. For years, the learning conditions in classrooms have been practically antithetical to the conditions people need to achieve flow and all the benefits that come with it. Especially in the era of No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing, schools have often favored regimentation over self-directed learning, making it harder for students to get deeply engaged with topics that interest them. Paradoxically, these trends might be undermining the kind of student achievement they were designed to promote, and could even be causing student burnout. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Quoting from

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of the pioneers of the scientific study of happiness. He was born in Hungary in 1934 and, like many of his contemporaries, he was touched by the Second World War in ways that deeply affected his life and later work. During his childhood, he was put in an Italian prison. It was here, amid the misery and loss of family and friends during the war, that he had his first inkling of his seminal work in the area of flow and optimal experience. In an interview, he noted, “I discovered chess was a miraculous way of entering into a different world where all those things didn’t matter. For hours I’d just focus within a reality that had clear rules and goals” (Sobel, D. Interview with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. January, 1995. Omni).

Personal note from David Moursund: I have experienced flow while doing computer programing and often when I am writing. I have also experienced flow while giving professional talks and while playing games. I have enjoyed reading Csikszentmihalyi's writings.

Games to Enhance Brain Functioning

In recent years, there has been some useful work accomplished in developing computer-based games and other activities designed to help the brain functioning of older people. The underlying theories are "use it or lose it" and the transfer of learning from game environments to other environments.

The following short article reports on a study in which adults ages 50 to 70 each spent 20 hours over a period of a month playing a game. It summarizes some of the progress that had been made by the middle of 2010.

Bartlett, Tom (9/16/2010). Can the Wii Make Your Brain Bigger? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 11/7/2013 from An abstract of the research paper is available at Quoting from the article:
The game "Big Brain Academy" for the Nintendo Wii tests your abilities in five areas: "memory, analysis, number crunching, visual recognition, and quick thinking." According to its promotional material, it allows you to "have fun learning from the comfort of your couch."
First, the bad news: playing the Wii game didn't improve their cognitive and perceptual abilities, according to the tests. On the upside, the subjects did get better at playing "Big Brain Academy." Those Wii skills, however, don't seem to transfer to the non-Wii world.

As you can see, the much hyped Wii game did not produce significant gains in brain functioning.

The Lumosity Human Cognition Project has been heavily advertised. Its website reports, "Researchers have measured improvements in working memory and attention after training." As of 11/7/2013, Lumosity provides some information on 15 completed research projects and 38+ ongoing research projects. Here are brief reports on two of the completed research projects:

A 2013 peer-reviewed study from Dr. Shelli Kesler, an Assistant Professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, shows that Lumosity training can improve the brain’s executive functions, which are a key driver of everyday quality of life. Dr. Shelli Kesler found that women who completed about 12 weeks of Lumosity training improved significantly on a common neuropsychological test (the WCST) compared to a control group of women that did not train. The training targeted skills such as working memory, verbal fluency, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility.
1,204 students from 40 different schools participated in a semester-long study of Lumosity in the classroom. Students who supplemented their regular curricula with Lumosity training improved more than a control group on a battery of cognitive assessments.

The following article suggests that research on the use of games to improve cognitive functioning is promising but in its infancy:

Walton, Alice G. (9/5/2013). Can Video Games Actually Improve Brain and Cognitive Function? Forbes. Retrieved 11/7/2013 from Quoting from the article:
The cover of Nature this month features a “game changing” study suggesting that video games may improve brain function in certain measurable ways. The games, of course, are specifically designed for this purpose—they’re not off the shelf at the local game shop—and they give the brain’s attention areas a good workout. The research team led by Adam Gazzaley at the University of California, San Francisco say that a similar approach could become a therapeutic tool for people dealing with a range of issues, like ADHD, dementia, autism. All of these have a common denominator—the loss of cognitive control, which includes the closely linked capacities to attend, make decisions, and multitask. The research is still in its baby stages, so it’s too soon to take that bet, but the possibilities of the technology are alluring, and the study’s underlying logic worth paying attention to. [Bold added for emphasis.]

The website reported on the same study as the article mentioned above. The report was somewhat negative and closed with the statement, "There are other studies that show brain training video games actually have no effect on the cognitive performance of players."

The following article is also critical of the research to date:

Olena, Abby (4/21/20140. Does Brain Training Work? The Scientist. Retrieved 4/23/2014 from Quoting from the article:
“Psychologists have been trying to come up with ways to increase intelligence for a very long time,” said D. Zachary Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University. “We’ve been interested in increasing intelligence for almost as long as we’ve studied intelligence, which is over a century.”
Psychologist Randall Engle’s group at Georgia Tech has previously shown that working memory capacity is highly correlated with complex learning, problem solving, and general attention control. But he pointed out that this correlation does not mean that by increasing working memory capacity, fluid intelligence can be increased. “This idea that intelligence can be trained would be a great thing if it were true,” Engle said.

The paper then briefly described and commented on an often-quoted 2008 study:

When Engle’s group tried to repeat the findings of the 2008 PNAS paper, “we totally failed to replicate the . . . study,” he said. For the paper that resulted from their efforts, which was published in 2012 in Journal of Experimental Psychology, the researchers taught the same working memory tasks, in which participants were presented with stimuli one right after the other and are asked to recall which occurred a certain number of times previously, to one group of young adults; an adaptive visual search task to a second group; and no task to a control group. The researchers assessed the participants at the beginning, middle, and end of the training programs for measures of cognitive function, including fluid intelligence and multitasking. The groups that practiced the n-back and the visual search tasks improved their performance on those tasks specifically, but the team found no positive transfer to the other cognitive abilities they tested.
“Data obtained so far doesn’t seem to show that working memory capacity was expanded after working memory training,” coauthor Weng-Tink Chooi, who is now a researcher at the Advanced Medical and Dental Institute of the Universiti Sains Malaysia, wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist. “What is more consistently observed is that improvements are noted on the trained task and other tasks that share the same specific skills/processes engaged as the trained task.” [Bold added for emphasis.]

The following article is also critical of Brain Training:

Koenig, R. (01/22/2014). Brain-Training Companies Get Advice from Some Academics, Criticism from Others. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 10/27/2014 from

Quoting from the article:

… brain-game companies entice people to buy subscriptions to their online training programs, many of which promise to increase customers’ "neuroplasticity," "fluid intelligence," and working memory capacity. They even claim to help stave off the effects of aging.
Leading scientists have criticized those promises, though. The loudest objection came on Monday, when the Stanford Center for Longevity and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, in Berlin, released "A Consensus on the Brain-Training Industry From the Scientific Community," a statement objecting "to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline."
Nearly 70 psychology, neuroscience, and gerontology professors signed the document, which has been in the works since a group of scientists met, in April 2013, to discuss their concerns about the burgeoning industry that claims to draw on their research.

For more information about Brain Training see:

Moursund, D. (4/24/2014). Does brain training work? IAE Blog. Retrieved 10/27/2014 from

There is substantial literature on possible bad effects of computer games and/or too much game playing. See

Lees, Kathleen 8/4/2014). Risk-glorifying video games increase deviant behaviors in some teens. Science World Report. Retrieved 5/10/2015 from

Quoting from this article:

Previous studies have examined the dangers of violent video games. Findings have shown that playing too much can increase the risk of certain aggressive behaviors.
Now, a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that teenagers who play mature-rated, risk-glorifying video games are more likely to engage in a wide range of deviant behaviors, ranging from alcohol use, delinquency, smoking and risky sexual activity.
Dartmouth researchers found that this was especially true for teens who played games with anti-social, protagonistic characters. This made many of the adolescents relate to the characters more, according to researchers.
"Up to now, studies of video games have focused primarily on their effects on aggression and violent behaviors," said Professor James Sargent , a pediatrician and co-author, in a news release. "This study is important because it is the first to suggest that possible effects of violent video games go well beyond violence to apply to substance use, risky driving and risk-taking sexual behavior."

Innate Math Skills

Within any specific area of human endeavor, it may well be that some people are born with considerably more innate potential than others. Math provides a good area to study this situation. Are there significant brain differences between people who become good at math and those who struggle with math and perhaps make little progress in learning this discipline?

One way that researchers attack such questions is to look at animals. What are math capabilities and limitations of some non-human brains? Here is an example of such a study:

Cantlon, J.F., & Brannon, E.M. (2007). Basic Math in Monkeys and College Students. PLoS Biol 5(12): e328 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050328. Retrieved 12/19/07 from Quoting from the article:
Adult humans possess a sophisticated repertoire of mathematical faculties. Many of these capacities are rooted in symbolic language and are therefore unlikely to be shared with nonhuman animals. However, a subset of these skills is shared with other animals, and this set is considered a cognitive vestige of our common evolutionary history. Current evidence indicates that humans and nonhuman animals share a core set of abilities for representing and comparing approximate numerosities nonverbally; however, it remains unclear whether nonhuman animals can perform approximate mental arithmetic. Here we show that monkeys can mentally add the numerical values of two sets of objects and choose a visual array that roughly corresponds to the arithmetic sum of these two sets. Furthermore, monkeys' performance during these calculations adheres to the same pattern as humans tested on the same nonverbal addition task. Our data demonstrate that nonverbal arithmetic is not unique to humans but is instead part of an evolutionarily primitive system for mathematical thinking shared by monkeys.
The fact that humans and nonhuman animals represent numerical values nonverbally using a common cognitive process is well established [1–7]. Both human and nonhuman animals can nonverbally estimate the numerical values of arrays of dots or sequences of tones [8–12] and determine which of two sets is numerically larger or smaller [13–19]. When adult humans and nonhuman animals make approximate numerical comparisons, their performance is similarly constrained by the ratio between numerical values (i.e., Weber's law; [7]). Thus, discrete symbols such as number words and Arabic numerals are not the only route to numerical concepts; both human and nonhuman animals can represent number approximately, in a nonverbal code.

Another approach is to study humans. Howard Gardner is noted for his work in studying multiple types of human intelligences. Logical-mathematical is one of the nine types of intelligence he has identified. This approach posits a bell-shaped curve for IQ in general and for IQ in various specific areas such as logical-mathematical or music.

We have a great deal of research on students with low math-learning capabilities. Roughly, students in the bottom five percent of math-learning capabilities "peak out" at about the fourth to fifth grade in our current math education curriculum. That is, their rate of forgetting what they have learned and their rate of learning or relearning balance each other out at about this grade level, and they remain at that level year after year as they continue in school and continue to try to learn math. See

Research in the human brain has identified an Approximate Number Sense (ANS). See Here is a down-to-earth article on the topic:

Angier, Natalie (0/15/2008). Gut Instinct's Surprising Role in Math. The New York Times. Retrieved 10/6/2013 from Quoting from the article:
One research team has found that how readily people rally their approximate number sense is linked over time to success in even the most advanced and abstruse mathematics courses. Other scientists have shown that preschool children are remarkably good at approximating the impact of adding to or subtracting from large groups of items but are poor at translating the approximate into the specific. Taken together, the new research suggests that math teachers might do well to emphasize the power of the ballpark figure, to focus less on arithmetic precision and more on general reckoning.

Test your ANS at

Intelligence (Human Intelligence Quotient)

“Did you mean to say that one man may acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other, after much study and application, no sooner learns than he forgets?” (Plato; Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world; 428/427 BC-348/347 BC.)

There are many definitions of intelligence. Based on considerable reading in this field, I formulated the following definition for my personal use. You may find it useful as you read various papers about intelligence.

Intelligence is a combination of the ability to:
1. Learn. This includes all kinds of informal and formal learning via any combination of experience, education, and training.
2. Pose problems. This includes recognizing problem situations and transforming them into more clearly defined problems.
3. Solve problems. This includes solving problems, accomplishing tasks, fashioning products, and doing complex projects.

This definition of intelligence is a very optimistic one. It says that each of us can become more intelligent. We can become more intelligent through study and practice, through access to appropriate tools, and through learning to make effective use of these tools.

The quote from Plato at the beginning of this section provides evidence that people have been interested in the topic of intelligence for well over 2,000 years. In more modern times, Charles Spearman argued in a 1904 research paper that there is a general intelligence factor (named "g"), and his theory still is strongly supported. Note that a capital "G" is sometimes used instead of a lower case "g." Quoting Spearman:

When asked what G is, one has to distinguish between the meanings of terms and the facts about things. G means a particular quantity derived from statistical operations. Under certain conditions the score of a person at a mental test can be divided into two factors, one of which is always the same in all tests, whereas the other varies from one test to another; the former is called the general factor or G, while the other is called the specific factor. This then is what the G term means, a score-factor and nothing more.
G is in the normal course of events determined innately; a person can no more be trained to have it in higher degree than he can be trained to be taller.

At approximately the same time as Spearman, Alfred Benet, a French psychologist, began working on the development of an IQ test. Quoting from the referenced article:

In 1904 a French professional group for child psychology, La Société Libre pour l'Etude Psychologique de l'Enfant, was called upon by the French government to appoint a commission on the education of retarded children. The commission was asked to create a mechanism for identifying students in need of alternative education. Binet, being an active member of this group, found the impetus for the development of his mental scale.
Binet and Simon, in creating what historically is known as the Binet-Simon Scale, comprised a variety of tasks they thought were representative of typical children's abilities at various ages. This task-selection process was based on their many years of observing children in natural settings. They then tested their measurement on a sample of fifty children, ten children per five age groups. The children selected for their study were identified by their school teachers as being average for their age. The purpose of this scale of normal functioning, which would later be revised twice using more stringent standards, was to compare children's mental abilities relative to those of their normal peers.

Howard Gardner, David Perkins, and Robert Sternberg are current researchers who have written widely read books about intelligence. Of these three, Howard Gardner is probably best known by K-12 educators. His theory of Multiple Intelligences has proven quite popular with such educators.

In a 1991 article, Mindware and Metacurriculum, David Perkins discusses a three-component theory of intelligence. Quoting from the article:

I suggest a framework that recognizes three basic dimensions to intelligence: the neural dimension, the experiential dimension, and the reflective dimension. Rather than rivals, these three should be considered contrasting causal factors that all contribute substantially to intelligent behavior. Such a formulation dissolves a fruitless debate and sets the stage for asking what education can do to cultivate these three dimensions of intelligence.

Sternberg divides intelligence into analytical, creative, and practical components. The link provides access to a number of video presentations by Sternberg.

There are many other researchers who have contributed to the extensive and continually growing collection of research papers on intelligence. See, for example, "Current issues in research on intelligence."

There is a near universal agreement among researchers that some aspects of our intellectual abilities depend heavily on our experiential histories, and some aspects depend on our genetic makeup. Thus, a person’s cognitive abilities are a combination of nature and nurture. People who study this area talk about fluid intelligence—"gF," which is biologically based—and "gC," crystallized intelligence (based on acquired knowledge).

From a teacher’s point of view, it is important to understand that a person’s life experiences—which include formal and informal education—contribute to the person’s crystallized intelligence. Education is very important!

Here is a nice summary article directed at college educators:

Paul, Annie Murphy (6/28/2013). Eight Ways of Looking at Intelligence. The Brilliant Report. Retrieved 3/31/2014 from Quoting from the article:
Before I jump into my eight ways, a few words about that term I just used, 'the science of learning.' The science of learning is a relatively new discipline born of an agglomeration of fields: cognitive science, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience. Its project is to apply the methods of science to human endeavors—teaching and learning—that have for centuries been mostly treated as an art.
Although I am, very much, an advocate of the science of learning, I want to emphasize that—as with anything to do with our idiosyncratic and unpredictable species—there is still a lot of art involved in teaching and learning, and for that matter, in what you do as college admissions counselors. But I do think that the science of learning can offer some surprising and useful perspectives on how we guide and educate young people.

IQ Has Been Increasing Over the Past Century: The Flynn Effect

Gladwell, Malcolm (12/17/07). None of the Above: What I.Q. Doesn't Tell You About Race. The New Yorker. Retrieved 12/19/07 from:

This article provides an extensive review of What Is Intelligence?, a new book by James Flynn that discusses the increase in IQ that has been occurring in recent decades and throughout the world. The book and the review also discuss assertions about differences of IQ of various races. Quoting from the review:

Flynn has been writing about the implications of his findings—now known as the Flynn effect—for almost twenty-five years. His books consist of a series of plainly stated statistical observations, in support of deceptively modest conclusions, and the evidence in support of his original observation is now so overwhelming that the Flynn effect has moved from theory to fact. What remains uncertain is how to make sense of the Flynn effect. If an American born in the nineteen-thirties has an I.Q. of 100, the Flynn effect says that his children will have I.Q.s of 108, and his grandchildren I.Q.s of close to 120—more than a standard deviation higher. If we work in the opposite direction, the typical teen-ager of today, with an I.Q. of 100, would have had grandparents with average I.Q.s of 82—seemingly below the threshold necessary to graduate from high school. And, if we go back even farther, the Flynn effect puts the average I.Q.s of the schoolchildren of 1900 at around 70, which is to suggest, bizarrely, that a century ago the United States was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally retarded.

In brief summary, Flynn argues that:

  1. The increase in IQ is due to better informal and formal education in areas of abstract ideas, abstract reasoning, and use of metaphors.
  2. The so called "findings" about racial differences in IQ are not supported by the data on which these findings have been based.

Flynn updates and summarizes his arguments in a 19-minute TED Talks video:

Flynn, James (September 2013). James Flynn: Why Our IQ Levels Are Higher than Our Grandparents. Retrieved 9/29/2013 from

The video begins with an interesting analogy of how tools have increased our physical performance over time, and similarly how education-training-thinking tools have increased our levels of cognitive performance. He argues that our brains perform much better than in the past because we are providing them with mental tools—tools we store in our brains and that our brains use in addressing problems and tasks. That is, in the nature versus nurture debate, it isn't that nature has provided us with much better brains in the past century or so. Instead, nurture has made our brains much more capable in the types of performance areas measured by IQ tests.

Research by Greg Toppo takes a quite different approach that might help to explain the Flynn Effect:

Toppo, Greg (2/3/09). Study Links Children's Lead Levels, SAT Scores. USA Today. Retrieved 2/3/09: Quoting from the article:
Could a decades-long drop in the concentration of lead in children's blood help explain rising SAT scores?
A Virginia economist who pored over years of national data says there's an "incredibly strong" correlation, which adds to a growing body of research on lead's harmful effects.
The findings, to be published this winter in the journal Environmental Research, suggest that from 1953 to 2003, the fall and rise of the average SAT math and verbal score has tracked the rise and fall of blood lead levels so closely that half of the change in scores over 50 years, and possibly more, probably is the result of lead, says economist Rick Nevin.
He controlled for rising numbers of students taking SAT prep courses and for rising numbers of students who speak a foreign language at home — that would depress verbal scores.

Nevin estimates that lead explains 45% of the historic variation in verbal scores and 65% in math scores.

The following article suggests that the Flynn effect has run its course:

Shayer, M., Ginsburg, D., & Coe, R. (2007). Thirty years on – a large anti-Flynn effect? The Piagetian test Volume & Heaviness norms 1975–2003. The British Psychological Society. Retrieved 01/5/2014 from

Quoting from the document:

Results. The mean drops in scores from 1976 to 2003 were boys . 1.13 and

girls . 0.6 levels. A differential of 0.50 standard deviations in favour of boys in 1976 had completely disappeared by the year 2002. Between 1976 and 2003 the effect-size of the drop in the boys’ performance was 1.04 standard deviations, and for girls was 0.55 standard deviations.

Conclusion. The idea that children leaving primary school are getting more and more intelligent and competent – whether it is viewed in terms of the Flynn effect, or in terms of government statistics on performance in Key Stage 2 SATS in mathematics and science – is put into question by these findings.

Also see:

Griffiths, S. (8/21/2014). Are we becoming more STUPID? IQ scores are decreasing - and some experts argue it's because humans have reached their intellectual peak. Mail Online. Retrieved 10/5/2014 from Quoting from this article:
Now some experts believe we are starting to see the end of the Flynn effect in developed countries – and that IQ scores are not just levelling out, but declining.
Scientists including Dr Flynn think better education can reverse the trend and point out the perceived decline could just be a blip. However, other scientists are not so optimistic.
Some believe the Flynn effect has masked a decline in the genetic basis for intelligence, so that while more people have been reaching their full potential, that potential itself has been declining.

Learning, Forgetting, and Relearning

In brief summary, we know that students forget much of what they "learn" in a course. This occurs through disuse of the materials, the "rote memory, regurgitate for the test, and forget" approach, teaching methods that are not as good as they can be in facilitating "deep learning with understanding," and so on.

A 7/15/2014 Google search of the expression learning and forgetting produced over 10 million hits. The UCLA Bjork Learning & Forgetting Lab was at the top of the list. The Research section of the site contains an extensive introduction to and overview of learning and forgetting. It also contains a number of short video presentations by Bjork. The first of these provides research-based recommendations to teachers and students. Quoting from the Lab's website:

The primary goal of this research, which is funded by the James S. McDonnell foundation, is to promote learning and memory performance within educational contexts through the investigation of principles in cognitive psychology. Studies address issues of transfer-appropriate and material-appropriate processing between encoding and retrieval. Applying tests in order to enhance learning and determining the desirable amount and timing of feedback regarding an individual's memory performance are methods that are currently under investigation.
This line of work is also directed toward understanding the mechanisms behind metacognitive awareness of learning. Most people are inaccurate in measuring their own knowledge, through judgments of learning, because they mistakenly rely on the immediate access to knowledge in order to determine the long-term memory retention and the transfer of such knowledge to different contexts. The goal of these studies is to determine the type of instructions and study conditions that will foster accurate judgments of learning, which can lead to better predictions of future performance and optimal self-initiated study practices.

The Study Skills Program at the University of Waterloo, Canada, presents an overview of the "learning/forgetting curve." Quoting from this site:

On Day 1, at the beginning of the lecture, you go in knowing nothing, or 0%, (where the curve starts at the baseline). At the end of the lecture you know 100% of what you know, however well you know it (where the curve rises to its highest point).
By Day 2, if you have done nothing with the information you learned in that lecture, didn't think about it again, read it again, etc. you will have lost 50%-80% of what you learned. Our brains are constantly recording information on a temporary basis: scraps of conversation heard on the sidewalk, what the person in front of you is wearing. Because the information isn't necessary, and it doesn't come up again, our brains dump it all off, along with what was learned in the lecture that you actually do want to hold on to!
By Day 7, we remember even less, and by Day 30, we retain about 2%-3% of the original hour! This nicely coincides with midterm exams, and may account for feeling as if you've never seen this before in your life when you're studying for exams - you may need to actually re-learn it from scratch.
Here's the formula, and the case for making time to review material: Within 24 hours of getting the information - spend 10 minutes reviewing and you will raise the curve almost to 100% again. A week later (Day 7), it only takes 5 minutes to "reactivate" the same material, and again raise the curve. By Day 30, your brain will only need 2-4 minutes to give you the feedback, "Yup, I know that. Got it."

The following article provides some recommendations to teachers:

Griffin, T.J. (7/14/2014). Learning that Lasts: Helping Students Remember and Use What You Teach. Faculty Focus. Retrieved 7/15/2014 from

Quoting from Griffin:

Consider the many and varied responsibilities of a student's brain. In addition to regulating the physical operations of the body, it has to process large amounts of sensory input and determine what to forget and what to remember. It is therefore understandable that most of what they see and hear gets quickly forgotten. There are three factors that determine the strength of an item in memory:
• Recency—How long has it been since last exposure?
• Frequency—How many times have they experienced it?
• Potency—What kind of impact did it have?
With all the sensory input our students experience, it should not surprise us that they quickly forget most of what is presented in our class. Rather than being frustrated with this process of forgetting, we can leverage it to help them learn and make that learning last.

Mathematician's Mind

Logical/mathematical is one of the nine intelligence areas in Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. The mathematician Jacque Hadamard is well known both for his research results in mathematics and for a 1945 book, The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. Quoting from this book:

Concerning the title of this study, two remarks are useful. We speak of invention: it would be more correct to speak of discovery. The distinction between these two words is well known: discovery concerns a phenomenon, a law, a being which already existed, but had not been perceived. Columbus discovered America: it existed before him; on the contrary, Franklin invented the lightning rod: before him there had never been any lightning rod.
Such a distinction has proved less evident than appears at first glance. Toricelli has observed that when one inverts a closed tube on the mercury trough, the mercury ascends to a certain determinate height: this is a discovery; but, in doing this, he has invented the barometer; and there are plenty of examples of scientific results which are just as much discoveries as inventions. Franklin's invention of the lightning rod is hardly different from his discovery of the electric nature of thunder. This is a reason why the aforesaid distinction does not truly concern us; and, as a matter of fact, psychological conditions are quite the same for both cases.
On the other hand, our title is "Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field," and not "Psychology of Mathematical Invention." It may be useful to keep in mind that mathematical invention is but a case of invention in general, a process which can take place in several domains, whether it be in science, literature, in art or also technology.
Modern philosophers even say more. They have perceived that intelligence is perpetual and constant invention, that life is perpetual invention. As Ribot says, "Invention in Fine Arts or Sciences is but a special case. In practical life, in mechanical, military, industrial, commercial inventions, in, religious, social, political institutions, the human mind has spent and used as much imagination as anywhere else…"

Peter Liljedahl's 2004 paper, Mathematical Discovery: Hadamard Resurrected presents a more recent analysis of Hadamard's ideas. Quoting from the article:

Hadamard's treatment of the subject of invention at the crossroads of mathematics and psychology was an entertaining, and sometimes humorous, look at the eccentric nature of mathematicians and their ritualistic practices. His work is an extensive exploration and extended argument for the existence of unconscious mental processes. To summarize, Hadamard took the ideas that Poincaré had posed and, borrowing a conceptual framework for the characterization of the creative process in general, turned them into a stage theory. This theory still stands as the most viable and reasonable description of the process of mathematical invention. In what follows I present this theory, referenced not only to Hadamard and Poincaré, but also to some of the many researchers who's work has informed and verified different aspects of the theory.
The phenomenon of mathematical invention, although marked by sudden illumination, consists of four separate stages stretched out over time, of which illumination is but one part. These stages are initiation, incubation, illumination, and verification (Hadamard, 1945). The first of these stages, the initiation phase, consists of deliberate and conscious work. This would constitute a person's voluntary, and seemingly fruitless, engagement with a problem and be characterized by an attempt PME28 – 2004 3–251 to solve the problem by trolling through a repertoire of past experiences (Bruner, 1964; Schön, 1987). This is an important part of the inventive process because it creates the tension of unresolved effort that sets up the conditions necessary for the ensuing emotional release at the moment of illumination (Barnes, 2000; Davis & Hersh, 1980; Feynman, 1999; Hadamard, 1945; Poincaré, 1952; Rota, 1997).
Following the initiation stage the solver, unable to come to a solution stops working on the problem at a conscious level (Dewey, 1933) and begins to work on it at an unconscious level (Hadamard, 1945; Poincaré, 1952). This is referred to as the incubation stage of the inventive process and it is inextricably linked to the conscious and intentional effort that precedes it.
There is another remark to be made about the conditions of this unconscious work: it is possible, and of a certainty it is only fruitful, if it is on the one hand preceded and on the other hand followed by a period of conscious work. These sudden inspirations never happen except after some days of voluntary effort which has appeared absolutely fruitless and whence nothing good seems to have come (Poincaré, 1952, p. 56).

Metacognition and Self-regulated Learning

Nilson, L. (6/16/2014, The secretor self-regulated learning. Faculty Focus. retrieved 6/16/2014 from Quoting from the article:
…self-regulated learning is the conscious planning, monitoring, evaluation, and ultimately control of one’s learning in order to maximize it. It’s an ordered process that experts and seasoned learners like us practice automatically. It means being mindful, intentional, reflective, introspective, self-aware, self-controlled, and self-disciplined about learning, and it leads to becoming self-directed.
Another secret about self-regulated learning is its strong positive impact on student achievement. Just the cognitive facet of it, metacognition, has an effect that’s almost as large as teacher clarity, getting feedback, and spaced practice and even larger than mastery learning, cooperative learning, time on task, and computer-assisted instruction (Hattie, 2009).

Metacognition is one aspect of self-regulated learning. Quoting again from the article:

Metacognitive questions include these:
* What is the best way to go about this task?
* How well are my learning strategies working? What changes should I make, if any?
* What am I still having trouble understanding?
* What can I recall and what should I review?
* How does this material relate to other things I’ve learned or experienced?

Motivation and Intrinsic Motivation

People talk about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. The general idea is that a person's brain "drives" the mind/body to carry out various tasks. In education, a student may be intrinsically motivated (driven by self) to learn a topic, perform well in an area, and be a responsible (intrinsically motivated) learner. Another student may respond well to external threats and bribes. "My folks pay me $100 for each A that I get. I work to get an A, because I want the money."

It is noted that many people are intrinsically motivated to play various computer games and to do well in the games. Our educational system is working on developing "serious" games that have a high level of educational value and also are intrinsically motivating.

See the article:

Berdik, Chris (3/4/2015 ). A new approach to designing educational technology. Retrieved 3/6/2015 from Quoting from this reference:
Neuropsychologist David Rose spent years helping kids with learning disabilities participate in school by creating digital textbooks with pop-up graphics, text to speech, flexible fonts, and other customizable features to fit individual needs. The books were so engaging “that traditional books started to look relatively disabled by comparison,” says Rose, co-founder and chief education officer of the Center for Applied Special Technology outside Boston. Not just textbooks. The crew at CAST felt that traditional lesson plans built around print were leaving too many kids out, frustrating some students while boring others.
So they flipped their approach. Rather than help individual students plug back into the classroom, they set out to transform the classroom itself. They built software and digital tools to pack lessons with flexibility, offering every student multiple ways to learn and to express that learning—including print, speech, graphics, music, and interactive games, among others. They called their new mission “universal design for learning,” and a movement was born. Spurred by the rapid advance of computers and broadband Internet in schools, UDL initiatives have sprung up in nearly every state in the last five years.

In brief summary, they are designing curriculum that students will find intrinsically motivating, and they believe they are making good progress in this endeavor. Continuing to quote from the article:

“We’ve seen that technology can do a lot of stuff to support students, but the real driver is: Do they actually want to learn something?” says Rose. “If they do, kids will go through a lot of barriers to learn it. Creating the conditions that turn on that drive has become the major function of our work.” m[Bold added for emphasis.]

Here is another relevant article:

Mozes, A. (4/13/2015). Not interested in school? Maybe they are born that way. HealthDay News. Retrieved 415/2015 from Quoting from the article:
Kids who avoid doing homework and don't care about getting A's may have inherited their indifference toward school from their parents, new research suggests.
As much as half of a child's motivation to learn -- or lack of motivation -- may be driven by a genetic predisposition, according to an analysis involving more than 13,000 identical twins in six countries.
SOURCES: Stephen Petrill, Ph.D., professor, psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Sarah Feuerbacher, Ph.D., clinic director, Southern Methodist University Center for Family Counseling, Plano, Texas; July 2015, Personality and Individual Differences.


Quoting from

A phobia (from the Greek: φόβος, Phóbos, meaning "fear" or "morbid fear") is, when used in the context of clinical psychology, a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely, the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities.

The following article discusses some recent research on treatment of phobias:

Hamzelou, Jessica (3/13/2014). The Therapy Pill: Forget Your Phobia in Fast Forward. NewScientist. Retrieved 3/13/2014 from Quoting from this article:
Drugs that work to boost learning may help someone with a phobia to "detrain their brain", losing the fearful associations that fuel their panic. This approach is also showing promise for a host of other problems – from chemical and gambling addictions to obsessive nail-biting.
So how do we overcome such deep-seated associations? One answer is exposure therapy, a treatment primarily used to deal with anxiety and phobias. In those initial studies, people gradually expose themselves to increasingly anxiety-triggering situations – called a "fear hierarchy" – until they feel at ease with them. In my case, that would involve scaling a series of ever greater heights. As the individual becomes more comfortable with each situation, they create a new memory – one that links the cue with reduced feelings of anxiety, rather than the sensations that mark the onset of a panic attack. This process is called extinction learning.

The article then goes on to discuss recent research on use of a "pill-based" method to help speed up extinction learning:

One such avenue is the use of "cognitive enhancers". One of the most promising contenders is an antibiotic originally used to treat tuberculosis. Apart from its action on germs, D-cycloserine, or DCS, also acts on neurons.
This tuning of a neuron's firing is thought to be one of the key ways the brain stores memories, and at very low doses, DCS appears to boost that process, improving our ability to learn.

Poisons That Damage the Brain

The general public is aware that lead damages the human brain. There are a number of quite prevalent brain-poisoning substances that children and adults are being exposed to.

Hamblin.J. (3/18/2014). The toxins that threaten our brains. The Atlantic. Retrieved 2/26/2015 from Quoting from the article:
Leading scientists recently identified a dozen chemicals as being responsible for widespread behavioral and cognitive problems. But the scope of the chemical dangers in our environment is likely even greater. Why children and the poor are most susceptible to neurotoxic exposure that may be costing the U.S. billions of dollars and immeasurable peace of mind.

The Nenurtoxins listed in the study are: manganese, fluoride, chloypyrifos, DDT/DDE, tetracloro-ethylene, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, arsenic, lead, mercury, toluene, ethanol, and polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

The following sections contain details of three prominent IQ-lowering toxins.

Godwin, H. (2009). Lead exposure and poisoning of children. Southern California Environmental Report Card. Retrieved 2/26/2015 from Quoting from the report:
Lead has been recognized as a poison for thousands of years, but the profound impact that chronic exposure to even low levels of lead can have on developing children only became widely recognized in the United States in the 1970s. At that time, it was not uncommon for pediatricians to see lead poisoning cases in which the children had blood lead levels greater than or equal to 45 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL), at which point children often exhibit both neurological problems and anemia. At higher blood lead levels (70-100 µg/dL), children can suffer from comas and seizures, or even die.
The level the CDC defines as “elevated” has dropped significantly since the 1960’s, in response to clear evidence even very low levels of lead are harmful to children’s health (Figure 1). Currently, the CDC defines an “elevated” blood lead level as one that is greater than or equal to 10 µg/dL (Table 1). In 1976, the average child in the United States had a blood lead level of approximately 16 µg/dL, suggesting a person who grew up in the United States in the 1970’s (including the author) was exposed to lead levels currently considered to be unacceptable. Although many of us have gone on to conduct successful and rewarding lives despite this exposure, it is important to note the most pronounced impacts of this exposure are likely to have been felt by those individuals whose IQ or neurological development was already marginal. Whereas a drop in IQ of 5-10 points does not significantly alter the functioning of individuals at the top end of the IQ distribution, it can have a devastating effect on those individuals who are at the low end of the distribution
Dockterman, E. (6/27/2013). Childhood lead exposure may cost developing countries nearly $1 trillion. Time. Retrieved 2/26/2015 from Quoting from the article:
The greater amount of lead you are exposed to as a child, the dumber you get. Paint, batteries, and leaded gasoline could all be threatening a child’s cognitive potential. Preschool blood lead levels over 40 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood lower average IQ by 15 points. Studies have also demonstrated that the neurotoxin has other adverse consequences, including hyperactivity, behavioral deficits, and learning disabilities.
Yet developing countries still suffer from high levels of lead exposure. A study published June 25 in Environmental Health Perspectives puts a dollar sign on the epidemic in hopes of convincing the global community to make the investment in reducing lead exposure in low- and middle-income countries. According to the head of the study, Dr. Leo Trasande of the NYU School of Public Health, “There’s ample literature that suggests that children that have lower IQs are less well able to contribute to society, and over the past decades researchers have quantified the percentage that on average is lost over a lifetime in economic productivity per IQ point.”
Esterbrook, J. (3/1/2005). Study: IQ loss from mercury costly. Retrieved 2/27/2015 from Quoting from the article:
Lower IQ levels linked to mercury exposure in the womb costs the United States $8.7 billion a year in lost earnings potential, according to a study released Monday by researchers at a New York hospital.
The Mount Sinai Center for Children's Health and the Environment combined a number of previous studies to determine hundreds of thousands of babies are born every year with lower IQ associated with mercury exposure.
As an example, Trasande said about 4 percent of babies, or about 180,000, are born each year with blood mercury levels between 7.13 and 15 micrograms per liter. That level of mercury, the group concluded, causes a loss of 1.6 IQ points.
Mercury levels, Trasande said, are probably lower generally than they were in years before limits were placed on emissions from medical waste and municipal incinerators.
"We've made great progress in reducing mercury emissions over the past decade, and this is likely to have reduced the number of affected children and to have reduced costs by a similar amount," Trasande said.
Paul, T.S. (12/10/2014). Exposure during pregnancy to common household chemicals associated with substantial drop in child IQ. Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Retrieved 2/26/2015 from Quoting from the article:
Children exposed during pregnancy to elevated levels of two common chemicals found in the home—di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP)—had an IQ score, on average, more than six points lower than children exposed at lower levels, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
DnBP and DiBP are found in a wide variety of consumer products, from dryer sheets to vinyl fabrics to personal care products like lipstick, hairspray, and nail polish, even some soaps. Since 2009, several phthalates have been banned from children’s toys and other childcare articles in the United States. However, no steps have been taken to protect the developing fetus by alerting pregnant women to potential exposures. In the U.S., phthalates are rarely listed as ingredients on products in which they are used.
Children of mothers exposed during pregnancy to the highest 25 percent of concentrations of DnBP and DiBP had IQs 6.6 and 7.6 points lower, respectively, than children of mothers exposed to the lowest 25 percent of concentrations after controlling for factors like maternal IQ, maternal education, and quality of the home environment that are known to influence child IQ scores. The association was also seen for specific aspects of IQ, such as perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed.

Poverty Contributes Substantially to Lower Cognitive Performance

Sanders, Robert (2/12/08). EEGs Show Brain Differences between Poor and Rich Kids. UC Berkley News. Retrieved 12/25/08: Quoting from the article:
In a study recently accepted for publication by the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.
"Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult," said Robert Knight, director of the institute and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. "We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response."
"This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."
Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.

The following articles discuss more recent findings.

Velasquez-Manoff, Moises (1/18/23014). What Happens When the Poor Receive a Stipend?. The New York Times. Retrieved 1/232/2014 from

The article summarizes research on the effects of providing the poor with a stipend that continues over a significant period of time and is enough to raise them from poverty. The research suggests that this has a dynamic effect of the children, and that this occurs because the financial stress on the parents is greatly reduced. With less financial stress, they become better at parenting.

James Heckman is a Nobel prize-winning economist. At his website, he argues that providing funds to raise families out of poverty is economically sound. Retrieved 1/26/2014 from Quoting from his website:

The argument is not just an appeal to the poor. We're saving money for everyone, including the taxpaying middle class and upper class. Right now they're supporting prisons, health, special education in schools. The benefit is broadly shared…. It's something that would actually accrue to the whole country.

An important part of the overall approach is to provide free preschool and full-day kindergarten programs. A number of states are moving in that direction, and the Federal Government has recently restored funding cuts it made to the Head Start Program.

For an active blog about The Brain from Top to Bottom, see the 6/10/2014 article Poverty Imposes a Cognitive Burden on the Brain available at Quoting from the document:

Neuroscience is providing growing evidence that poverty can have serious consequences not only for the health of people who are “struggling to make both ends meet” (something that has been known for a long time), but also on their cognitive abilities. The most recent of these studies looking specifically at this aspect of poverty was published in the journal Science in August 2013 by economist Anandi Mani and her colleagues.
Using two different approaches, this research team reached the same conclusion: for people at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum, everyday life requires so much calculation and effort just to meet basic material needs (food, shelter, etc.) that it exhausts their mental capacities.

Reading and the Brain

As far as researchers are able to determine, humans had a well-developed system of oral communication before they began to draw/paint pictures on cave walls more than 40,000 years ago. Such cave wall images are a precursor to reading and writing. They capture information that can be visually passed on from generation to generation.

The Ishango bones that contain a pattern of notches have been dated to about 20,000 years ago, and can be considered to be a type of written communication.

Clay tokens dating back about 10,000 years are a precursor to writing. A token with the image of a sheep was used to represent a sheep. The idea and use of clay tokens eventually led to the use of sequences of symbols impressed into clay or chiseled into stone. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

It is generally agreed that true writing of language (not only numbers) was invented independently in at least two places: Mesopotamia (specifically, ancient Sumer) around 3200 BCE and Mesoamerica around 600 BCE. Several Mesoamerican scripts are known, the oldest being from the Olmec or Zapotec of Mexico.
It is debated whether writing systems were developed completely independently in Egypt around 3200 BCE and in China around 1200 BCE, or whether the appearance of writing in either or both places was due to cultural diffusion (i.e. the concept of representing language using writing, if not the specifics of how such a system worked, was brought by traders from an already-literate civilization).

Reading and writing are one of our greatest inventions. The importance of reading and writing has gradually grown over the past 5,000 years, and they are now well-accepted as an indispensable component of a modern education.

The innate human brain and our physical capabilities for speaking and listening laid a foundation for reading and writing. But, reading and writing are not as easily learned as speaking and listening. In addition, research into dyslexia indicates that, in terms of learning to read, some human brains are wired quite differently than others, and this can make it especially difficult for some people to learn to read. See dyslexia and Inside the brain of a struggling reader.

The latter article summarizes recent results from brain imaging of good and struggling readers. Quoting from the article:

In a typical brain, Wernicke’s Area acts as a giant warehouse for speech sounds and their links to meaningful vocabulary. For strug­gling readers, this area shows less activity and may be poorly mapped. That means that for some students, access to word meanings is slow and effortful.

The article offers neurological interventions based on brain plasticity for various brain deficits that have been discovered. Quoting again from the article:

A recent study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to show the potential of such interventions. After an intensive, six-week program, 35 students averaging 7 years of age and all diagnosed with dyslexia showed significant improvements in decoding and reading comprehension, and heightened activity in brain regions that function in typical readers during phonological awareness tasks.
In other words, the right strategies combined with sophisticated technology tools can help struggling readers change their brain physiology and, in the process, become successful, confident readers.

Judy Willis is a classroom teacher turned cognitive neuroscientist. The following article is an excerpt from an interview of Willis that focused on writing and the human brain:

National Writing Project (5/3/2011). Writing and the Brain: Neuroscience Shows the Pathways to Learning. Retrieved 4/4/2014 from Quoting from the article:
NWP: As science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects get more emphasis, it seems as if writing and the arts have become secondary. Where do you see writing's place in STEM subjects?
Willis: It's interesting because the increasing buzz about an innovation crisis in the STEM subjects comes at a time when neuroscience and cognitive science research are increasingly providing information that correlates creativity with intelligence; academic, social, and emotional success; and the development of skill sets and higher-process thinking that will become increasingly valuable for students of the 21st century.
Consider all of the important ways that writing supports the development of higher-process thinking: conceptual thinking; transfer of knowledge; judgment; critical analysis; induction; deduction; prior-knowledge evaluation (not just activation) for prediction; delay of immediate gratification for long-term goals; recognition of relationships for symbolic conceptualization; evaluation of emotions, including recognizing and analyzing response choices; and the ability to recognize and activate information stored in memory circuits throughout the brain's cerebral cortex that are relevant to evaluating and responding to new information or for producing new creative insights—whether academic, artistic, physical, emotional, or social.

Sleep and Sleep Deprivation

Many students come to school somewhat sleep-deprived. And, many adults begin their day with a similar challenge. There has been a lot of research on the effects of not getting enough sleep. For a comprehensive introduction to this topic, see the National Sleep Foundation website at For example, here is a quote from the National Sleep Foundation about adult sleep needs:

As we do not understand the exact function of sleep, and it is possible that sleep serves many purposes, simple benchmarks for defining adequate sleep are difficult to identify. Normal individuals perceive that sleep is restorative. We know that deprivation of sleep makes us sleepy and results in poor performance while sufficient sleep improves our alertness, mood, and performance. Sleep may also provide significant long-term health benefits, but there may be many modifying factors such as the age of the individual, duration of sleep and influence of co-existing health problems and life-style and environmental factors.

The following article from USA Today provides a nice overview.

Heilman, N. (6/22/2014). If you don't snooze, you lose, health experts say. USA Today. Retrieved 6/22/2012 from The site includes a video. Quoting from the text at the website:
Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of many serious health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, heart attacks and strokes, as well as premature death and reduced quality of life and productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Add to those an increased risk of automobile crashes, industrial disasters and medical and other occupational errors. A recent mouse study found that chronic sleep loss can lead to the irreversible damage and loss of brain cells.
Sleep is so critical to good health that it should be thought of "as one of the components of a three-legged stool of wellness: nutrition, exercise and sleep," says Safwan Badr, a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and a sleep expert with Detroit Medical Center and Wayne State University.
"The three are synergistic," he says. "It's hard to lose weight if you are sleep deprived. It's hard to eat healthy if you are sleep deprived. It is hard to exercise if you're tired."
An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, shift-work sleep disorder or narcolepsy, as well as sleep disturbances associated with many diseases, mental illnesses and addictions, according to the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, part of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

A number of studies report that the sleep patterns of teenagers in the U.S. and other countries are not well aligned with when school starts in the morning. Quoting again from the National Sleep Foundation website:

"Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise," said Ben Franklin. But does this adage apply to teenagers? Research in the 1990s found that later sleep and wake patterns among adolescents are biologically determined; the natural tendency for teenagers is to stay up late at night and wake up later in the morning. This research indicates that school bells that ring as early as 7:00 a.m. in many parts of the country stand in stark contrast with adolescents' sleep patterns and needs.
Evidence suggests that teenagers are indeed seriously sleep deprived. A recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 60% of children under the age of 18 complained of being tired during the day, according to their parents, and 15% said they fell asleep at school during the year.

Here is a quote from the Wikipedia:

Sleep deprivation can adversely affect the brain and cognitive function.[19] A 2000 study, by the UCSD School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in San Diego, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to monitor activity in the brains of sleep-deprived subjects performing simple verbal learning tasks. The study showed that regions of the brain's prefrontal cortex, an area that supports mental faculties such as working memory and logical and practical ("means-ends") reasoning, displayed more activity in sleepier subjects. Researchers interpreted this result as indicating that the brain of the average sleep-deprived subject had to work harder than that of the average non-sleep-deprived subject to accomplish a given task, and from this indication they inferred the conclusion the brains of sleep-deprived subjects were attempting to compensate for adverse effects caused by sleep deprivation.
A 2001 study at the Chicago Medical Institute suggested that sleep deprivation may be linked to serious diseases, such as heart disease and mental illness including psychosis and bipolar disorder. The link between sleep deprivation and psychosis was further documented in 2007 through a study at Harvard Medical School and the University of California at Berkeley. The study revealed, using MRI scans, that sleep deprivation causes the brain to become incapable of putting an emotional event into the proper perspective and incapable of making a controlled, suitable response to the event.

Finally, here is a summary of some recent research:

Mantel, Barbara (9/17/2013). A Good Night's Sleep Scrubs Your Brain Clean, Researchers Find. NBC News. Retrieved 11/11/2013 from Quoting from this article:
It’s no secret that too little shut-eye can drain your brain, but scientists haven’t fully understood why.
Now, a new study suggests that a good night’s sleep leaves you feeling sharp and refreshed because a newly discovered system that scrubs away neural waste is mostly active when you’re at rest.
It’s a revelation that could not only transform scientists’ fundamental understanding of sleep, but also point to new ways to treat disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, which are linked to the accumulation of toxins in the brain.
“We have a cleaning system that almost stops when we are awake and starts when we sleep. It’s almost like opening and closing a faucet—it’s that dramatic,” says Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Reference on research added 9/27/2014: See

Social Intelligence

A 3/14/2014 Google search of the expression social intelligence produced more than 33 million hits. Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Social intelligence according to the original definition of Edward Thorndike, is "the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls, to act wisely in human relations." It is equivalent to interpersonal intelligence, one of the types of intelligences identified in Howard Gardner's Theory of [nine intelligence areas Multiple Intelligences, and closely related to Emotional Intelligence. Some authors have restricted the definition to deal only with knowledge of social situations, perhaps more properly called social cognition.

Daniel Goleman says the following about Social Intelligence:

Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us impact the brain—and so the body—of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.
The resulting feelings have far-reaching consequences, in turn rippling throughout our body, sending out cascades of hormones that regulate biological systems from our heart to immune cells. Perhaps most astonishing, science now tracks connections between the most stressful relationships and the very operation of specific genes that regulate the immune system.

Learn about some of Goleman's fundamental ideas from his book, Social Intelligence (2006) and in a short video at


A great deal is known about how stress affects both brain functioning and general health. For example, quoting from!:

According to The Dana Foundation, a new Yale study shows that stress can reduce brain volume and function, even in otherwise healthy individuals. This study was published January 5 [2012] in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The amount of gray matter in the brain is actually decreased with stress and makes it more difficult for people to manage stressful situations in the future. This is the first study to show the impact of cumulative stress on the brain in otherwise healthy individuals.
Toxic stress impacts infant development in utero. It is becoming increasingly clear that the stress of the mother impacts the child. The stress of single parenting, poverty, illness and emotional distress all contribute to toxic stress in both parent and child. Unfunded mandates, excess testing, unfair teacher evaluation, lack of funding and stressed children are creating hostile environments in our schools.

Information Age Education published a sequence of four IAE newsletters on the topic of Stress and Education. See Stress and Education, Part 1, the first of these newsletters, at Quoting from the newsletter:

When we confront a challenge that portends danger or promises opportunity, our brain can normally draw on its considerable problem solving capabilities to develop a carefully considered effective response. Some challenges require a rapid response that uses a lot of energy however, and this article will focus principally on how we respond to them.
We have an innate rapid response system for such imminent dangers and opportunities. You are probably familiar with the terms “fight, freeze, or flight” as response possibilities when your brain senses a possible life-threatening problem situation. In 1975 pioneer researcher Hans Selye called this the stress response. (See The stress response evolved to set priorities on the expenditure of body/brain energy when confronting an extraordinary imminent challenge. The stress response:
Temporarily increases energy flow to the body/brain systems that enhance an assertive response to the current challenge, such as our circulation, respiration, attention, and motor systems, and
Temporarily decreases energy flow to the systems that aren't necessary for a rapid assertive response to the current challenge, such as our digestion, immune, and sexual arousal systems.
A good example of what occurs biologically in a stress response is the rush of adrenaline that prepares our body for physical response to the actual or potential attack. A somewhat slower release of cortisol increases glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream, enhances our brain's use of glucose, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. We’ll expand on this later.
We tend to think of stress in negative terms, but the response can certainly be positive. For example, an appropriate level of stress can help a person do better on a test or in an athletic performance. This type of stress response is of limited duration—it is not chronic.
Chronic stress is physically and mentally debilitating because it uses a short-term high-energy response system geared to physical danger and opportunity to deal with a problem that’s typically doesn’t portend physical injury. For example, a teacher getting stressed out for days on end because of classroom misbehavior is counterproductive. Better to engage your problem solving capabilities in creating a classroom environment that reduces misbehavior.


Bennett, Barrie (n.d.). Instructional Intelligence website. Retrieved 6/22/08: There is a very important paper titled Instructional Intelligence-Meeting Diverse Students, Diverse Needs available as a PDF file at that location.

Brown University (6/10/09). Brain-Computer Interface, Developed at Brown, Begins New Clinical Trial: Hope for People with Paralysis. Retrieved 6/19/09 from: Quoting from the article:

BrainGate, an investigational technology being developed to detect brain signals and to allow people with paralysis to use those signals to control assistive devices, is about to begin a second, larger clinical trial. The system is based on neuroscience, engineering and computer science research at Brown University.
The BrainGate2 pilot clinical trial is taking place at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), in close collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from MGH and Brown University. The study has been approved by the MGH Institutional Review Board to begin recruiting participants. The trial extends prior safety and feasibility research of the BrainGate Neural Interface System, which consists of an implanted baby aspirin-size brain sensor that reads brain signals and computer technology that interprets these signals. The BrainGate Neural System may allow people with paralysis to control assistive devices.

deCharms, Christopher (February, 2008). Looking Inside the Brain in Real Time. TED Talks. Retrieved 3/30/08: This is a 4-minute video showing real time imaging of activity in a person's brain. This real-time visual information provides a basis for a person to train specific parts of their brain. The video discusses using this for pain control.

Gazzaniga, Michael (Organizer) (2008). Learning, Arts, and the Brain: The Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition. Retrieved 3/10/08:,%20Arts%20and%20the%20Brain_ArtsAndCognition_Compl.pdf Quoting from the report's summary:

  1. An interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.
  2. Genetic studies have begun to yield candidate genes that may help explain individual differences in interest in the arts.
  3. Specific links exist between high levels of music training and the ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory; these links extend beyond the domain of music training.
  4. In children, there appear to be specific links between the practice of music and skills in geometrical representation, though not in other forms of numerical representation.
  5. Correlations exist between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning. One of the central predictors of early literacy, phonological awareness, is correlated with both music training and the development of a specific brain pathway.
  6. Training in acting appears to lead to memory improvement through the learning of general skills for manipulating semantic information.
  7. Adult self-reported interest in aesthetics is related to a temperamental factor of openness, which in turn is influenced by dopamine-related genes.
  8. Learning to dance by effective observation is closely related to learning by physical practice, both in the level of achievement and also the neural substrates that support the organization of complex actions. Effective observational learning may transfer to other cognitive skills.

Goleman, Daniel. Why Aren't We All Good Samaritans? ( Thirteen-minute video on Social Neuroscience. Quoting from the website:

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence [1996], asks why we aren’t more compassionate more of the time. Sharing the results of psychological experiments (and the story of the Santa Cruz Strangler), he explains how we are all born with the capacity for empathy -- but we sometimes choose to ignore it.

Hawkins, Jeff: Brain science is about to fundamentally change computing. A 20-minute 2003 video of a TED Talk by Jeff Hawkins. Quoting from the website:

To date, there hasn't been an overarching theory of how the human brain really works, Jeff Hawkins argues in this compelling talk. That's because we still haven't defined intelligence accurately. But one thing's for sure, he says: The brain isn't like a powerful computer processor. It's more like a memory system that records everything we experience and helps us predict, intelligently, what will happen next. Bringing this new brain science to computer devices will enable powerful new applications -- and it will happen sooner than you think.

IMBES (n.d). International Mind, Brain & Education Society (IMBES) website. Retrieved 6/19/09. Quoting from the website:

The mission of the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society (IMBES) is to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in all fields that are relevant to connecting mind, brain, and education in research, theory, and/or practice.
You can learn about our work by reading our newsletter, journal, and online conference presentations or by listening to podcasts of presentations from our international meetings.

Quoting from an IMBES project, A Groundwork for Creating Useful Knowledge about Learning and Teaching:

The connection between education and research should not be one-way. Instead, two-way, reciprocal relationships must be made, where practitioners and researchers work together to formulate research questions and methods that will move both science and teaching forward. This two-way collaboration is the only way that education can benefit from the kind of usable knowledge regularly created in fields like medicine.

Mind, Brain, and Education is the IMBES journal. Here are two examples of articles in the first issue: (

Why Mind, Brain, and Education? Why Now? Kurt W. Fischer, David B. Daniel, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Elsbeth Stern, Antonio Battro, and Hideaki Koizumi (eds.).
A Few Steps Toward a Science of Mental Life. Stanislas Dehaene.

Jensen, Eric P. (February, 2008). A Fresh Look at Brain-Based Education. Phi Delta Kappan. Retrieved 2/12/08:

This article provides an excellent overview of many different aspects of how brain research is relevant to and is impacting education. The article is available free online, at the website given in the citation.

Neville, Helen (2009). Changing Brains. University of Oregon Brain Development Lab. Retrieved 2/27/10 from This nine-part video is available free online, can be downloaded for free, and can be purchased on a DVD.

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Brain Institute (n.d.). Brain Awareness. Retrieved 3/30/2014 from

Payo, Robert (3/16/08). Brain Games: Neuroscience and Active Participation Teaching Methods at the ASCD Conference. Retrieved 4/9/08 from: Quoting from the website:

Another study points to changes in blood flow in the inner brain in an area known as the amygdala, related to the forming and storing of emotional memories. Studies indicate that decreases in cerebral blood flow can be found in this area when a person is in a stressful or negative emotional state, affecting their ability to retain information.
What implications does this have for teaching? Given that the brain has versatile neuroplasticity, developing student strategies to strengthen their abilities to create new pathways, connecting new knowledge to previously learned concepts and patterns, teaching students to look at problems from multiple perspectives or providing periodical shifts in attention when teaching through the use of word puzzles or discrepant events—what Willis calls “syn-naps”—can aid student understanding and capitalize on the innate processes of each individual. Such strategies are the hallmark of good teaching, but having a better understanding and intentional focus on brain-based strategies is a useful tool for any teacher.

Philips, Helen (9/4/06). Instant Expert: The Human Brain. New Scientist. Retrieved 7/24/08 from: Quoting from the article:

The complexity of the connectivity between these cells is mind-boggling. Each neuron can make contact with thousands or even tens of thousands of others, via tiny structures called synapses. Our brains form a million new connections for every second of our lives. The pattern and strength of the connections is constantly changing and no two brains are alike.
It is in these changing connections that memories are stored, habits learned and personalities shaped, by reinforcing certain patterns of brain activity, and losing others.

Pinker, Steven (n.d.). Miscellaneous video and audio talks and presentations. Retrieved 5/12/08 from:

Stansbury, Meris (7/21/09). What Educators Can Learn from Brain Research: Breakthroughs in Neuroscience Are Measuring Brain Response to Stimuli and Beginning to Alter Classroom Practices. eSchool News. Retrieved 7/21/09 from: Quoting from the article:

Michael Atherton, a researcher in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, believes educators should look only at specific types of studies when considering implementation strategies.
"Education is an applied field, like engineering," said Atherton. "If there's no connection to practice, then that research is best left to basic researchers in the cognitive neurosciences."
In Atherton's [16-page report] titled "Education and fMRI: Promise and Cautions," he describes detailed research techniques used in fMRI studies as the foundation for a methodological framework that can be used by educators to assess how applicable a study might be for classroom implementation.

Sylwester, Robert. His 2000-2009 columns in the journal Brain Connection are available at All are education-oriented and written at a lay-person level. The sequence provides an excellent overview of this rapidly changing field.

Taylor, Jill Bolte (2008). My Stroke of Insight. TED Talks. Retrieved 5/23/08 from: 19-minute video. Quoting from the website:

Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions—motion, speech, self-awareness—shut down one by one. An astonishing story.

Wikipedia (n.d.). Cognitive neuroscience is providing us with important new understandings of brain functioning. Brain science research is producing a number of practical applications in education, medicine, and in human performance.

Willis, Judy (n.d.). Dr. Willis has written extensively about brain science and education. A number of her articles are available at

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This is a collection of IAE publications related to the IAE document you are currently reading. It is not updated very often, so important recent IAE documents may be missing from the list.

This component of the IAE-pedia documents is a work in progress. If there are few entries in the next four subsections, that is because the links have not yet been added.

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An Intact Human Brain Is Naturally Curious and Creative.

Neuromythologies Brain Science Mythologies in Education.

Research on How Exercise Improves Brain Functioning.

The Brain Series on PBS Hosted by Charlie Ross and Eric Kandel.

The Discipline of Educational Neuroscience.

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20/20 Vision for 2020 Challenges.

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The original version of this page was developed by David Moursund.