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.
The topics covered in this IAE-pedia document have been arranged in alphabetical order. Each section contains a short introduction to a brain science topic that is important to educators and their students.
- 1 Brief Summary
- 2 Brief History of Brain Science
- 3 A Variety of Interesting and Important Topics
- 3.1 Addiction to Drugs and Games
- 3.2 Animal Cognition
- 3.3 Artificial (Computer Machine) Intelligence
- 3.4 Arts and the Brain
- 3.5 Attention
- 3.6 Brain Disorders
- 3.7 Brain Growth Spurts and Cognitive Development
- 3.8 Building Computer Models of the Human Brain
- 3.9 Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs
- 3.10 Consciousness and Self-awareness
- 3.11 Declining Cognitive Development, Critical Thinking, and Creativity
- 3.12 Deep Brain Stimulation
- 3.13 Executive Functions
- 3.14 Exercise and the Brain
- 3.15 Games to Enhance Brain Functioning
- 3.16 Innate Math Skills
- 3.17 Intelligence (Human Intelligence Quotient)
- 3.18 IQ Has Been Increasing Over the Past Century: The Flynn Effect
- 3.19 Lead and Other Brain-damaging Polutants
- 3.20 Mathematician's Mind
- 3.21 Michael Merzenich and Brain Science of Learning
- 3.22 Mirror Neurons: Monkey See, Monkey Do
- 3.23 Mythologies About the Human Brain
- 3.24 Neuron Regeneration
- 3.25 Poverty Contributes Substantially to Lower Cognitive Performance
- 3.26 Reading and the Brain
- 3.27 Sex Differences
- 3.28 Sleep and Sleep Deprivation
- 3.29 Short-Term Memory and Web Design
- 3.30 Stress
- 3.31 Two Hemispheres
- 3.32 Work in Progress
- 4 Some Video Resources
- 5 References and Resources
- 6 Links to Other IAE Resources
- 7 Author or Authors
Brain science has a quite long history. However, it is only in recent years that technology and brain theory has progressed to a level 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.
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 actually "rewire" the brain and help many dyslexics become good readers. Of course, all learning involves rewiring of the brain. As we understand this process better, we are able to better 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 three "quick" sources of information that you might want to check out:
- The Charlie Rose Brain Series of videos provides an excellent starting point. Also see Hearing Through the Chaos.
- Changing Education Paradigms is an interesting 11-minute video. It is a good discussion of brain science in education.
- 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 http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/06/06/33teachers.h31.html?tkn=QMCFdkGZMV2m7+qxClqvXh1WsWnWtdl0kNfT&cmp=clp-sb-ascd. 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 http://www.studentsatthecenter.org/papers.]
Brief History of Brain Science
The history of brain science extends back to well before it was a "science." For example, phrenology was once considered by many to be an important approach to studying the brain. Quoting from the phrenology website:
- Phrenology was a faculty psychology, theory of brain and science of character reading, what the 19th-century phrenologists called "the only true science of mind." Phrenology was derived from the theories of the idiosyncratic Viennese physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828).
- …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 behaviour.
Brain science took a major leap forward through the work of Alfred Binet and others 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. There they would receive more individual attention and 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 test had children do tasks such as follow commands, copy patterns, name objects, and put things in order or arrange them properly. Binet gave the test to Paris schoolchildren and created a standard based on his data. For example, if 70 percent of 8-year-olds could pass a particular test, then success on the test represented the 8-year-old level of intelligence. Following Binet’s work, the phrase “intelligence quotient,” or “IQ,” entered the vocabulary. The IQ is the ratio of “mental age” to chronological age, with 100 being average. So, 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. However, 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 again from this website:
- 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.
- Functional imaging enables, for example, the processing of information by centers in the brain to be visualized directly. Such processing causes the involved area of the brain to increase metabolism and "light up" on the scan.
A Variety of Interesting and Important Topics
The following is a list of brain science topics that I have found interesting. 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 researchers and practitioneers who spend their full professional time and efforts doing research to advance the area and applying their current and new knowledge to address people's problems.
Addiction to Drugs and Games
Brain Science research is contributing to our understanding of addiction. What is being learned applies to addiction to various drugs and alcohol, and also provides insight into addiction to gambling and various other types of games and entertainment. A quick overview of work being done by David Nutt is offered in a short video, Just Can't Get Enough, available at http://blog.the-scientist.com/2010/11/11/just-cant-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.
I (David Moursund, the author of this IAE-pedia page) am somewhat addicted to computer games. Read more about this at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/what-i-learned-from-learning-to-play-a-new-computer-game.html. A great many people have somewhat similar addictions to various forms of electronic entertainment. And, the games need not be electronic. A good friend of mine—a very smart graduate student in physics—flunked out mainly due to his addition to solitaire games played with one or two decks of cards.
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, visit Animal Cognition in the Wikipedia.
Animal brains, and animal intelligence is a challenging area of study. How do you design a IQ test for an animal? Probably you have read articles that compare the "intelligence" of a young chimpanzee with 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 http://theadvancedapes.com/5-humanchimpanzee-differences/.
Quoting Charles Darwin from the website:
- [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 article provides a number of examples of intelligence-related activities that chimpanzees can learn to do and 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.
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 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14224459.
Quoting from this website:
- 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:
- 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.
Clearly, apes and many other animals learn by imitation. However, quoting from the website:
- 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.
Read about Natasha, an extremely intelligence 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 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/29/natasha-genius-chimp-intelligence-tests_n_1838963.html. Note: This article summarizes findings reported in a research article available at http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/08/chimps-answer-to-einstein.html?rss=1.
Quoting from the Sarah Williams 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 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/science/coldblooded-does-not-mean-stupid.html?ref=science.
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 a section about a female red-footed tortoise:
- 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 (Computer Machine) Intelligence
- "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 beat Garry Kasparov, the reigning human world chess champion.
Historically, there were 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 the stage in which computerized implants into humans 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 modeling the human brain:
- Somers, James (11/23/2013). The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think. The Atlantic. Retrieved 11/2/2013 from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/11/the-man-who-would-teach-machines-to-think/309529/.
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. His stubborn quest to replicate the human mind.
- “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 a project titled Learning, Arts, and the Brain. Download the a PDF of the report from http://www.dana.org/uploadedFiles/News_and_Publications/Special_Publications/Learning,%20Arts%20and%20the%20Brain_ArtsAndCognition_Compl.pdf.
- 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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attention:
- 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.
- 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.
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 http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/12/age-of-distraction-why-its-crucial-for-students-to-learn-to-focus/.
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 http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-symptoms:
- 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 ADD and ADHD literature available on the Web. A 11/2/2013 Google search of ADD ADHD produced over 43 million hits. The Website http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/ indicates that ADHD affects an estimated 3% to 5% of children and adults in the United States. See also, http://psychcentral.com/disorders/childhood-adhd/.
For some of the underlying cognitive neuroscience of ADHD see the 2011 article http://www.nature.com/pr/journal/v69/n5-2/full/pr9201196a.html. Quoting from 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.
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, their Brain Connections PDF that
- 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.
There has been considerable research on specific brain disorders that affect the learning by kids and adults. Here are a three very important examples.
Quoting from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/adhd/DS00275:
- 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.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are often grouped together using the acronym AD/HD affect. The total number of people affected depends on the stringency of the definition. Quoting from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/03/020314080350.htm:
- Mar. 20, 2002 — ROCHESTER, MINN. -- A new Mayo Clinic study shows that attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) affects up to 7.5 percent of school-age children. Previous studies had estimated the occurrence of AD/HD to be anywhere between one and 20 percent of school-age children. The Mayo Clinic report, published in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, addresses the confusion about the number of children affected by AD/HD.
- The study found that the lowest and most conservative estimate of AD/HD occurrence among the study subjects was 7.5 percent by age 19, based on research criteria for AD/HD. These criteria required both a clinical diagnosis of AD/HD and supporting documentation in the medical and school records.
- "The 7.5 percent incidence of AD/HD from the current study includes subjects who met the most stringent research criteria and are likely to represent cases that most clinicians would regard as true cases of AD/HD," says William Barbaresi, M.D., a Mayo Clinic developmental and behavioral pediatric specialist and lead author of the study. "This study represents what we believe to be the largest population-based study of the occurrence (incidence) of AD/HD to date."
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.
The website http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/about-dyslexia/schools-colleges-and-universities/dyscalculia.html 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.
Estimated incidence of dyscalculia are in the 3% to 6% range. A May 21, 2012 article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette says:
- 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.
The Website http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Dyslexia.htm# 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 from the above-referenced site:
- 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 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2528651/:
- 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 fo;;owing article provides new insight into adult dyslexia:
- Vence, Tracy (12/5/2013). Deconstructing Dyslexia. The Scientist. Retrieved 12/11/2013 from http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/38562/title/Deconstructing-Dyslexia/.
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.
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 that were 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 available at http://www.uknow.gse.harvard.edu/learning/video-learn002b-uk_kf_growthcyc.html. 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.
Charlie Rose Brain Series (10/29/2009 … 2010). See http://www.charlierose.com/. This is a series of five hour-length videos. Quoting from the website of the first episode:
- 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.
The A 2009 article at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue_briefs/brain_development/how.cfm 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).
Building Computer Models of the Human Brain
Modeling the human brain is certainly one of the grand challenges in the field of artificial intelligence. See http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science#Artificial_.28Computer_Machine.29_Intelligence and http://iae-pedia.org/Artificial_Intelligence. Some day—perhaps several 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 in 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 http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/the-future-of-ibm-s-watson-computer-system.html and http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/comparing-human-and-computer-brains.html.
These milestone successes depended on using some of the fastest computers of their time, a huge number of human hours of analyzing the specific problems to be solved and developing programs to solve these problems, and 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 problems in which significant progress is being made. Voice-to-text input to computer and language translation 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 http://translate.google.com/about/.
The following article discusses some current work being done by one of the major brain modeling projects:
- IBM News Release(10/2/2013). IBM Teams With Leading Universities to Advance Research in Cognitive Systems. Retrieved 10/2/2013 from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/226080091.html. Here are several quotes from the document:
- 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 http://iae-pedia.org/Ray_Kurzweil. Here is an article by him that indicates where we were in 2010:
- Kurzweil, Ray (7/28/2010). IBM scientists create most comprehensive map of the brain's network. Retrieved 8/2/2010 from http://www.kurzweilai.net/ibm-scientists-create-most-comprehensive-map-of-the-brains-network.
Quoting from the article:
- 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.”
- The scientists focused on the long-distance network of 383 brain regions and 6,602 long-distance brain connections that travel through the brain’s white matter, which are like the “interstate highways” between far-flung brain regions, he explained, while short-distance gray matter connections (based on neurons) constitute “local roads” within a brain region and its sub-structures.
- Their research builds upon a publicly available database called Collation of Connectivity data on the Macaque brain (CoCoMac), which compiles anatomical tracing data from over 400 scientific reports from neuroanatomists published over the last half-century.
Click here for a 2013 article about Kurzweil. It provides background about Kurzweil and some of his forecasts for the future of brain modeling. 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 at a conference I attended last week. The world is changing more and more rapidly, fueled by information technology. Unlike some of us given to mouthing such statements, the recipient of the National Medal of Technology had his argument teed up.
- 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.
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 http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24855?cmpid=NLC%7CNSNS%7C2014-0116-GLOBAL&utm_medium=NLC&utm_source=NSNS&#.UwZ11HlBLfZ.
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.
Research has been done with other animals. Quoting 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. "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: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/health/2004083846_brain20.html. 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.
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 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2451586/More-students-turning-cognitive-enhancing-drug-Modafinil-hope-boosting-grades-job-prospects.html.
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: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394,00.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.
Here is a free Information Age Education book on the topic of consciousness and morality.
- Sylwester, R. and Moursund, D. Editors (2013). Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Free download of this book. Microsoft Word: http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/252-consciousness-and-moralityrecent-research-developments.html. PDF: http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/251-consciousness-and-morality-recent-researchdevelopments.html.
Declining Cognitive Development, Critical Thinking, and Creativity
In brief summary, we have "nature" (the brain and its innate capacities we are born with) and "nurture" (the conditions and environment in which our brain develops its innate capabilities). This section explores recent evidence that for many students, nurture in some important areas is not as good as it used to be.
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: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2006/jan/24/schools.uk. 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 there 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 more of Shayer's work see http://www.esrc.ac.uk/search/search-page.aspx?q=*%3A*&topic_theme=Lifestyle&items_per_page=10&filters=on&author=Michael%20Shayer&tab=outputs&sort_order=relevance. For example:
Shayer, M. and 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 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1348/978185408X383123/full.
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.
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: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/is-technology-producing-a-decline-79127.aspx. 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," she said.
- Retner, R. (8/12/2011). Not your imagination: Kids today really are less creative, study says. Today Parenting. Retrieved 10/3 2011 from http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/44122383/ns/today-parenting/t/not-your-imagination-kids-today-really-are-less-creative-study-says/#.TopGcnNYfe6.
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. …
- In her study, Kim analyzed results from the Torrance test, an exam that measures an aspect of creativity called divergent thinking. In this test, kids might be shown two circles and asked to draw something out of these shapes.
- 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.]
Deep Brain Stimulation
- 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 is currently one of the new approaches that is proving successful.Quoting from the previously mentioned reference:
- 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.
Cooper-Kahn, Joyce and Diet, Laurie (2008). What is executive functioning? LD Online. Retrieved 1/1/2014 from http://www.ldonline.org/article/29122/.
Quoting from the document:
- The executive functions 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.
Here is a list of executive functions given in the reference:
- 1 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." (When Aunt Sue called, it would have made sense to tell her, "Let me check the calendar first. It sounds great, but I just need to look at everybody's schedules before I commit the whole family.")
- 2 Shift - The ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation. (When the question emerged regarding who would watch the cats, Robin was stymied. Her husband, on the other hand, began generating possible solutions and was able to solve the problem relatively easily.)
- 3 Emotional Control - The ability to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings. (The example here is Robin's anger when confronted with her own impulsive behavior in committing the family before checking out the dates: "Why are you all being so negative?")
- 4 Initiation - The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies. (Robin thought about calling to check on the date of the reunion, but she just didn't get around to it until her husband initiated the process.)
- 5 Working memory - The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task. (Robin could not keep the dates of the reunion in her head long enough to put them on the calendar after her initial phone call from Aunt Sue.)
- 6 Planning/Organization - The ability to manage current and future- oriented task demands. (In this case, Robin lacked the ability to systematically think about what the family would need to be ready for the trip and to get to the intended place at the intended time with their needs cared for along the way.)
- 7 Organization of Materials - The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces. (It was Robin's job to organize the things needed for the trip. However, she just piled things into the car rather than systematically making checklists and organizing things so important items would be easily accessible, so the space would be used efficiently, and so that people and "stuff" would be orderly and comfortable in the car.)
- 8 Self-Monitoring - The ability to monitor one's own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected. (Despite the fact that they're off to Missouri without knowing how to get there, with almost no planning for what will happen along the way, and without a map, Robin does not understand why her husband is so upset.)
Exercise and the Brain
This section is a Work in Progress. See the work of John Ratey at http://www.johnratey.com/. Quoting from this website:
- John J. Ratey, MD, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, research synthesizer, speaker, and best selling author. An internationally recognized expert in Neuropsychiatry, Dr. Ratey has published over 60 peer reviewed articles, and 8 books published in 14 languages, including the groundbreaking ADD-ADHD “Driven to Distraction” series with Ned Hallowell, MD. With the publication of his most recent book, "Spark-The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain," Dr. Ratey has established himself as one of the world's foremost authorities on the brain-fitness connection. He serves as Adjunct Professor at National Taiwan Sports University and is Reebok's Ambassador for Active Kids.
Games to Enhance Brain Functioning
In recent years, there has been some useful work accomplished developing computer-based games and other activities designed to help the brain functioning of older people. The underlying theories "use it or lose it" and transfer of learning from game environments to other environments.
Here is an article that 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 http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Can-the-Wii-Make-Your-Brain/26979/?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en. An abstract of the research paper is available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20822257.
This short article reports on a study in which adults ages 50 to 70 spent 20 hours over a period of a month playing a game. 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 Luminosity 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 the Luminoisity website 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 the research on 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 http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2013/09/05/can-video-games-actually-improve-brain-and-cognitive-function/.
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 http://news.softpedia.com/news/Games-Might-Improve-Cognition-in-the-Elderly-Says-Study-381110.shtml 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."
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 attach 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 JF, Brannon EM (2007) Basic Math in Monkeys and College Students. PLoS Biol 5(12): e328 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050328. Retrieved 12/19/07: http://biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0050328.
Quoting from the document:
- 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; ). 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 for IQ in general and for IQ in various specific areas such as logical-mathematical or music.
We have quite a lot 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 http://iae-pedia.org/Improving_Math_Education.
Research in the human brain has identified an Approximate Number Sense (ANS). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Approximate_number_system. 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 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/16/science/16angi.html?_r=0.
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.
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, 4th century B.C.)
The quote from Plato 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. 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, 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 sold 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.
Sternberg divides intelligence into analytical, creative, and practical components. The link is to a short video in which Sternberg gives his definition of intelligence.
There are many 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."
The following definition of intelligence is a composite from various authors, especially Gardner, Perkins, and Sternberg. Intelligence is a combination of the abilities to:
- Learn. This includes all kinds of informal and formal learning via any combination of experience, education, and training.
- Pose problems.' This includes recognizing problem situations and transforming them into more clearly defined problems.
- Solve problems.' This includes solving problems, accomplishing tasks, and fashioning products.
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 10/6/201q from http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=bc04df008d4705e4e77c2eb35&id=469f021df1&e=9fa2a82024. 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: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2007/12/17/071217crbo_books_gladwell.
This article provides an extensive review of 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:
- The increase in IQ is due to better informal and formal education in areas of abstract ideas, abstract reasoning, and use of metaphors.
- The so called "findings" about racial differences in IQ are not supported by the data on which these findings have been based.
In the following 19 minute TED video, Flynn updates and summarizes his arguments:
- Flynn, James (September 2013). James Flynn: Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents. Retrieved 9/29/2013 from http://www.ted.com/talks/james_flynn_why_our_iq_levels_are_higher_than_our_grandparents.html.
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.
Here is some research that 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: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-02-02-lead-SAT_N.htm. 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.
Lead and Other Brain-damaging Polutants
Toppo, Greg (2/3/09). Study links children's lead levels, SAT scores. USA Today. Retrieved 2/3/09: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-02-02-lead-SAT_N.htm. 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.
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)
Michael Merzenich and Brain Science of Learning
Michael Merzenich is a world leader in brain science. Much of his work has been directed toward research and applications in education. See a 23-minute talk available at http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html. Also see http://brainconnection.positscience.com/.
Quoting from http://www.positscience.com (10/12/09):
- Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD—renowned neuroscientist, university professor, cochlear implant inventor, brain plasticity expert and tech entrepreneur - was formally inducted in the Institute of Medicine today in Washington, D.C. Also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Merzenich is one of a small group of scientists and doctors in the U.S. who have been selected for recognition by both institutions. IOM members are elected by their peers through a selective process that recognizes people who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health.
- "I am, of course, delighted by the generosity of my colleagues to be chosen for this honor," said Dr. Merzenich, currently co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Posit Science. "The discovery of the brain's ability to rewire itself has been at the core of my life's work, and I have been very fortunate to have worked with some of the brightest scientists, technologists and clinicians in the world with the mission of applying our science to improve the quality of life for others."
- Dr. Merzenich is currently working with scientists and doctors at the University of California, San Francisco on mental health solutions, including recent promising studies on the use of brain fitness training conducted in aging, brain-injured, autistic and schizophrenic patient populations.
- "Mike has been a pioneer and a leader in demonstrating that the brain function and wiring is sensitive to neural activity. His basic work has elucidated mechanisms underlying this plasticity, and his translational work has illuminated the possible ways medicine can intervene to ameliorate brain disorders," said Dr. John Rubenstein, MD, PhD, distinguished professor in Child Psychiatry at UCSF and an IOM member. "His work has revolutionized the way we view the brain's plasticity and his latest work in mental disorders illustrates his sincere dedication to alleviate human suffering."
- For more than three decades, Dr. Merzenich has been a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research. In 1971, Dr. Merzenich joined the faculty of UCSF and started the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences. In the late 1980's, Dr. Merzenich was part of the team that invented the cochlear implant. In 1990 he became a full professor at UCSF in Neuroscience, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering and Otolaryngology. He is currently Professor Emeritus in the departments of Otolaryngology and Physiology at UCSF.
- In 1996, Dr. Merzenich was the founding CEO of Scientific Learning Corporation, which markets and distributes software that applies principles of brain plasticity to assist children with language learning and reading. In 2003, Posit Science was begun by Dr. Merzenich and Jeff Zimman to take neuroscience out of the labs and put it into the hands of consumers with engaging adaptive brain fitness software.
- Dr. Merzenich has published more than 200 articles, including many in leading peer-reviewed journals (such as Science and Nature), received numerous awards and prizes (including the Ipsen Prize, Zulch Prize, Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award and Purkinje Medal) and has been granted more than 50 patents for his work.
- "Mike's work not only improves cognitive function across a wide array of disorders and conditions," said Zimman, Chairman of Posit Science. "Results from his studies have also been shown to significantly improve broad measures of overall health such as health-related quality-of-life and performance of everyday tasks."
- Dr. Merzenich holds a BS in General Science from the University of Portland and a PhD in Physiology from Johns Hopkins University, with a Neuroscience fellowship from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. To read his blog, go to http://merzenich.positscience.com/.
- About Posit Science
- Posit Science is the leader in delivering clinically proven brain fitness software into the hands of consumers. The company combines breakthrough research and a focus on great customer experiences to create products that are engaging and help users think faster, focus better and remember more. Staff neuroscientists collaborate with more than 50 scientists from leading research institutions as well as engineers and product marketers to design, build and test our computer-based programs. Posit Science products are available online, through health, long term care and auto insurers, and from public television's "The Brain Fitness Program" documentary. For more information, visit www.PositScience.com or call 1-866-599-6463.
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. These neurons have been directly observed in primates, and are believed to exist in humans and in some birds. 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. Among them is V.S. Ramachandran, who believes they might be very important in imitation and language acquisition. However, despite the popularity of this field, to date no plausible neural or computational models have been put forward to describe how mirror neuron activity supports cognitive functions such as imitation.
Mirror neurons have received quite a bit of publicity. A January 2005 NOVA contains an excellent 14-minute video about Mirror Neurons. See also an article in this Wiki written by Robert Sylwester and first published in Brain Connection.
Here is a very brief book recommendation quoted from an email message written by Robert Sylwester:
- Marco Iacobonni. Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others (2008, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux).
- 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. Watching someone else read Mirroring People doesn't count.
Mythologies About the Human Brain
You may well believe that most people only use 10% of the capabilities of their brain. And, of course, you may well know a lot about learning styles and believe they play a really important role in teaching and learning.
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 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?
Take the 10% claim. I suppose people like to believe this because it suggests that through training, education, and experience they can bring this unused 90% into use, thus hugely increasing the capabilities of their brains. However, the statement about 10% is just plain incorrect.
And what about learning styles? 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.
Here is an excellent research-based article on neuromythologies:
Geake, John (2008). Neuromythologies in education. Educational Research 50(2): pp. 123-133. Retrieved 10/4/2013 from http://amyalexander.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/neuromythologies-p.pdf.
Quoting from the article:
- Neuromythologies are those popular accounts of brain functioning, which often appear within so-called ‘brain-based’ educational applications. They could be categorised into neuromyths where more is better: ‘If we can get more of the brain to ‘‘light up’’, then learning will improve ...’, and neuromyths where specificity is better: ‘If we concentrate teaching on the ‘‘lit-up’’ brain areas then learning will improve...’. Prominent examples of neuromythologies of the former include: the 10% myth, that we only use 10% of our brain; multiple intelligences; and Brain Gym. Prominent examples of neuromytholgies of the latter include: left- and right-brained thinking; VAK (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) learning styles; and water as brain food. Characteristically, the evidential basis of these schemes does not lie in cognitive neuroscience, but rather with the various enthusiastic promoters; in fact, sometimes the scientific evidence flatly contradicts the brain-based claims.
The following book is an excellent resource:
- Sousa, David, Ed. (2010). Mind, Brain, and Education: Neuroscience Implications for the Classroom. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
A number of the authors in Sousa's book give examples of neuromythologies in education. My suggestion is that you do a survey of current research literature before adopting any new brain science in education fad as an actual fact. We are finally getting some solid research that supports some very useful practices. Unfortunately, we continue to implement practices that are poor or just plain wrong, often based on just this type of neuromythology.
Personally, I am surprised that Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligence is listed as neuromythology. I have read a number of Howard Gardner's papers and book, and I find the evidence in them quite convincing. However, there is a considerable correlation between general intelligence and measures of the various specific intelligences. This observation supports the argument that we have a general intelligence, and that our "intelligence" in specific areas is just part of this general intelligence.
At one time brain researchers believed that adult human brains did not grow any new neurons. In more resent years, this conjecture has been proven to be incorrect. Quoting from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurogenesis:
- 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 brain of mammals: the hippocampus and the subventricular zone. Studies have indicated that the hormone testosterone in vertebrates, and the prohormone ecdysone in insects, have an influence on the rate of neurogenesis.
The following article provides a good summary of current research in this area.
- Yandell, Kate (2/20/2014). Lifelong Neuronal Rebirth. The Scientist. Retrieved 2/22/2014 from http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/39238/title/Lifelong-Neuronal-Rebirth/.
The article discusses a new discovery. 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) 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.
- “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.”
- Previously, it had been shown that nonhuman mammals undergo adult neurogenesis in two brain regions: the hippocampus, which is involved in memory, and the olfactory bulb, which processes smells. Neuronal progenitor cells, or neuroblasts, destined for the olfactory bulb are born in the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the brain. Humans also produce neuroblasts in the SVZ, but these cells never make it to the olfactory bulb. Frisén and his colleagues hypothesized that, rather than heading to the olfactory bulb, human SVZ neuroblasts integrate in the nearby striatum.
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?" Right now we test athletes for use of "illegal" drugs. Hmm. Perhaps we will want to test students for use of procedures that increase their number of neurons?
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: http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2008/12/02_cortex.shtml.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.
Note added 1/22/2014. See the article:
Velasquez-Manoff, Moises (1/18/23014). What Happens When the Poor Receive a Stipend?. The New York Times. Retrieved 1/232/2014 from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/18/what-happens-when-the-poor-receive-a-stipend/.
The article summaries 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 reduces. With less financial stress, they become better at parenting.
Note added 1/25/2014. See the Website
- Heckman, James (n.d.). The Heckman Education. Retrieved 1/26/2014 from http://heckmanequation.org/heckman-equation.
Heckman is a Nobel price-winning economist. At his Website he presents an argument that providing funds to raise families out of poverty is economically sound. economic. Quoting Heckman, "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.
Reading and the Brain
Hamilton, Jon (12/9/10). Reading Practice Can Strengthen Brain 'Highways.' NPR. Retrieved 12/10/09 from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121253104. Quoting from the article:
- Intensive reading programs can produce measurable changes in the structure of a child's brain, according to a study in the journal Neuron. The study found that several different programs improved the integrity of fibers that carry information from one part of the brain to another.
- "That helped areas of the brain work together," says Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
- Coordination is important because reading involves a lot of different parts of the brain, Just says.
- Some parts recognize letters, others apply knowledge about vocabulary and syntax, and still others decide what it all means. To synchronize all these operations, the brain relies on high speed "highways" that carry information back and forth, he says.
- So during the next school year, Just and Keller enrolled some of the poor readers in programs that provided a total of 100 hours of intensive remedial instruction. The programs had the kids practice reading words and sentences over and over again.
- When they were done, a second set of MRI scans showed that the training changed "not just their reading ability, but the tissues in their brain," Just says. The integrity of their white matter improved, while it was unchanged for children in standard classes.
- Equally striking, Just says: "The amount of improvement in the white matter in an individual was correlated with that individual's improvement in his reading ability."
Penttila, Nicky 10/13/06). Brain Science in the Classroom. The Dana Foundation. Retrieved 1/28/08: http://www.dana.org/events/detail.aspx?id=5196. Quoting from the article:
- What can neuroscientists tell us about how to help a child learn to read, especially a child who is having great difficulty?
- In some respects, quite a lot; in others, not yet nearly enough, said a panel of experts at a forum Oct. 12,  at the Dana Center in Washington, D.C., on how advances in neuroscience might be translated into school lesson plans.
- “The shining message of neuroscience research so far is how important it is to teach not only the first language in the early grades but also second languages,” when the parts of the brain responsible for that sort of learning are their most energetic, said panelist Colin Blakemore, the chief executive of the U.K. Medical Research Council. Unfortunately, he said, many school systems still do not follow that advice, and wait to teach “foreign” languages until the upper grades.
- In fact, Blakemore pointed out, all children need to learn to cope with the foreign environment called a schoolhouse. “The brain we house was not designed to sit in a classroom” but wander the plains hunting and gathering. Neither was it designed to read, he said: Homo sapiens has been around more than four thousand years, but has been reading and writing for only a thousand years or so. So it’s not surprising that educators have found success exploiting the natural features of the brain itself, such as the importance of repetition, focused attention and linking what is learned to actions. Neuroscientists also have helped show how the way information is presented, such as in action or on a blackboard, singly or in groups, can affect how much a child retains, Galaburda said.
Substantial progress is occurring in identifying differences in human female and male brains. The following article contains a good discussion of some of the latest findings:
Hoagh, Hannah (7/16/08). Brains apart: The real difference between the sexes. New Scientist. Quoting from this article:
- But it's becoming obvious that the hypothalamus is only the beginning of the story. For a start, the relative sizes of many of the structures inside female brains are different from those of males. In a 2001 study, Jill Goldstein of Harvard Medical School and colleagues measured and compared 45 brain regions in healthy men and women. They found that parts of the frontal lobe, which houses decision-making and problem-solving functions, were proportionally larger in women, as was the limbic cortex, which regulates emotions. Other studies have found that the hippocampus, involved in short-term memory and spatial navigation, is proportionally larger in women than in men, perhaps surprisingly given women's reputation as bad map-readers. In men, proportionally larger areas include the parietal cortex, which processes signals from the sensory organs and is involved in space perception, and the amygdala, which controls emotions and social and sexual behaviour. "The mere fact that a structure is different in size suggests a difference in functional organisation," says neurobiologist Larry Cahill at the University of California, Irvine.
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 not getting enough sleep. See the National Sleep Foundation. for a comprehensive introduction to this topic.
For example, here is a quote from the National Sleep foundation information 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.
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 start in the morning. Quoting 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. 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 http://www.nbcnews.com/health/good-nights-sleep-scrubs-your-brain-clean-researchers-find-8C11413186.
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.
Short-Term Memory and Web Design
Short-term memory is also often called working memory. The following article is a "classic" and is still well worth reading:
Miller, George A. (1956). The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Retrieved 12/7/09 from http://www.musanim.com/miller1956/.
Working memory varies significantly with different people, and it also varies under conditions of stress, drugs, and so on. The development of writing and eventually of wide scale literacy has made a huge contribution to human abilities to deal with complex problems. A written list of chunks of information serves as an augmentation to our quite limited working memory capabilities.
Chunking is one of the key ideas in making better use of one's limited working memory. 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 memory span is a fixed number of chunks, we can increase the number of 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.
The following article discusses short term memory in terms of design of effective Web pages.
Nielsen, Jacob (12/7/09). Short-term Memory and Web Usability. Retrieved 12/7/09 from http://www.useit.com/alertbox/short-term-memory.html. Quoting from the website:
- Summary. The human brain is not optimized for the abstract thinking and data memorization that 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 s
A great deal is known about how stress affects both brain functioning and general health. For example, quoting from http://www.humor-quest.blogspot.com/2012/03/stress-causes-brain-shrinkage.html#!:
- 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 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 other-wise 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 http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2011-64.html for the first of these newsletters. Quoting from this document:
- 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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Selye.) 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.
MacNeilage, P.F., Rogers, J., & Vallortigara, G. (July 2009). Evolutionary Origins of Your Right and Left Brain. Scientific American. Retrieved 6/20/09: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=evolutionary-origins-of-your-right-and-left-brain. Quoting from the article:
- 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. Forty years ago the broad scientific consensus held that, in addition to language, right-handedness and the specialization of just one side of the brain for processing spatial relations occur in humans alone. Other animals, it was thought, have no hemispheric specializations of any kind.
- 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.
Work in Progress
This IAE-pedia page is a Work in Progress. Here are some topics that remain to be added to the list.
- Learning, forgetting, and relearning.
- Study skills. Research on effective study skills. For example, if you cram for a test, regurgitate on the test, then likely you will soon forget most of what you learned. Spacing one's time periods spent studying a topic. Not multitasking when studying.
- Increasing long-term retention. Learning for understanding versus rote memory.
- Stress and its impact on brain function.
- Short term or working memory. Cognitive overload.
- Sleep. Sleep deprivation substantially decreases cognitive performance. Teenagers have a particular problem in getting enough sleep.
Some Video Resources
Fischer, Kurt. Three short videos of Fischer presenting his insights into brain science and education. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved 12/23/08: http://www.uknow.gse.harvard.edu/learning/video-learn002b-uk_kf_growthcyc.html. Both the videos and transcripts of the videos are available.
Grandin, Temple (February 2020). Temple Grandin: The world Needs All Kinds of Minds. 19-minute video. Retrieved 2/25/10 from http://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds.html. 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.
Neville, Helen (2009). Changing Brains. University of Oregon Brain Development Lab. Retrieved 2/27/10 from http://changingbrains.org/. This nine-part video is available free online, can be downloaded for free, and can be purchased on a DVD.
Rose, Charlie (2009-2012). Charlie Rose Brain Series. Retrieved 10/8/2012 from http://www.charlierose.com/view/collection/10702. For a discussion of these videos, see http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/the-brain-series-on-pbs-hosted-by-charlie-ross-and-eric-kandel-309.html.
There are five videos, each about 55 minutes in length. The provide an excellent introduction to brain science and brains. 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.
Sternberg, Robert (2007). Interview with Dr. Sternberg. Retrieved 12/29/08: http://www.indiana.edu/~intell/sternberg_interview.shtml. Includes both video interview and script.
- This is the first of a series of five that are available free on the Web. I strongly recommend this video (indeed, the whole series) for your educational viewing.
References and Resources
Bennett, Barrie (n.d.). Instructional Intelligence website. Retrieved 6/22/08: http://www.instructionalintelligence.ca/. 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: http://news.brown.edu/pressreleases/2009/06/braingate2. 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: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/236. 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: http://www.dana.org/uploadedFiles/News_and_Publications/Special_Publications/Learning,%20Arts%20and%20the%20Brain_ArtsAndCognition_Compl.pdf Quoting from the report's summary:
- 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.
- Genetic studies have begun to yield candidate genes that may help explain individual differences in interest in the arts.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Training in acting appears to lead to memory improvement through the learning of general skills for manipulating semantic information.
- Adult self-reported interest in aesthetics is related to a temperamental factor of openness, which in turn is influenced by dopamine-related genes.
- 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? 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, 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.
One of the IMBES projects is titled A groundwork for creating useful knowledge about learning and teaching. Here is the first part of a description of that work:
- 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.
imbes has a journal. [ http://www.imbes.org/journal.html View the entire first issue of Mind, Brain, and Education.] Here are two examples of articles in this 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: http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k_v89/k0802jen.htm.
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.
The same issue of the Phi Delta Kappan contains several articles responding to the article by Jensen. The quote below is from the response written by Willis.
- It has been more than 20 years since it was first suggested that there could be connections between brain function and educational practice. In the face of all the evidence that has now accumulated to support this notion, Mr. Jensen advocates that educators take full advantage of the relevant knowledge from a variety of scientific disciplines.
OHSU (n.d.). Brain Awareness. Retrieved 11/4/09 from http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/education/schools/research-institutes/brain-institute/brain-awareness/index.cfm. Quoting from the website:
- During this year’s OHSU Brain Awareness Season, discover how your mind uses these tools to formulate decisions, language, rational thought, empathy and self-awareness.
- Join our quest to understand the single-most complex machine in the universe by learning firsthand from world-renowned neuroscientists whose research gives us insight into who we are as individuals. Hear for yourself how their discoveries also allow us to understand, diagnose and treat diseases of the mind which affect millions of American lives.
- Brought to you by the OHSU Brain Institute, one of the largest groups of neuroscientists and clinicians in the country...who provide the latest in breakthroughs, understanding and care for each and every Oregonian.
Payo, Robert (3/16/08). Brain Games: Neuroscience and Active Participation Teaching Methods at the ASCD Conference. Retrieved 4/9/08 from: http://expertvoices.nsdl.org/roadreports/2008/03/16/brain-games-neuroscience-and-active-participation-teaching-methods-at-the-ascd-conference/. 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: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/brain/dn9969/. Quoting from this two-page article about the human brain:
- 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: http://www.reitstoen.com/pinker.php.
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: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=59792. Quoting from the website:
- 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. Brain Connection columnist. About eight years of monthly articles on brain science are available. All are education-oriented and written at a lay-person level. The sequence of articles provides an excellent overview of this rapidly changing field.
Taylor, Jill Bolte (2008). My Stroke of Insight. TED Talks. Retrieved 5/23/08 from: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/229. 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 understanding of brain functioning. Brain science research is producing a number of practical applications in education, medicine, and in human performance.
Willis, Judy (February 2008). Building a Bridge from Neuroscience to the Classroom. Phi Delta Kappan.
Quoting from this article:
- The brain-research evidence for certain instructional strategies continues to increase, but there still is no sturdy bridge between neuroscience and what educators do in the classroom. But educators’ knowledge and experience will enable them to use the knowledge gained from brain research in their classrooms. For example, choice, interest-driven investigation, collaboration, intrinsic motivation, and creative problem solving are associated with increased levels of such neurotransmitters as dopamine, as well as the pleasurable state dopamine promotes. Novelty, surprise, and teaching that connects with students’ past experiences and personal interests and that is low in threat and high in challenge are instructional strategies that appear to be correlated with increased information passage through the brain’s information filters, such as the amygdala and reticular activating system. Lessons in which students are engaged and invested in goals they helped to create have the potential to stimulate and restimulate networks of new memories as students actively process information in the construction of knowledge. These instructional strategies date back to theories developed decades before neuroimaging. But they are consistent with the increasing pool of neuroimaging, behavioral, and developmental psychology.
Also see her Website at http://www.radteach.com/. Quoting from that site:
- Dr. Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist in Santa Barbara, California, has combined her 15 years as a practicing adult and child neurologist with her teacher education training and years of classroom experience. After five years teaching at Santa Barbara Middle School, and ten years of classroom teaching all together, this year Dr. Willis reluctantly left teaching middle school students and dedicated herself full-time to teaching educators. With an adjunct faculty position at the University of California, Santa Barbara graduate school of education, Dr. Willis travels nationally and internationally giving presentations, workshops, and consulting while continuing to write books for parents and educators. She is an authority in the field of learning-centered brain research and classroom strategies derived from this research.
Links to Other IAE Resources
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.
Information Age Education Newsletter. Start with Issue # 31.
IAE-pedia (IAE's Wiki)
I-A-E Books and Miscellaneous Other
Author or Authors
The original version of this page was developed by David Moursund.