Monthly Archives: December 2015

Crystallizing your Intelligence Around Writing

I used to like writing a lot and be a pretty good writer, but recently I have felt like since I don’t use that skill as much, it has been getting a lot harder and less enjoyable, which is unfortunate. This has made even short writing assignments for school the last few years a lot harder. I already decided to start writing more in my free time, even just writing activities in a journal, to hopefully fix this. It was really concerning me that at such a young age I would see such a sharp decline in a skill that I took for granted as a constant for so long. When I found this article, I was relieved to see that I was right to want to start writing again to build up these neuron pathways in the brain. It talks about growing and strengthening these neuronal pathways to be more centralized around writing. One way they propose to do this is by starting to write about what you are most passionate about. This is not just a general idea to spur you to be interested in writing, but seems to be a way to get these neurons firing because the pathways should be well established if it is something you think about frequently and gets you excited. To get new pathways to form, some neurons have to be firing to ignite the “global excitation” that can start to form new connections. For your brain to be its healthiest, you need to constantly be learning and reading and writing and talking about other issues that interest you to keep these connections strong, and build as many new connections as possible. Especially helpful is “deep reading” with detailed descriptions and complex ideas that you read slowly and fully process, not just skimming over. The last tip to improve how you process writing is to write slowly out on paper, especially in cursive, which forces you to think more. This makes sense because I feel sometimes typing on the computer you barely process what you are writing because you type so fast. An example of this is how writing things out make you remember them more. Whenever I am writing notes to try to study for a test, I find it much easier to recall the information if I have written it out by hand, rather than typing out notes. Given that these suggestions all seem to make sense, I hope to see a noticeable difference. Anything to keep your brain sharp is always a good idea.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prime-your-gray-cells/201512/5-ways-crystallize-your-intelligence-around-writing

Factors Affecting Depression

For the past few months, since my sister started medical school, I have been hearing a lot about what compounds from vitamins your brain and body need to function at its peak. This article mentions vitamin D deficiencies as one of the possible causes of depression, and shows some pretty scary statistics about the correlation between the two. In a recent study of individuals with depression and anxiety, recovering from depression, or otherwise healthy individuals, 33% had insufficient levels of vitamin D, and the lowest levels were found in a individuals with the most severe depression. These are pretty high numbers, so getting levels tested is recommended for anyone who is depressed, which I think is a good idea. The other factors mentioned in the article are tips you hear often, but that doesn’t make them any less important. These are things like a social support system, physical activity, and being optimistic and more reasonable with your expectations with yourself. If you explain things that happen in your life pessimistically it starts to form a cycle where it can make your more depressed, and then more likely to again explain things pessimistically. Another way to break out of this cycle that goes along with social support is having discussions that stimulate your mind that are more cognitively challenging, which if lacking can make you feel like you are stuck in a rut. Even though some of these tips are well known by most people, the tips such as getting vitamin D levels tested, are something to consider if you haven’t been able to make any progress in your depression just to understand yourself better.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fearless-you/201511/6-little-known-factors-can-affect-depression

Only as Smart as Your Weakest Pathway

 

Brain (3)

Recall more than Recognition has always been an issue for me.  Remembering most things, from general information to small task has always been a huge challenge. Growing up as a child, if someone gave me a few simple tasks to accomplish at once, it was almost always inevitable that I would only accomplish two at most.  Throughout all 12 grades of regular schooling, the simplest lessons taught; which most people still remember today, such as capitals of states, who the first 5 Presidents of the United States was, and perhaps what a neuron and a cell is, seemed to escape me relatively quickly.  Even now as an adult, remembering day to day information, names of regular faces at work, and recalling lessons taught in college courses, seem to be the most challenging task.  The bottom line is if I fail to write down a task or whatever information is provided to me, whoever provided the information in hopes of me utilizing for a purpose, might as well forget it also… after 30 seconds it all decays and becomes lost in translation.

So as I read Goldstein’s Cognitive Psychology book and began to conduct further research, I realized that memory recall and retrieval are complex.  As I researched, I found information which explained that memories are stored in our brains more like a jigsaw puzzle with different elements stored in disparate parts of the brain which are linked together by “neural networks”, as opposed to all information being stored as a collection of organized books or videos (http://www.human-memory.net/processes_recall.html).  Since memory retrieval is in essence the act of gathering information from different areas of the brain, retrieval requires the nerve pathways that the brain formed to encode the information to be revisited. “The strength of those pathways determines how quickly the memory can be recalled” (http://www.human-memory.net/processes_recall.html).  Without encoded information first being retrieved, it cannot be utilized; therefore, the retrieval process is paramount.  More often than not, the inability to remember is the result of retrieval failures (Goldstein, 2011).

As I continued to read Goldstein’s text, I became certain that I discovered one possible culprit that may cause my inability to remember; which is the infamous “Illusion of Learning” (Goldstein, 2011).  Rereading material over and over; which I now know only increases fluency and the familiarity effect, not increase memory of the material, is a study habit that I’ve used ever since I can remember.  Familiarity Effect causes the tendency to believe that because you recognize material in front of you, you will remember it later; which I’ve always been able to attest to the fact that it’s untrue; however, I too, also thought it was simply MY inability to remember.  Lastly, highlighting material is also an illusion of learning.  Highlighting only creates repetitive motions of your hand, as opposed to deep processing of the material because as the material is highlighted; deep thought about WHAT is being highlighted fails to occur (Goldstein, 2011).  I’ve also been guilty of highlighting until my hand was sore; only to later trigger the “deer in headlight stare” upon attempting to use my notes as study or test taking material.  Certainly, if I would have know then what I know now in regards to study habits and the illusion of learning, I perhaps could have given the illusion of being smarter than a 5th grader.

One observation that I’ve always noticed is that events and information which seems to be connected to emotions and are “heartfelt” in some way, I appear to recall a lot easier than other information or events.  Enhanced memories for emotional events are linked to interactions between the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex (PFC) (Cahill & McGaugh, 1996). “This seems to affect women more so than men. This is due to the fact that women and men process emotional memories differently.”  The encoding and consolidation of memory for emotional events takes place in the amygdala; which is triggered by emotions to influence the memory during emotional situations (Goldstein, E. B., 2011).  As I also read, Memory recall appears to be state-dependent to some extent.  Information is subsequently recalled more accurately when an individual is in the same emotional state at the time of retrieval as similar to the emotional state at the time the information is encoded (http://www.human-memory.net/processes_recall.html).

As I now know that as the pathways can be influenced by emotions, events, rehearsals, and test; even the weakest pathway can become the strongest.

New Studies on Memory and Marijuana usage.

Research shows that marijuana use affects short term memory, but how does it also affect Long Term Memory. How are short and Long Term memories are related. STM holds a small amount of information for a short amount of time. STM is processed in one of two ways, maintenance rehearsal and elaborative rehearsal. Elaborative rehearsal works better when transferring memories into LTM. Elaborative rehearsal is when you relate the information in STM to information you already have stored in LTM. Elaborative rehearsal works because we are processing the information on a deeper level. So in order to form LTM we must first be able to form STMs. How does the use of marijuana affect this process?
According to International weekly journal of science the THC in marijuana weakens the connections, or synapses, between neurons in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a structure in the Medial Temporal lobe that is crucial for forming new LTMs. This was shown in a case where a person’s hippocampus’ were removed from both sides of the brain to eliminate epileptic seizures but also eliminated their ability to form new LTMs. Smoking marijuana is not as drastic as removing the hippocampus but because the hippocampus contains a lot of THC receptors it does affect the ability to form new LTMs. By the weakening of the connections in the hippocampus memory function is slowed down or stopped in Short and long term memory while on the substance.
Although the memory process is slowed down while using marijuana until recently long term affects affecting memory had not been seen. A study was done on teens who were using marijuana on a daily basis. The people in the study had started using marijuana between the ages of 16 and 17 and used it daily for 3 years. At the time of the study they had been marijuana free for two years. These participants performed 18% worse on long-term memory tests than young adults who had never used cannabis on a long term daily basis. These same participants who scored 18% less also had abnormally shaped hippocampus’. This is one of the first studies to show that correlation between long term memory problems and abnormally shaped hippocampus.
Marijuana is shown now to affect both short and long term memory. Although studies are just starting to be completed and further studies are starting up all over the globe. It is exciting to see what more we can learn about ourselves and the world around us.
Smith, M. J., Cobia, D. J., Reilly, J. L., Gilman, J. M., Roberts, A. G., Alpert, K. I., Wang, L., Breiter, H. C. and Csernansky, J. G. (2015), Cannabis-related episodic memory deficits and hippocampal morphological differences in healthy individuals and schizophrenia subjects. Hippocampus, 25: 1042–1051. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22427

HOW DOES MARIJUANA AFFECT THE BRAIN? (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2015, from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/1808
(n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2015, from http://www.nature.com/news/how-marijuana-makes-you-forget-1.10152

Video Killed the Cognitive Star

In every corner of the Earth, there’s someone using technology. Whether it is a tablet, a cellphone, or a laptop, someone is engaging with an electronic. Today’s society is driven by immediate gratification, which we achieve through instantaneous messages, live updates, and social media. Picking up an encyclopedia to read for knowledge or finding a good book to immerse oneself has become a thing of the past. Recently a popular talk show discussed the idea of not needing to know how to spell common words because spell check does it automatically. But has this progression actually been a hindrance to our cognitive health? Perhaps there is an over reliance on technology to solve what our brains once could do? The reality seems to be that cognitive skills and problem-solving have received the short end of the stick in our technological advancement, and continue to dissipate like our outdated processes. Problem-solving skills, memory, and emotion processing decline because of our technology use. It can be hoped that advocacy for using less technology and increasing physical and mental activity may rectify this well-defined problem.

One of the best features humans have is the ability to critically think. Problem-solving is commonly taught throughout all levels of schooling and mandated for most employment opportunities. It is a prerequisite for life and learning how to do it effectively can be a lifelong challenge. Thanks to technology, some problem-solving can be done immediately. Think of calculators or thermometers. It’s a wonder what people ever did before they existed. School systems have even begun to implement videos into their curriculum, with parents supporting visual learning a lot more as well. Consequently, it was also found that wiring the classroom for internet access does not enhance learning. One study analyzed the retention of lecture information and tested students who had internet access during class and those without. Those without internet access did better than those with internet access (Wolfpert, 2009). Reading develops critical thinking, reflection, induction, and imagination, yet reading has also declined in the lack couple of decades among young people (Wolfpert, 2009). Patricia Greenfield, a psychologist at UCLA found that reading for pleasure enhances thinking and engages imagination in a way that visual media does not (Wolfpert, 2009). Surely students may learn to think in more engaging ways and absolve their functional fixedness, the inability to see objects, people, or events in views outside of what is customary for them, by learning in multiple forms. It is simply a matter of finding a balance between using multiple methods of visual and audible learning.

Rarely ever do we go to a payphone and dial in our friend’s number. Cellphones today are equipped with an address book and a favorites list to make phone calls more convenient. What does this mean for our memories though? When was the last time we were required to remember a phone number, or a grocery list, or a show time? Scientist at Columbia University ran experiments on how students remembered random trivia. Students were given random trivia facts and requested to place them in a folder labeled true or fact. Some students were told the computer would save which folder they were in. Later on, students were asked to recall which facts were placed in the fact folder. The results indicated that students who knew the computer saved the information were less likely to remember the trivia facts (Thompson, 2013). When we know a device will remember a piece of information for us, we will less likely remember it ourselves. It was found that 40 percent of all search queries were of people trying to refresh details of something they previously knew (Thompson, 2013). Recalling information involves both short-term and long-term memory. If we are overindulged in our apps and cellphones, it would be hard to retain information in your short-term memory, and even harder to encode that into long-term memory. Helpful it may be, technology should be a tool not a guide.

Lastly, technology has a great way of bridging the gap that land and sea have created. People from all over the world can communicate with each other in seconds or minutes. While people are fond of getting to know each other and transcend to another place online, some people maintain the extent of substituting physical relationships with electronic ones. Consequently, these people experience social isolation when withdrawn from their devices (Lickerman, 2010). Being online can also give the advantage of identity protection in some cases, and this can make confrontations and harassment (Lickerman, 2010). It’s possible that people are more irresponsible and hurtful with their dialogue since their comments can’t be traced directly to their person. Empathy, compassion, and sympathy can be reduced by offering an anonymous platform to be just the opposite. Cognitive biases like prejudice that misrepresent social issues are given a platform on social media and their own websites. While the internet can be great for achieving factual information, it does a disservice to gaining the interpersonal interactions lexchanged in communicating.

How and what we perceive as a problem plays a big role in how we solve it. Improving through mechanical and online advancement has been a significant goal of civilizations. The benefits of our progress are never fully aligned with their detriments; therefore we’ve never perceived any need for a resolve. The fact of the matter remains that improvement is necessary, but our previous modes of communication, reading, and learning are still very vital to our cognitive health. We are sacrificing our mental capabilities in exchange for convenience. In return our spelling, our intelligence, our memory, and our creativity suffer. This is not to justify a ban on all technology or to limit the advancement of machinery and electronic tools. This is to make others aware of the implications of cognitive dependence on technology. Social psychologist and educators should start intervention at an early age, introducing children to more interesting ways in reading, reinforcing the family to try trivia and mental activities, or to advocate a reduced amount of cellphone or internet usage. The primary importance is that society advances without compromising any aspect of our health.

References

Lickerman, Alex. 2010, June 8. The Effect of Technology on Relationships. Psychology Today, retrieved from:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201006/the-effect-technology-relationships

Thompson, Clive. 2013, September 20. Is Google Wrecking Our Memory? Slate, retrieved from: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/09/are_search_engines_and_the_internet_hurting_human_memory.2.html

Wolpert, Stuart. 2009, January 27. Is Technology Producing a Decline in Critical Thinking and Analysis? UCLA Newsroom, retrieved from: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/is-technology-producing-a-decline-79127

Stories are more than just words

I love reading books, magazines, news articles, facebook, etc… I just finished reading a book called Armada. While reading this book I found myself making inferences as I created the scenes in mind. What is an inference you ask? An inference is when we use the knowledge we already have to go beyond the meaning of what is printed in the text (Goldstein, 2011). In the book Armada by Ernest Cline he starts off the book with the sentence “I was staring out the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure when I spotted the flying saucer.” When I read this sentence I began to infer that the teacher was still teaching the class while this was occurring. This story is a narrative story which means that it is an account of progressive events but can include flashbacks. As I continued reading I noticed I began making more and more inferences. There are more than one type of inference and I used all of them with this book. An anaphoric inference is when a person or object is connected by an inference from another sentence. This occurred numerous times just like this example, “The Sobrukai and their Glaive Fighters were fictional videogame creations. They didn’t exist in the real world-they couldn’t”. They in the second sentence was referring to the Sobrukai and Glaive Fighters which we made the inference from the previous sentence to figure out what the word they referred to. These types of inferences are fairly easy for us to make. Another type of inference that I used while reading was the casual inference which it can be inferred that the events described in one sentence were caused by events that occurred in the previous sentence according to Chapter 11 Language in our textbook (Goldstein, pg. 310). “When I finally lowered my fist I glanced at Casey and expected him to offer me a nod of thanks. But he was still cowering at his desk like a whipped dog, and he wouldn’t make eye contact with me.” This is an example from the story that you can make the casual inference that Lightman, the main character, frightened Casey when he had his fists raised and stood up to the bully that was bullying Casey by the reaction that Casey had from Lightman. Reading involves much more than just understanding the words and sentences and using inferences help us create the connections we need to help create the coherence, representation of what we read in our mind that relates one part of the text to another, and piece everything together. Next time you read a book, story, article or whatever it may be stop and really look at what you just read and I am sure you will find that you have been making some inferences yourself along the way.

 

 

 

Cline, E. (n.d.). Armada: A novel.

Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.