26 January 2010

Can our Brains Cope?

The human brain is amazing, but does it have a finite capacity? A number of commentators have recently suggested that the sheer volume of information that bombards us in our media-rich 7x24 world is causing us to behave in different ways. Some believe it is causing us to lose focus and develop shorter attention spans, some even think that it is causing our brains to physically change.

The people who take this view often point to the TV and video-game culture of the young as being to blame – where inputs have instant results. Other suggest that the multi-tasking nature of computer system is causing us to behave in a similar way - not concentrating on one thing for any length of time and instead trying to do multiple things at once.

However, other commentators argue that the deluge of information is beneficial as it provides a constant stimulus and that our brains will respond by evolving even faster.

What is your view?

Click here to read the full article on the MyBrain website.

25 January 2010

Why Resolutions are Tempting Fate

Here we are – at that time of the year when so many of us set our goals for the year ahead. Why do we give up on so many of them? As well as the obvious reasons, such as unrealistic goals, too many, no real planning etc, we can now look to neurology and the way our minds work for other reasons.

I will never forget as a teenager meeting my French pen-friend for the first time. Her photos did not reveal the very yellow teeth she had. I ran the mantra in my mind “don’t mention her teeth, don’t mention her teeth” over and over, and what happened? Almost in the first sentence, I talked about yellow teeth. Where did this demon reside within me? This was 30 years ago and the memory is still vivid!

Now I understand that there is a reason this happens – Harvard psychologist Dan Wegner researches “ironic mental processes” – that result from occasional errors in our sophisticated systems of mental control.

It works something like this. If your resolution is to give up chocolate or alcohol, you want to block all thoughts of them. You do this by filling your conscious mind with distracting thoughts - anything but chocolate or your favourite tipple. At the same time, though, your unconscious mind remains alert for any signs of the unwanted thought, almost more than usual as it is alert to help you chase it away. "Some part of the mind has to know what it is we don't want to think about and to monitor for that," says Wegner. So ironically, you have to focus on cigarettes and alcohol in order to block those thoughts!

The old adage “Don’t mention the war” now has new meaning – literally don’t mention it! In order not to think of it, the brain has to create an image of it to then understand it shouldn’t think of it.

So to keep to your resolutions, keep them positive – they are much more easy to control than negative ones. Think health rather than “don’t drink”. The latter will guarantee a conscious search process to understand drinking, giving something specific to the ironic monitoring process making it more likely to act as a trigger for the very behaviour of drinking you are trying to avoid!

And remember, never mention yellow teeth!

08 January 2010

Good news for pregnant women!

It’s tough being pregnant – your hormones go awry, you have to carry extra weight and as if that weren’t bad enough, you’re not allowed to compensate with a few glasses of wine!

But good news is just in – researchers at the University of North Carolina have found that consuming large quantities of choline during pregnancy can actually ‘boost the baby’s brain’ by promoting growth in the parts of the brain associated with memory and memory recall.

Since choline is found in pork products and eggs, a good fry-up should be on the menu on a regular basis. As Dr Geraldine Weissmann, the editor-in-chief of the journal which published the research findings said; “we may never be able to call bacon a health food with a straight face, but similar studies are already making us rethink what we consider healthy and unhealthy.”

High levels of choline are also found in liver, milk, chicken and nuts – but I like the sound of bacon and eggs better!

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