17 June 2009

Addicted to gambling?

I am off to Ascot tomorrow and asked a friend what I would need to do to place a bet. 10 minutes later, having learned about odds and betting “each way” or betting to lose, she admitted she had an online account with a betting agency and regularly nips into a well known high street betting shop. She said it was the thrill of the win that kept her going back and it got me thinking about addiction to gambling.
 There is mounting evidence from brain studies that behavioural addictions are very similar to chemical ones. According to addiction specialist Eric Nestler of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical centre in Dallas, drug addictions and “natural” addictions seem to involve shared pathways in the brain. The brains of sex or gambling addicts all show the same responses and reactions to the abuse of drugs. Addictive drugs cause dopamine release in the brain, triggering a desire to keep taking them and it is now known that some behaviours such as gambling act on the same reward system. When addicted, gamblers keep gambling and the occasional dopamine rush of winning overrides their conscious knowledge that they will lose in the long run.  I guess that behavioural addictions will only increase in the next few years – not everyone will try an illegal drug or have a flutter on the horses, but most of us use computers and many more people are playing interactive games or gambling online. People in today’s society have lots of opportunities and abundance but of course this is completely different from the scarcity in which our reward systems evolved. According to Peter Whybrow, author of American Mania, we are putting these systems into overload – and the only thing that stops us is self constraint. He offers a powerful quote “if politicians and leaders understood how the brain works, they would not be building society as they are doing”.
I will try to keep that top of mind as I experiment with a little flutter tomorrow, whilst exercising self constraint of course.

14 June 2009

Curvy hips are a sign of intelligence

Researchers at the Universities of Pittsburg and California, Santa Barbara have found that women with an hourglass figure are likely to have a higher IQ than their leaner counterparts and that their children are likely to be more intelligent also.

They also found that men found women with an hourglass figure more attractive. (Who pays for this research? Ed.)

So by adding 2 and 2 and getting 5, the researchers concluded that men are attracted to shapely women because they are more likely to have intelligent offspring!

On a more serious note, the research was actually looking at the fatty acids that aid the development of the brain and found that the fat around a woman’s hips and thighs hold higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain growth during pregnancy, whereas the fat around the waist contains higher levels of omega 6 fatty acids, which can actually have a negative effect on brain development. Women with wide hips and narrow waists are therefore better suited to producing babies with better developed brains.

Click here to read a longer article on the subject on the MyBrain website.

Do we need more women in business?

The business environment is changing. We are moving away from the left-brained logic of the past towards an environment in which organisations need to connect with their customers, employees and shareholders at an emotional level.
Customers are increasing the emphasis they place on the aesthetic qualities of products, shareholders are enquiring about a company’s ethical policies before purchasing shares and employees want to be engaged, not simply employed. Business is therefore becoming more right-brained.
According to the Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, an expert in the differences between male and female brains, “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” Since both of these qualities are important, is there not an argument for companies appointing more women to senior positions, not for reasons of fairness or equality, but because it makes good business sense? However, even today, men outnumber women in senior management and board positions by a ratio of roughly 10 to 1.
In her article Do Women Make Better Managers Joanna Krotz links the increasing need for right-brain thinking to the increasing success of women in business. Gregg Dyke, the former Director General of the BBC made a similar point when interviewed on Radio 4 in 2006; he said that right-brained thinking was becoming increasingly important and that of the people in the BBC he regarded as most suitable for promotion to senior management positions, 80% of them were women.
What do you think? Please add your comments to the blog.

01 June 2009

Learning to remember

Like many parents over half term, I have spent a lot of time nagging the kids about their revision, particularly my teenage son, who, although traditionally “clever”, seems to lack any semblance of motivation!

This weekend I read an article in the Daily Mail on how to beat forgetfulness, by eight-times world memory champion Dominic O'Brien. I decided to try a couple of his memory enhancing techniques for helping my son remember some of his science facts. O’Brian talks about the journey method, where you place things at different stages of a familiar route. He cites professional golfers who are able to recall step by step details of their games, what clubs they used, when, where and the result. If you think about it they are recalling a huge amount of complex numerical data and they do this by forming a mental route consisting of 18 stages around the course. At each stage, they have stationed specific facts about their game. When they mentally retrace their steps, the golfers recall, by association, the details stored along their journey.

My son is a good golfer and regularly plays on a local 9 hole course. The number 9 made sense to me as research shows that the human brain can only consciously process up to 9 pieces of information at one time before going into overwhelm. So we mentally walked around the course together, discussing his biology - enzymes, plant cells, photosynthesis, respiration etc on different tees, greens and parts of the course. He recalled the information so well, that when we moved on to his RS, we used the same method for the parables of the Lost Son, the Good Samaritan, The moment of enlightenment for Buddha and the Gurus within the Sikh faith to name a few.

He actually seemed to enjoy the process and wasn’t bored, but I did wake up with a start last night wondering if he would mix up the subjects as they are “lodged” in the same location on the golf course - and the same location in his brain! Only time will tell…..

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