14 August 2015

Left Handers’ Day

Did you know that people who are left handed have a special day dedicated to them?  The 13th August.  It was a day to celebrate the fact that lefties are special as they represent less than 10% of the population.

Lefties often claim special skills.  For example, did you know that three of the last four US presidents are left handed, as were Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Bill Gates and Bart Simpson!

Because the brain is cross-wired to the opposite side of the body, it is often claimed that left-handedness is associated with the type of creativity sometimes associated with the right hemisphere of the brain.  While there appears to be some evidence to support this, there is no evidence to support the claim that all left-handers are right-brained.

Interestingly, the incidence of left-handedness appears to be consistently around 10% of the population everywhere in the world.  It is also interesting that in virtually every society left-handers have been persecuted.  I recall that one of my friends at primary school in the 1960s in a small village in Lincolnshire used to get caned by our teacher if he was caught writing with his left hand.  Why our teacher thought that handedness mattered and what psychotic perversity led him to believe that corporal punishment was needed to correct such a trivial matter is anyone’s guess.

So why is right-handedness more prevalent than left-handedness?  The answer to this question is not known but numerous theories exist ranging from hemispheric lateralization in the brain to genetic factors.  Interestingly a study of ultrasound scans of human foetuses in 1991 found that at 15 weeks most foetuses prefer to suck their right thumb, hinting that handedness is present prior to birth. Interestingly, Hepper et al. followed up this study of 75 individuals. They found that the 60 foetuses that preferred to suck their right thumb were indeed right-handed as teenagers, and of the 15 foetuses that preferred to suck their left thumb, 5 were right-handed and 10 were left-handed.

Whether handedness is an inherited genetic trait or not is also not known.  In 1991 Robert Collins of the Jackson Laboratory attempted to breed left- or right-handed mice.  Since the attempt failed it suggests that handedness is not inherited.  However, the study did find that left or right paw dominance was associated with higher levels of dopamine in the corresponding hemisphere, leading to suggestions that physiological and neurological lateralisation are associated.

Left Handers’ Day may seem like a bit of a gimmick, but as a result of highlighting the plight of left handers many things have improved.  For example, whereas once items such as can openers, scissors and computer mice were only available in right-handed versions, today many more products are designed to be ambidextrous.

To find out more about Left Hander’s Day visit www.lefthandersday.com.

13 August 2015

Do Brain Games Work?

I was recently asked whether the variety of brain games and brain apps available that are promoted as a means of keeping your brain fit and healthy are any good. 

The answer I gave was that while there does appear to be some support for the notion that cognitive exercise can help maintain cognitive capacity and what neuroscientists call 'cognitive reserve', I am not aware of any hard evidence to support the claims of the brain game manufacturers.  

The best piece of research I could find on the subject was a study by the consumer watchdog Which? in 2009, where they looked at the validity of the claims made by products such as Dr Kawashima's Brain Training.  Coincidentally, I had one bought for me by my children as a Christmas present, but stopped using it after it said I had the brain of an 83 year old!
Which? began by asking the manufacturers what the benefits of using their products were and to back their claims up with evidence. They sent this to three experts and asked if they thought the evidence justified the claims. They looked at whether the evidence related directly to the product concerned and whether it had been checked by experts working in the same field and published in a reputable scientific journal.
As an example, one manufacturer claimed that “in just 20 minutes a day, the CD will help increase thinking ability, prevent brain aging, and hone memory, language, concentration, visual/spatial skills and executive function.”
One of Nintendo’s claims was that playing the game helps improve blood flow to the frontal cortex and thereby improve "practical intelligence". But the three neuroscientists consulted by Which? said there was no evidence that an increased blood flow had "any functional impact on your life whatsoever."
Which? Editor Martyn Hocking said: "If people enjoy using these games, then they should continue to do so - that's a no-brainer. But if people are under the illusion that these devices are scientifically proven to keep their minds in shape, they need to think again."

10 August 2015

The Brain at Work Seminar - Additional Date

As there are very few places remaining on our free seminar on the 8th September, we have added another seminar the following month on Thursday 8th October.

The purpose of the seminar is to demonstrate the tools and materials MyBrain International provide to enable people to incorporate the subject of neuroscience in their own learning and development work.

Attendees at the seminar will also have the opportunity to complete a MiND profile. MiND is the world’s first and only neurometric - a profiling tool based on the latest neurological research that is used to identify the causal link between the psychology of a person and the physiology of their brain. This insight has made MiND a genuinely ground-breaking tool as, for the first time, we are able to go beyond the mere assessment of how people think by providing an explanation of why they think the way they do.

Click here for more information on the seminar and a link to the booking system.

If you would like to attend but are unable to make either of these dates or location, please get in touch so that we can see if we can accommodate you at a future event.

New Evidence of the Brain Body Connection

A new study published in the journal Nature (Louveau et al.,2015) appears to present new evidence of the connectedness of the body to the brain.  Until now it was thought that the lymphatic system, a vital component in our immune system, operated throughout the body but that it did not pass into the tissues of the brain.  However, the discovery announced in this report is that the team have discovered vessels located in the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (the meninges) that connects the brain to the immune system.
Whereas previously the brain had been thought of as independent of the immune system, these findings demonstrate that the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system.
The finding will hopefully have major implications for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it.  For example, the large protein chunks that build up in the brains of Alzheimer sufferers may be as a result of the failure of these vessels to remove them efficiently.  If that is the case entirely new medicines may emerge to treat Alzheimer’s as a result of these findings.
As with all research, the timescale for it to translate into effective human treatments is relatively slow.  But the discovery of these previously unknown structures is nevertheless a major advance in our understanding of the brain and neurodegenerative illnesses.
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