Posts Tagged ‘brain function’
A new study by Aron K. Barbey out of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and published in Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience, has made some interesting discoveries about emotional intelligence and general intelligence. In the article, “The study found significant overlap between general intelligence and emotional intelligence, both in terms of behavior and in the brain. Higher scores on general intelligence tests corresponded significantly with higher performance on measures of emotional intelligence, and many of the same brain regions were found to be important to both.”
The article, published online at R & D Magazine (http://www.rdmag.com/news/2013/01/researchers-map-emotional-intelligence-brain), continues, “The new findings will help scientists and clinicians understand and respond to brain injuries in their patients, Barbey says, but the results also are of broader interest because they illustrate the interdependence of general and emotional intelligence in the healthy mind.”
Barbey also states, “Intelligence, to a large extent, does depend on basic cognitive abilities, like attention and perception and memory and language…But it also depends on interacting with other people. We’re fundamentally social beings and our understanding not only involves basic cognitive abilities but also involves productively applying those abilities to social situations so that we can navigate the social world and understand others.”
We find this discovery of how important it is for us to be able to connect to others a notable outcome; another essential reason to improve our listening acuity.
Follow the link above to the article to learn more, and then share your thoughts with us. We’d love to hear your insightful comments.
There’s always new research being done on listening. I only report to you what’s documented, even the outré ones. Following are three pieces that I found fascinating.
1. According to the research results reported on Science Daily, children who participate in music lessons for as few as 1 to 5 years show improved neural processing of sounds as they near adulthood. This may translate to enhanced listening and learning for a lifetime.
“Based on what we already know about the ways that music helps shape the brain the study suggests that short-term music lessons may enhance lifelong listening and learning.” says Nina Kraus, the Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Communication Sciences at Northwestern.
2. This one requires a bit of a stretch to see how the research relates to listening—it’s really about voice, which is definitely an aspect of listening.
Sucking in helium from a balloon gives humans a squeaky, high-pitch-sounding voice, because the gas, which is less dense than air, pushes the resonance frequencies of the vocal tract upwards, but doesn’t change the sound at its source. An analysis of the gibbon’s squeaky songs suggested that the same is true for these apes. Like humans, the origin of the sound of a gibbon’s call, which occurs in the larynx, is separate from the vocal tools used to modify it, the research showed. [Listen to Gibbon Calls]
What’s more, the analysis demonstrated gibbons have expert control over the tuning of their vocal cords and tract when singing — an ability that is important to the subtleties of human speech and is mastered by soprano singers.
“This is the first evidence that gibbons always sing using soprano techniques, a difficult [vocalization] ability for humans which is only mastered by professional opera singers,” Nishimura said. “This gives us a new appreciation of the evolution of speech in gibbons while revealing that the physiological foundation in human speech is not so unique.”
The study was published this week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
3. Do you hate it when people complain? It turns out there’s a good reason: Listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways, according to Trevor Blake, a serial entrepreneur and author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life. In the book, he describes how neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a long gripe session.
“The brain works more like a muscle than we thought,” Blake says. “So if you’re pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you’re more likely to behave that way as well.”
Even worse, being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity–including viewing such material on TV–actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus. “That’s the part of your brain you need for problem solving,” he says. “Basically, it turns your brain to mush.”
Share any research you come upon, straight and kooky.
When we are exposed to any learning situation, it’s challenging to hold onto the new information and skills. One sure way to sustain the gains is to use every listening encounter as an opportunity to practice. Learning, like any other brain activity, is seeded when we consciously pay attention or truly listen.
Following are some tips about how to sustain what you learn:
Logic behind learning: why’s help retain how’s—Listen to figure out the purpose of what you learned and how the learning will fit into what you already know or take you into an entirely new realm of knowledge. Memorizing isn’t listening; listening goes to deep understanding.
Practice pulls theory; theory pulls practice—Putting theory to work makes it real and the more you practice what you’ve learned the more it becomes an integral part of your repertoire.
Interest in topic—I often say that “boring” is in the ears of the listener. What may not be of high interest to you might be fascinating to someone else, so try to listen for aspects that stimulate your interest and connect to what you’ve recently learned.
Novelty—Listening for new information or knowledge keeps our brains supple. If you can leave an interaction by saying, “Wow, I never thought of that,” you’ve proved yourself to have an open mind, a key component of a master listener.
Multiple settings—Listening occurs everywhere. When you learn to listen better at work, you can also listen better at home or in a social setting. Listen to identify how your newly acquired learning relates to the settings in which you find yourself.
Community—Listening is a group activity. Groups are comprised of individuals who require you to listen differently and purposefully to each person. Allow the community to test your new learning as well as to build upon it.
Skill development—The more you practice listening, the more likely you will hear more and be able to apply what you learn. Use your learning as a platform to acquire more skills.
Continual exposure—When you learn something new, pay attention to where else that new learning might occur. Listen to people talking about the subject matter, especially if they’re more knowledgeable than you.
No multitasking–we humans are only capable of “serial attention.” When mental attentiveness is required, we are actually “singletaskers,” not multitaskers, and there is no changing the way our brains are fundamentally structured. Discipline your mind to focus, focus, focus on the learning.
I tend to think the word learning connotes the integration of knowledge into your overall schema. Listening brings in the knowledge and if you consciously practice the learning at every opportunity, you’ll sustain the growth.
The invisible gorilla decade-old experiment was designed to show that we’re not aware of as much as we might think. In the experiment volunteers watched a video of a group tossing a ball and were told to count the number of times the ball was tossed. About half the viewers failed to notice a gorilla (in a fake suit) walk through the group they were watching.
Science News (12/3/11, p 10) reported on an experiment that took the gorilla-suit concept and applied it to listening. Psychologist Polly Dalton of the University of London created a recording of two men talking as they prepared food and two women as they wrapped a gift. Volunteers wore headphones and listened to the recordings that simulated the four characters moving about the room as they talked. During the recording, and for 19 seconds, “gorilla man” repeated, “I’m a gorilla.”
A very high percentage of the volunteers who were told to follow the women’s conversation and a third of those who followed the men, didn’t hear gorilla man at all. Gorilla man’s voice passed closer to the men in the scene, which Dalton claims, accounts for some of the reasons the men might have detected the gorilla more often.
Dr. Dalton’s experiment provides us with more research about how unconscious we are about what is happening around us. No one would ever say the ball tossers nor the headphones users were unfocused, they were hyper-focused. Still they missed something crucial that was in their midst.
Think about the people who are killed crossing a road while texting. They get so embroiled in their activity that they fail to listen to their surroundings. Our job is to know when we need to block out extraneous information and sounds, and when we need to scan the environment to take it all in.
Be aware; there are “gorilla men” everywhere.
Following is an excerpt from The Brain: A User’s Guide, The Daily Telegraph by Nigel Farndale posted 11:30 AM BST 24 Apr 2012. He interviews David Eagleman the brilliant neuroscientist I’ve written about before. Here’s Eagleman’s response to Farndale’s question:
Is the Internet changing the brains of youngsters?
“It certainly is,” he says, “especially in the way we seek information. When we were growing up it was all about ‘just in case’ information, the Battle of Hastings and so on. Now it is ‘just in time’ learning, where a kid looks something up online if he needs to know about it. This means kids today are becoming less good at memorising, but in other ways their method of learning is superior to ours because it targets neurotransmitters in the brain, ones that are related to curiosity, emotional salience and interactivity. So I think there might be some real advantages to where this is going. Kids are becoming faster at searching for information. When you or I read, our eyes scan down the page, but for a Generation-Y kid, their eyes will have a different set of movements, top, then side, then bottom and that is the layout of webpages.”
I recently had an experience with my eight-year-old granddaughter, Hannah that echoes Eagleman’s explanation. Hannah began reading early and prodigiously. She reads faster and more accurately than most adults, including me, so I’m curious about her reading process.
She came for a visit with her family during spring break, and I tried to watch her read to see if I could figure it out without being noticed. That part was easy because she’s not distractible when engrossed in a book. She was re-reading one of the Harry Potter’s as well as a different tome, with equally as many pages.
Just as Eagleman describes, Hannah’s eyes did not move across the page, line after line. Instead she seemed to look at the whole page then read in a “z” like pattern. What is interesting though is that she doesn’t spend much time at all on the Internet, even though she’s adept at using a computer.
I intend to continue observing her and her brother Izzy to see how the Internet is shaping their brains. One thing’s for sure; they’re not at all intimidated by technology.
At the Conference on World Affairs (an excellent meeting of the minds conducted annually at CU-Boulder), Drew Westen, a member of the panel, “The Human Brain, Not Perfect, but Good Enough,” explained the Heightened State of Latent Activation principle. Let’s look beyond the academic words to assess what the term means to us when we listen.
Dr. Westen performed the following experiment with the audience:
- He repeated four words: two of which were “ocean” and “moon.”
- Next he asked: “What laundry detergent comes to mind?”
- Those of us who thought of “Tide” raised our hands.
- Drew estimated about 80% of the audience, the typical percentage, raised our hands.
Dr. Westen explained that our results were predictable and replicable wherever Tide is sold, not because it is the most famous brand in the world, but because he primed us with the words “ocean” and “moon” without our being aware of his ploy. He primed us with words that relate to tides, which put our brains into search mode for familiar connections.
Our brains gravitate to prior experiences: e.g. we leap to conclusions when the words we hear are similar to ones we’ve heard before. That’s part of why we don’t listen fully; we gravitate to existing networks to select what we listen to.
More research on this subject was reported in the March 24, 2012 issue of Science News in an article by Laura Sanders, “Brain cells know how you will bet.” She says, “…nerve cells deep in the brain know what to do. And these cells know the plan seconds before the person actually decides on a course of action.” Thus, those neural networks are functioning well in advance of our conscious decision-making.
So what do these studies show us about listening?
- There’s a constant battle between our conscious attention and the brain’s control function—we don’t know 80% of what’s going on in our brain, so we better take advantage of the 20%
- Listening requires focus and intention for the information to be of any value
- We use intuitive theories about what we’ve heard and make up answers for what we don’t know—that can be dangerous if we don’t listen well to what is being presented to us
- Since our brains tend to be ahead of our conscious selves, staying present is our best chance for alignment between sender and receiver—or as someone else on the panel said, “Our unconscious processes can’t think and do at the same time.”
Listen with all the openness you have. When you come from a place of knowing, it messes you up to think about it and blocks most of what the sender has to offer.
We were on a bush walk in South Australia and came upon a sign that said the area is the habitat of the very rare (only about 260) glossy black cockatoo. If you saw that sign, what would you do? Right, haul out your binoculars, walk very quietly, and look around. We saw evidence of the seeds they feed on, so we were sure we’d spot the bird. No luck, so we continued on the hike, all the way down an embankment to the water, across river rocks to our destination, The Old Cannery.
It wasn’t much of a site, but the journey there was worth it. On our return trip, once again at the place the bird could be, I wondered what would happen if my partner became incapacitated. I certainly would not be able to get him out. Just then, as I was walking along, looking up for yet once more chance to see the magnificent bird, I tripped and fell hard onto roots and rocks.
My wrist and arm were sore, my hand was bleeding, and my pride severely damaged. Once we hiked out, I was able to drive the car, albeit uncomfortably. We changed our ferry reservation to earlier, and went home to ice, ibuprofen and a wrap. All that happened on a Friday.
We returned to Colorado the following Monday and I saw an orthopedist the next day. Yes, I had two small breaks and was fitted with a splint to immobilize my wrist.
Here’s the part where my brain comes in. On the trip I read a most fascinating book The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD. Most of the book is about brain plasticity, including how the brain creates new maps to deal with malfunctions and injuries. So, I decided to observe what was happening as my brain and body had to cope with my wrist.
First of all, I’m very left handed and the break is on that side. Beforehand I did very little with my right side, but it came to attention almost immediately. I drove to the ferry with my left hand on the gearshift (ouch) but my right arm, almost without my being aware, reached over to help. Since then, I observe myself becoming more and more ambidextrous: eating, brushing hair, closing car door, cooking, sorting laundry, typing (as fluid as ever with right and peck with left), and sleeping on my other side.
It might be wishful thinking, but I also notice my thoughts are more concrete and I’m more apt to remember details. I even found myself to a destination with logic rather than my GPS. Maybe Dr. Doidge’s writing is influencing me, or maybe what I’m experiencing is what he writes about. Whichever, I intend to keep using my right hand once the left is healed because I like having greater capacity.
Have you ever had a similar situation? What did you notice?
There was an excellent article on January 14, 2012 in Science News titled “Brainy ballplayers: Elite Athletes get their heads in the game” by Nick Bascom. The article explains the vital role brainpower has in the prowess of super athletes (and the rest of us too).
The article not only does an excellent job of citing the latest research on the relationship of the brain to athletic performance, it also explains some of the terms neuroscientists and other specialists are using these days. Here are definitions of some of those terms to upgrade our shared knowledge:
Overall brain activation: neural regions that are engaged. The more expert we are the lower the overall brain activation we display. In other words, we don’t use what we don’t need to do a task with focused attention.
Brain Mapping: set of neuroscience techniques that spatially represent the activity of the brain to show what the brain is doing whether we are consciously or unconsciously engaged.
Motor centers: Areas of the brain that direct movement (superior parietal and premotor). These areas are heightened for professional athletes while amateurs show dispersed activity, especially in the regions that control emotions (basal ganglia and limbic system). It’s why high-performing people tune out everything but what they are doing at the moment.
Optimal solution: Experts don’t pay too much conscious attention to what they’re doing; rather they rely upon their expert brain that knows what to do. In the article he sites Yogi Berra’s famous line, “I can’t think and hit the ball at the same time.” So much for the multitaskers among us.
Automaticity: To access complex actions automatically requires a huge amount of training and practice to develop nerve connections. The author says attributes we’re born with play a big role in how close to perfection we can come, regardless of the amount of practice.
Noise: Sensory static that “prevents the muscles from hearing the message the brain is sending.”
Mirror-neurons: a system for matching what you do with what you see others doing.
Anticipation: the ability to predict a movement. We decide if we should expend energy on a certain response by reading what another person is doing. I think of people listening, and sometimes people shut down because they aren’t interested enough to follow along. The ability to anticipate well means one can sort out relevant versus irrelevant clues. That can be expedient or troublesome.
Forward models: the ability to pre-plan. Previous experiences allow the brain to go into calculation mode to predict how to respond.
Priors: the accumulated knowledge the person has seen before. The expert’s predictive machine is constantly being updated. That’s why many CEO’s will say they trust their gut to make a decision when actually it’s their forward model and priors telling them what they know and what the likelihood of success will be.
Prefrontal cortex: part of the brain often called The Director. It’s job is to control information and sometimes it puts us into over-analysis, which paralyzes and clouds judgment. We overthink when we should just be listening, not judging, composing, or thinking.
The article ends with a quote from a song by En Vogue, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.” Of course, there’s also this one, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”