The Brain & Learning Monthly - June 2012
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Your Brain Science Newsletter
June 2012

Exam Season & Performance Anxiety
Whether it’s performance anxiety over school exams, making a presentation for a high-stakes business bid or taking part in a sporting competition, most people suffer pre-performance jitters.Traditionally, it’s been suggested that we not focus on anxiety lest it affect outcome. But now, research suggests it might not be a bad idea to do just that.

A new study published in the journal Science shows that students can combat test anxiety and improve performance by writing about their worries before the exam begins.

1) Write Down What Worries You

Dr. Sian Beilock at the University of Chicago found that students who were prone to test anxiety improved their exam scores by nearly one grade point after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear. It’s believed the writing exercise allows students to unload their anxieties, thus freeing up brainpower needed to complete the test more successfully.

Dr. Beilock says even though teachers may not offer the chance to write about pre-exam worries, students should plan to take the time themselves. Likewise, she contends that doing so before other pressure-filled situations, such as before giving a speech or a business presentation, would similarly help to improve the outcome.

In other research, Dr. Beilock has shown that high-pressure situations can deplete a part of the brain’s processing power known as working memory. This is the memory necessary for many everyday activities, allowing us to jot down things that need to be kept in mind as we go through our day.

When we’re stressed, this area of our brain becomes overburdened. It’s no wonder we feel disorganized and less productive when we’re anxious or stressed.
 Writing down feelings makes some sense, since journaling has been proved to be an effective way to decrease worries in those who suffer from emotional or traumatic stresses.

2) Tips for Decreasing Performance Anxiety

Dr. Beilock is the author of a book entitled Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, which gives advice on how to avoid underperforming when the pressure is on. While some sections are academic, the practical tips may give you that extra edge to help you get ahead.

Other strategies may also help decrease performance anxiety:

  • Being physically ready is key. Make sure you get enough sleep and are well rested before an important event.
  • Think positively and expect to do well.
  • Learn simple breathing techniques that can help calm an upset stomach and racing heart. Breathing exercises also help you relax and focus.

Integrative medicine specialist Dr. Andrew Weil has an excellent series of breathing exercises on his website.

Read: Spotting Dyslexia May Be Possible Even Before Kids Learn To Read

Scientists have argued for decades about why roughly 10 percent of the world's population has dyslexia or reading difficulties. Bright and verbal, people with dyslexia have trouble with the written word. But can the problem be solved before it even begins? Identifying children with dyslexia as preschoolers could lead to better solutions, saving years of frustration in school. Researchers in Padua, Italy, tested kindergartners who had not yet learned to read. Those who did poorly on visual attention tests were more likely to struggle with reading later on. Screening children at a very young age could prevent reading struggles that often follow people well into adulthood. Read the full Article Here.

Play: Stimulating Brain Games...

Copy That

What do seven colors, beeps and honks have to do with your memory? Copy That is a Simon Says-like game that tests your visual and auditory skills. See how many patterns you can correctly mimic in this fun game. Watch the buttons light up, then try to repeat the pattern. Every time you succeed, the pattern will change, and get more complicated, too! But watch out, because three strikes and you’re out! Have fun! Play Copy That.

Food for Thought...Brain Boosting Food

Pasta with Walnut, Pesto, Sausage, and Broccoli

Did you know that brain-healthy ingredients and incredible flavor can go hand-in-hand? This recipe has three of 10 brainpower boosting ingredients as prescribed by the . In this delicious pasta dish, Italian sausage, pesto, walnuts, and broccoli are combined for an awesome meal that will make your mouth sing. Try some good-for-your-brain food today! Learn How to Make Delicious Brain Food Here.

How Brain Training Can Change Lives!

Every day, our targeted brain-training programs help kids, mothers and even career adults strengthen the cognitive skills that determine how well they learn, read, remember, and think.

Taking this free 5-minute survey is a great first step to understanding the reason you or someone you love is struggling. It's also the first step to discovering what you can do about it.

In this video,
Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research & Development for LearningRx and BrainRx answers some of your questions about Brain Training.

Watch: Feats of memory anyone can do

There are people who can quickly memorize lists of thousands of numbers, the order of all the cards in a deck (or ten!), and much more. Science writer Joshua Foer describes the technique -- called the memory palace -- and shows off its most remarkable feature: anyone can learn how to use it, including him.
Joshua Foer is a science writer who 'accidentally' won the U.S. Memory Championship. Enjoy this fun and engaging TED Talk.

Book Review: Imagine by Jonah Lehrer

Review by Christopher Chabris

Jonah Lehrer tells many stories in “Imagine: How Creativity Works.” Along with admen, his examples come from famous musicians and poets, obscure scientists, even large corporations like 3M and Eli Lilly. He deploys them to illustrate the science of creativity, and he derives from that science some tips for readers to become more creative and for society to promote innovative thinking.
The story-study-lesson cycle is a proven formula in science writing, but in Lehrer’s hands it grows formulaic. The stories too often feature clichéd piffle (a chance interaction, he says, can “change the way we think about everything”) and end with treacly flourishes (“This is what we sound like when nothing is holding us back”). Conclusions appear that don’t really make sense: from the intriguing fact that certain dementia patients suddenly become very creative, Lehrer deduces “an uplifting moral, which is that all of us contain a vast reservoir of untapped creativity.” But the research says nothing about “all of us,” nor whether and how we might access this conjectured reserve.
Creativity resists easy study; to measure creative potential in individuals, psychologists still rely on tests that are more than 40 years old and far from universally admired. Lehrer elides this history in favor of more recent research in two broad categories: neuroscience (what happens in the brain around moments of insight or invention) and context (what kinds of external conditions foster creative achievement).

Lehrer often errs in drawing causal conclusions from data that is merely correlational. For example, after describing a study that found that highly creative employees consulted more colleagues on their projects than did less creative employees (a correlation between creativity and social interaction), Lehrer concludes, “office conversations are so powerful that simply increasing their quantity can dramatically increase creative production.” But it seems equally plausible that productive people who are brimming with ideas will be chattier than their unproductive, blocked fellows. Just as chattiness might lead to creativity, so might creativity lead to chattiness. As the study is described, either could be true. But Lehrer does not acknowledge this possibility, let alone tell us whether it has been tested.

The best way to think about “Imagine” is as a collection of interesting stories and studies to ponder and research further. Use it as a source of inspiration, but make your own careful choices about whether to believe what it says about the science of creativity.
Christopher Chabris is a psychology professor at Union College and a co-author, with Daniel Simons, of “The Invisible Gorilla, and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us.”

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