Monday, April 30, 2012

Lumosity for your Emotions?

According to a new book entitled The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley, everybody has six different emotional dimensions – much like the intelligence dimensions identified in my Lumosity program.
Instead of speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving, according the authors our six emotional dimensions are:

Resilience: How slowly or quickly you recover from adversity.
Outlook: How long you are able to sustain positive emotion.
Social intuition: How adept you are at picking up social signals from the people around you.
Self-awareness: How well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions.
Sensitivity to context: How good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the social context you find yourself in.
Attention: How sharp and clear your focus is.

Is this relevant to us brain-damaged types?  Ask yourself this, “How quickly did you emotionally bounce back from learning that you had a brain tumor?” (Or some other equally ominous illness) “Have you been able to smile since your operation? Did you stand up and start yelling and screaming in the middle of a two-star, white-table cloth restaurant when you snuck a peak at your smart phone and learned that Derrick Rose tore his ACL?”

About now you might be wondering, as I did, how did Davidson dream up these six dimensions? (Was he at the restaurant?)

Or, since he’s a Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, did Davidson come up with these six areas over some fine Wisconsin beers one night?  (Personally I like Central Water’s Mud Puppy Porter from Stevens Point.) While I can’t tell you that the idea didn’t start over a couple of cold ones, given that he’s a Harvard-educated neuroscientist and a professor of psychology and psychiatry, he’s verified these segments based on based on activity identified in specific brain circuits.

Happily, if you have a propensity for standing up and screaming in spiffy restaurants, these emotional styles can be altered. "We have the power," Davidson contends, "to live our lives and train our brains in ways that will shift where we fall on each of the six dimensions of emotional style."

This ability of our brains (personalities?) to learn to better mitigate bad news, or situations that make you want to scream, is good news.

What about other socially marginal behavior? According recent article by Heidi Stevens of the Tribune Newspapers, this research suggests that if you have troubles navigating a cocktail party of boors (or bores)”, your brain is malleable enough so that you can improve your ability to navigate, or maybe even tolerate, the boors (or bores).

To my ears, “boor navigating” sounds like a new Lumosity game ready to be written.

If you’re interested, check out Davidson interview on youtube:

And here’s a link to Ms. Stevens’ witty Tribune article about the book:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Seeing the dentist today, should I ask him about meningioma & X-rays?

Having just read the recent study on the possible relationship between X-rays and meningioma, I am wondering about my dentist appointment today.  Should I ask him if he’s heard of the study? If he wants to take X-rays, should I say “yes”? I know that the intensity of the X-rays is much lower now, but so is the capacity of my head to ward off such invasions. Or is that really true? Am I more susceptible now that I’ve had a tumor? 

I wish we knew more about this.

If they want to take X-rays, I’m going to politely decline.  I think that fixing a cavity is easier to fix than a re-energized brain tumor.

Has anybody else faced this situation?  What have you done?

“Living in Aluminum” – No, not my prosthetic skull

I was recently listening to Antsy McClain’s excellent song, Living in Aluminum which has some lyrics that resonated with me, and I thought you they might resonate with you, too. Here’s the first couple of lines:

There’s a lot to be said about contentment; some folks never get enough.
Let me ask you honey, which is better? A mansion full of money, or a trailer full of love?

There’s a lot to be said about acceptance; liking who you are and having peace of mind.
The secret’s being happy with your lot in life, baby, And I’m pretty happy here in lot number nine.”

Now for Antsy, “The message of this song, I hope, rings loud enough to be heard over the catchy music and driving rhythm. It was written about the trap of materialism, and how I needed to focus on more important things in life.”

Unlike Antsy, I keep hearing the lines about “contentment” and “liking who you are and having peace of mind.” To me, those lines are good reminders that even though I’m not who I was prior to having a brain tumor, I should really focus on "being happy with my lot in life."

For me, that isn’t always easy…but it’s sure easier when I listen to Antsy sing it. While I prefer the studio version, here’s his version. (Don’t listen to it twice or you’ll be humming it all day long).

And, to be clear, my prosthetic insert is made of the finest grade of plastic we could afford

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Importance of “Fluid Intelligence”

I just finished reading a terrific article on fluid intelligence by Dan Hurley that was published in the NY Times on April 18th.

According to Hurley, “Psychologists have long regarded intelligence as coming in two flavors: crystallized intelligence, the treasure trove of stored-up information and how-to knowledge (the sort of thing tested on “Jeopardy!” or put to use when you ride a bicycle); and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence grows as you age; fluid intelligence has long been known to peak in early adulthood, around college age, and then to decline gradually.”

So what is fluid intelligence and why should I care about it?  According to his article, “Fluid intelligence (is) the capacity to solve novel problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things.”

Hurley goes on to report that, “What long-term memory is to crystallized intelligence, working memory is to fluid intelligence. Working memory is more than just the ability to remember a telephone number long enough to dial it; it’s the capacity to manipulate the information you’re holding in your head — to add or subtract those numbers, place them in reverse order or sort them from high to low. Understanding a metaphor or an analogy is equally dependent on working memory; you can’t follow even a simple statement like “See Jane run” if you can’t put together how “see” and “Jane” connect with “run.” Without it, you can’t make sense of anything.”

Hurley traces the recent explosion in intelligence training back to a couple of relatively recent research studies. One of the studies that jump-started the interest in brain-building was a 2008 study by Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl in which they found that young adults who practiced a rather simple brain-builder game “…showed improvement in a fundamental cognitive ability known as ‘fluid’ intelligence: the capacity to solve novel problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things. The implication was that playing the game literally makes people smarter.”

Since the publication of this study,”… others have achieved results similar to Jaeggi’s not only in elementary-school children but also in preschoolers, college students and the elderly. 

The training tasks generally require only 15 to 25 minutes of work per day, five days a week, and have been found to improve scores on tests of fluid intelligence in as little as four weeks. 

Follow-up studies linking that improvement to real-world gains in schooling and job performance are just getting under way. But already, people with disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.) and traumatic brain injury have seen benefits from training. Gains can persist for up to eight months after treatment.”

To be sure, there are still well-respected researchers who are suspicious of the results.

But there also guys like Harold Hawkins, a cognitive psychologist at the Office of Naval Research who oversees most of the U.S. military’s studies in the area, who expressed, according to Hurley, a now more and more common view, “For him, the question now is not whether cognitive training works but how strongly and how best to achieve it." In the NY Times article he’s quoted as saying, “Until about four or five years ago, we believed that fluid intelligence is immutable in adulthood. No one believed that training could possibly achieve dramatic improvements in this very fundamental cognitive ability. Then Jaeggi’s work came along. That’s when I started to move my funding from some other areas into this area. I personally believe, and if I didn’t believe it I wouldn’t be making an investment of the taxpayers’ money, that there’s something here. It’s potentially of extremely profound importance.”

As a brain-tumor victim, I found  Hurley’s article thoughtful, well-researched and helpful.  I think you will, too.  Here’s a link:

Perhaps the most important learning I’m taking away from this article is the importance of working memory and it's connection with fluid intelligence.  With that in mind (so to speak), I’m going to spend more time on working memory focused games in Lumosity, e.g. Memory Lane (which I haven’t tried yet), Memory Match, Memory Match Overload, Monster Garden and Rhyme Workout.