Tag Archives: Cognition

Will mind, body, and soul melt into nothingness when I can no longer drive?

For this first BLOG post I have chosen to comment on an article that I came across. The article deals with the scientific findings that support the notion that driving cessation has adverse effects on cognition, mental and physical health. The cognitive research that is involved in this study would allow people to understand just what the cessation of driving can do to someone that has gotten used to driving and taking care of themselves (being independent). The objective of the study is to determine what effect driving cessation has on the health and well-being of older adults. The quantitative data within the experiment used a cross sectional, cohort control design that had a comparison group of current drivers. Researchers have concluded that drivers 55 and older tend to experience an emotional and physical decline once they stop driving. They found, based on 16 studies, that driving cessation is associated with a decline in health, social, cognitive, and physical functions. They also were able to distinguish that these people that stopped driving were at a higher risk to be admitted to a long term care facility, and were also at a higher risk of dying (mortality). The researchers found that car ownership and driving is directly related to the amount of independence and satisfaction with life that an older person feels he or she has. Researchers deemed that driving is an important facet of freedom and is often associated with the level of control a person feels he or she has. A study was done in Australia and it found that older people valued driving as the second most important activity of daily living (IADL and ADL). Older drivers are at a disadvantage when driving due to the fact that driving can be a highly complex task that involves a certain skill set, which includes cognitive, sensory-perceptive, and physical abilities. It was found that the most commonly cited reason for driving cessation was health problems. This makes me question this studies results because if health reasons are a reason for driving cessation, how can you accurately measure the ill effects of driving cessation? The health decline prior to the cessation of driving may in fact affect the mental state and cognitive functioning of an older driver. I think it would be safe to say that when a person is forced to stop driving that their physical and mental health is already in question and deteriorating. The person will know that they are on a decline most likely and this can be the explanation for the onset of depression once driving has ceased to occur, in fact, a 5-year study found that the cessation of driving almost doubled the risk of developing depression in older adults. I agree that driving cessation can have adverse effects on the mental and physical health/functioning of older adults, as such, I believe that the cessation of driving is just another hammer being dropped on the foot of these older people. I believe that the fact that they can no longer drive, drives their mind and body to worsen in state. It should be noted that not everyone deems driving as important, therefore, the cessation of driving may not affect everyone negatively. These finding were all published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, with Stanford Chihuri, Thelma J. Mielenz, Charles J. DiMaggio, Marian E. Betz, Carolyn DiGuiseppi, Vanya C. Jones, and Guohua Li as the authors.

Visit The Study

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LAWLS

References:

Driving Cessation and Health Outcomes in Older Adults. (2016, January 19). Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jgs.13931/full

Spring 2015

I’m not the first one to say this and I certainly won’t be the last, but this wasn’t the best semester for anyone here at UMW. We’ve had some tough losses, but as Eagles we need to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off in order to finish this last week up strong. But all the events going on got me thinking about what the actual effect of grief is on cognition. We know it makes us more depressed, obviously, but does it have an effect on any other area of cognition?

The first step is to take a look at the effects that Depression has on the brain and how that can affect students in the first place. It’s important to note that 1 in 10 college students has Depression, so we need to rule out the group of students with symptoms already associated with it. This handy article tells us all we need to know about the symptoms. Emotionally, it causes stress and anxiety with no identifiable cause. Cognitively, it causes the person to be less alert and have more trouble making basic decisions and even paying attention, which leads to more stress.

Now that we’ve got the baseline down, let’s head to the grieving process. According to this article, grief may be a major cause of Depression. This is most likely because the two have so many symptoms in common, but let’s keep going further. Around the time a loved one is lost, a person’s thoughts tend to revolve around that person. They wonder why and how they passed, what they could have done to prevent it, how they’ll go on without them, etc. These thoughts eventually become intrusive and tend to overtake the mind, leading to attention deficits in everyday interactions. The afflicted person finds themselves always reverting back to thinking about their loved one, and it only stops when they seek help. In serious cases, a griever may begin to hallucinate about the deceased in order to cope with the loss and fill a void left by them. The realization that the hallucinations are in fact just that causes the feelings of depression to resume at a much deeper level.

In the DSM-4, bereavement is defined as something that “may be a focus of clinical attention.” That’s it. Holly G. Prigerson, a psychologist focused on grief studies, wanted to push the DSM-5 to acknowledge the cognitive effects of grief, saying “We knew that grief predicted a lot of bad outcomes—over and above depression and anxiety—and thought it was worthy of clinical attention in its own right.” So does this mean that grief is actually above Depression and that it’s actually one of the causes? Well, duh. However, just because one causes the other does not necessarily mean that the treatments will be the same. This article states that “grief is tied to a particular event […] whereas the origins of a bout of clinical depression are often more obscure. Antidepressants do not ease the longing for the deceased that grievers feel. So in most cases, treating grieving people for depression is ineffective.”

So, what does this all mean? It means we need to take care of ourselves, fellow Eagles. We’ve been through some tough times and they’re going to take a toll on us cognitively, possibly even leading to some more serious conditions if left untreated. Seek help, talk to someone you trust, or by all means utilize the campus resources offered to us all. That one session with a counselor might make the difference between being cognitively aware during your final exams and being completely spaced out.

Is Your Brain Weird?

It is, according to this Buzzfeed article. The article is entitled “11 Memory Facts That Prove Your Brain Is Weird.” The article talks about weird memory phenomena, like false memories and context-dependent memories. Along with each fact is a description and a nifty GIF of a fuzzy animal or a movie quote. So that’s pretty cool. But even cooler, unlike many social media mentions of cognition, this article actually backs its assertions up with real cognitive research! I’ll take you through a few of the mentioned memory facts, summarizing their points, and then I’ll analyze their respective research articles.

open-door-day-samo-za-vjesti-1First, the Buzzed article talks about that familiar sensation of walking into a room and totally forgetting why you had to go to that room. In this study by Gabriel Radvansky, participants were given tasks to complete in a virtual reality comprised of many rooms. Each room had two tables with an object on one table. They had to carry the object to the other table or into another room, but once holding it, they couldn’t see it any longer. They would be tested frequently on which object they were holding and which they had just put down. Participants performed much more poorly on memory tasks when they had just crossed through a door than when they had traveled the same distance but remained in the same room.

This study made me think of memory tasks where participants forget details of a story (the bus driver example) because their brain automatically makes the call about what information is important and what isn’t, without the person actually deciding, and doesn’t encode the irrelevant info into long term memory. Similarly, in this study, participants’ brains recognize the doorway as a marker of the end of an episode. The door serves as an event boundary, so the brain decides which information is no longer likely going to be relevant, and it is dropped from the working memory in preparation for new, more relevant information in the new room. This is an example of our brain jumping the gun and automating a process to save us time, attention, and effort. When it works to our advantage, it’s great, and we don’t notice it. When it doesn’t, however, we forget why we came into a room and get really frustrated!

RV-AB577_WEEKIN_DV_20110208191537Another weird memory fact mentioned in the Buzzfeed article is that closing your eyes can help you remember more effectively. In a recall study, participants were shown a video and then reported on it (free or cued recall). They were tested a few minutes later and again a week later. Some participants had their eyes open during recall tests, and others had their eyes closed. The study found that eye-closure had no effect on recall in the first test, but increased accuracy on the second test by 37%. It even helped participants recall things they hadn’t reported the first time.

What is causing this phenomenon? My first inclination is to think it has something to do with attention. We learned in class that attention is a resource (why else do we say “pay” attention?). This resource is limited, and our brains can only consciously focus on so many things at once. Perhaps something about closing our eyes helps limit which stimuli are demanding our attention, and allows us to focus inwardly and more effectively recall previously encoded information. The study mentions also that eye-closure only helps us with “fine-grain visual details,” not overall big picture, or even auditory details. This indicates that the effectiveness of eye closing has to do with how we encode information. When the information we encode is very visual (the example in the study is “she elbowed him in the face”), closing our eyes allows us to relive the moment and re-visualize what occurred. This improves recall.

I found this article to be very interesting. Memory is complicated and messy, and that makes it always worth studying. I especially appreciated the references to how our brain automates complicated processes in order to make our experience more simple and streamlined. We’ve learned a lot about this trend in class, and seeing it at work in memory was interesting. In some ways, it departed from the usual social media science article, which tends to throw out crazy facts with vague research backing it up. The article provided direct links to cognitive research that supported its assertions. My only issue with the article was the way it approached some of the research findings. It seemed that the author was more focused on the “wow” factor of its studies than in actually imparting the main points of the research studies. In the eye-closing study, for example, many interesting findings were left out of the Buzzfeed summary in favor of the more simple, attractive finding. Overall, however, I liked this article.

It’s Groovy, Baby.

You ever have a song stuck in your head or found yourself bobbing your head to music playing in the background? How about get so moved by music you spontaneously break out into dance because you can’t stop your body from feeling the groove?  According to the study I read, this is due to the brain’s attention system in conjunction with an individual interaction with the music.  This cognitive processes is called sensorimotor coupling, the attentional engagement of an individual due to their mental arousal of music.  You synchronize your body readily to music due to sensorimotor coupling.  This works best when the music has good attentional capture, the unintentional change of attention by a change in stimulus, this could interrupt other processing.  Spontaneous sensorimotor coupling with a music related study showed to have positive affects (the internal feeling state when a goal has been reached, a threat has been avoided, or a feeling of content with present state of affairs.)

I was interested in this article because I love to dance and I often do get lost in this so called “groove.” I find myself bobbing my head, tapping my foot, or (given the right environment) spontaneously interpretive dancing to whatever jam is playing. This is all due to the attentional capture of the song. For example, the beat or the swell of the chorus that catches our attention and (whether we are “paying attention” to it or not) we get carried by the music.  This happens more easily in individuals whose response selector more readily recognises it as music to groove to.  Automaticity plays into this too by becoming an unconscious, spontaneous reaction to hearing the music.  This is more prominent in musically trained individuals and those who dance (trained/untrained dancers) this is referred to as muscle memory (automaticity of spontaneous rehearsed movements).

So what causes this groove?  Why do we get so much enjoyment out of moving our bodies freely to music?  It’s obvious that music has it’s own individual formula for what’s “good music?”  We already know that music and sensorimotor coupling combined have positive affects and we like that it makes us feel good.  According to the study, we enjoy a good, steady beat just as much as the next aspiring club DJ, but we enjoy asymmetry in music as well.  The more complex the music (while still sounding like music of course) increases the stimulus intensity, which arouses our mind more.  Giving way to more spontaneous sensorimotor movement and more readily engages listeners to move (aka feel the groove).

This study concluded that the relationship between complex musical scenes and attentional engagement was shown in spontaneous sensorimotor coupling and emotion (positive and happy emotions).  The more complex and emotional the song, the more easily it would grab our attention, invoking the spontaneous and emotional groove where the music could “carry the body”.  This ability to feel the groove was rated, on average, the same for musically trained and non-musically trained individuals.  For those individuals who had a hard time finding the groove, they became a phenomenon referred to as “beat deafness.”  These individuals moved slower and rated to feel the groove lower than average.  They also had a difficult time synchronizing with the beats. This was shown to be a task-specific sensorimotor deficit.  To conclude myself, I found this study so interesting.  The fact that they would put this much effort into learning the connections of the mind with music.  Music has long been used to tell stories and relay emotions and memories for a long time, dance as well.  To know the cognitive processes behind the expressions of music and how it is expressed and connected to dance, that’s groovy.

 

Can Art Improve Cognition?

Being interested in art and music has many more positive sides than many people would believe. Something that intrigues me is the idea that art, music and performing arts could improve cognitive functioning. Could engaging in visual arts or music have an effect on cognition?

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The answer is yes! There are many benefits of art for the brain and cognition. The arts can influence many cognitive processes. An extensive amount of research has been done by several scientists teaming together, and there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that art and music really effectively help improve cognitive abilities such as learning, attention, motivation and intelligence. The first finding was that performance in art leads to higher motivation in individuals and in turn produces sustained attention. This higher motivation and attention can lead to better performance in school. These qualities in kids were found to lead to better performance on intelligence test scores. Another finding was that high levels of music training lead to a vast improvement in working memory and long-term memory and an ability to manipulate the information in each domain.

Another finding of the scientist’s studies was that practicing music could lead to greater skills in geometrical representation, greater reading skills, and sequence learning. It has also been found that early music training leads to earlier ability to read and greater phonological awareness or speech production and perception. Training in acting was found to lead to better memory, specifically improvement of semantic memory.

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Other studies have found that there was a significant improvement in psychological resilience as well as increased levels of functional connectivity in the brain amongst people who participated in the visual arts. Also mentioned was that making art could even delay or reverse age related decline of many brain functions.

Art can help improve so many cognitive skills such as reading, math, critical thinking, memory and attention. So why are schools not as focused on art education as we are in other fields? According to all this research, it would be incredibly beneficial for schools to keep art and music at the forefront of education along with all the other important subjects that we learn in school like English and math, since art can help you with other domains of school. Finally, art can even improve mental and emotional health.

Paint

Art has been found to decrease negative emotions and help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. This is the reason art therapy can be so useful to people struggling with mental health issues. Doing art helps reduce so many of the negative symptoms associated with mental illness.

So, as we can see from overwhelming evidence from many studies, participating in arts- whichever one you enjoy most: visual arts, performing arts, or music is highly beneficial for the brain, cognition and health in general. So whichever art form is your favorite, make sure to continue with it because it has so many positive effects on many aspects of your life!

Sources:

http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~lds/pdfs/DanaSpelke.pdf

http://web.stanford.edu/group/co-sign/Sussman.pdf

http://www.dana.org/Publications/ReportDetails.aspx?id=44253

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/08/how-art-changes-your-brain_n_5567050.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/

The Psychology Behind Mindfulness

mind-full

You know those nights when you’re lying in bed (for what feels like forever!) and you just cannot fall asleep? All the thoughts about the day and whatever else might be popping into your head are swimming through your mind and keeping you awake…

It turns out mindfulness has been found to help people quiet those thoughts that keep them awake. The practice of mindfulness has been studied for use in treating all kinds of maladies, such as depression and stress as well as for use with patients suffering from physical conditions such as chronic pain, cancer, or HIV. This article asserts that it has also been found beneficial in helping with weight loss and maintaining an exercise program. The article also notes the technique’s usefulness in treating symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disturbances. So, the question is, why? And how?

Mindfulness relies on the ability to focus attention on your awareness of the current moment. You allow yourself to be aware of any and all thoughts, feelings, and experiences you may have in order to process them without evaluating them critically. In essence, it relies on the ability to focus attention and maintain enough concentration so that you can seize control of thoughts that enter your awareness (which obviously takes a lot of practice). The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will prime the neural networks required for the process of identifying and acknowledging thoughts without criticizing them. Given all this, it makes sense that the technique might be effective in treating symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disturbances. By shifting the focus of your attention and being more aware of the current moment (instead of whatever thoughts are keeping you awake), you may be able to better control your emotional responses to your thoughts.

The trick to mindfulness is the promotion of increased awareness of thoughts in order to promote better control over emotional responses to them. This is why mindfulness has been used as a treatment for anxiety disorders as well. The ruminative thinking that keeps us awake at night is a major cause of insomnia and also present in many anxiety disorders. The idea is that the ability to acknowledge thoughts in a different way, without driving yourself crazy over them, will ease anxiety (which is caused by this type of thinking). In order to do this, mindfulness encourages a sort of selective attention in which you focus your attention on something such as breathing, instead of rumination.

Okay, that explains why mindfulness is effective. But what types of strategies do people use?

Breathing is only one of many techniques you can use in order to focus your attention and be more aware of what is currently happening. (This short video explains how to do a common breathing exercise called the “4-7-8 Breath.”) Meditation is the technique that is perhaps the most talked about. Movement exercises can also be helpful.

In fact, mindfulness has been shown to have an impact on the functioning of the brain in general. For example, This article says that people who meditate show superior performance on tasks associated with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which deals with tasks related to self-regulation, the ability to direct attention, behavior and suppress immediate responses, and the ability to alternate strategies quickly. These skills are all necessary to exercise mindfulness and you would develop them the more you practice the technique.

In addition, when practiced regularly, mindfulness also leads to a weakening in the “functional connectivity” between the amygdala and the rest of the brain and a strengthening in the “functional connectivity” among areas associated with attention and concentration. So, “mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity,” Adrienne Taren, a researcher studying mindfulness, says.

So, next time your thoughts keep you awake, maybe consider being more mindful about what you are thinking. Like every other skill, it may take some practice before you start reaping the rewards from practicing mindfulness, but who knows what will happen once you’re able to focus your attention more effectively.

What do you think? Do you practice mindfulness or think it could be useful?

Mindfulness-MindMap

Study Tip: Spatial/Relational Studying

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a problem with flashcards. Teachers would tell me to make flashcards for vocabulary words, for example. I found that once I’d written the words on the card, and added their definitions, I could already remember which definitions matched which words. Since I could match the words and definitions accurately, studying the flashcards no longer felt necessary. The whole process felt redundant and unhelpful to me. But the problem was that just because I knew which word went with which definition, that didn’t mean I understood the term.

In class, we discussed maintenance rehearsal versus elaborative rehearsal. Maintenance rehearsal is rehearsing a piece of information enough to keep it active. In this rehearsal, it doesn’t ver really move into long-term memory. Elaborative rehearsal, however, is rehearsal that involves processing. It helps us move information into long-term memory. Learning isn’t just about repeated exposure (think of the penny or the Apple logo). Learning needs deeper levels of processing. This might involve imagery, meaning, or personal tie-ins. Learning that involves surface details or sound patterns just doesn’t stick as well. Research supports the textbook and the discussion we had in class. In a study by Craik and Tulving (1975), participants were asked to answer questions about words. Sometimes, the participants answered about the meaning of the word (deep). Other times, they answered about the sound/structure of the word (shallow). They were then asked to pick the original words out of a longer list. While the deep processing took longer, the subjects who semantically processed the words showed greater performance on the recall task.

My original study tip is developed from several sources: my personal study habits, our class discussion, the research, and a technique mentioned in class by a fellow student. In a discussion about the problems of flashcard usage and maintenance rehearsal, this student mentioned how one could create flashcards using class notes etc., but then instead of engaging in repetitive and rote memorization with those cards, attempt to categorize them instead. I felt that this would be a much more meaningful way to interact with the material. As I thought about this suggestion, and pondered my own study habits, I came up with my suggested study tip: Flowcharts

You’ll need a whiteboard (a gallon plastic bag around a white sheet of paper works, but the bigger the board the better. In the ITCC, there are tons of big white boards free for our use!), dry erase markers, and small cards/sticky notes. First, write out important pieces of information on the cards. These bits of info can be definitions, theories, categories, relationships, tasks, people, ideas, studies, aspects of studies, etc. For example, if you have notes on a scientist who did two studies, each of which had two main findings, write out a card for the scientist, each study’s basic details, and details on each of the findings. When you’re done with the information for the chapter, shuffle your cards. Next is the fun part.

diagram-empty-2Now, you want to take your cards and start sorting them into a flow chart! You can stick them up on the board, and use the markers to draw connecting lines and arrows. The most important part here is to emphasize relationships. Thinking about how your concepts interact is important for making them stick in your long-term memory. It’s much more effective than just memorizing!

flowchartPractice putting your cards in a linear/chronological flow and drawing arrows between steps. Show what came first conceptually, and influenced later steps. Then try a hierarchical structure. What are the overarching themes and categories, and the subcategories and details? How do they relate to each other? Don’t be afraid to draw tons of arrows! The more times you engage with the pieces of information in different ways, the more comfortable you’ll be with them.

Good luck studying!

A Lean, Mean, Caffeine Machine

If you spot me around campus, odds are I have either a cup of coffee or a travel mug filled to the brim with a steaming cup of java. In class today, my professor asked me to do the math and figure out how many cups of coffee I’ve had so far this semester, and the number came out to around 315 with a margin of error of around 15. I grind my own beans, I use a French press, I revel in my knowledge of how to make the best cup of coffee (a very true statement). But how does coffee get us going? What is it about caffeine that makes college kids so dependent on the stuff that it’s almost like an addiction? Look no further, you caffeinated heaps of procrastination, because I’ve done the research for you!

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e8/Adenosin.svg/1113px-Adenosin.svg.png

Meet Adenosine. Adenosine is not your friend. A study shows the effects of adenosine on the brain and how it is a part of our daily lives. To sum it up, our brains slowly produce more and more adenosine as the day drags on. As this neurotransmitter binds to its receptors, we begin to feel more relaxed, even tired. Adenosine and melatonin work hand in hand to promote sleep, so in a way, I suppose adenosine actually is your friend.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a1/Koffein_-_Caffeine.svg/2000px-Koffein_-_Caffeine.svg.png

This little molecule we know all too well. Behold, caffeine! Its (relatively) similar structure to adenosine means that it acts as an inhibitor to the adenosine receptors. As the caffeine binds to these receptors, the adenosine cannot and therefore we don’t have the calming effects from it and therefore become more jittery and less tired. The brain also sees these somewhat foreign molecules as a threat and triggers the adrenal gland to start producing more adrenaline to attack them. This increase in adrenaline also allows us to become more alert and causes the dependency effect.

What does this mean for cognition? Well, since caffeine imitates the effect we receive from sleeping, we basically have to look at the effects of getting enough sleep and clearing away all the accumulated adenosine. Studies show that sleep deprivation takes away from your cognitive abilities, including, but not limited to, slower reaction times, reduced fine motor skills, inability to focus attention, the list goes on, really. So when we drink caffeine, we prevent or slow down those effects and that allows us to become the A-student we’ve always wanted to be.

There is a downside to every college student’s moderate to severe (to lethal) dependency upon caffeine, however. As more and more caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors and the actual adenosine molecules can’t be absorbed, the brain creates more receptors to accommodate for this change. As a result, you end up becoming more tired in the long run because your brain requires more caffeine to have the same inhibitory effect. In fact, a study conducted by Bertil Freedhold that I couldn’t actually obtain because I don’t have a Google Books account but read the abstract for tells us that after a week-long dosage of caffeine to lab rats, the number of adenosine receptors in their tiny little brains was increased by about 25%.

So, when you reach for that 316th cup of coffee, take into consideration the fact that you’ll actually end up being more tired in the long run. Just a thought.

Daydreaming: Helpful or Harmful?

Do you ever find your mind wandering while doing boring tasks, like cleaning or laundry? Are there times when you are trying to study that you have to reread a paragraph because you were thinking of something else? Do you ever think about if daydreaming is detrimental to the task at hand, or could it possibly help cognition?

A new study at Bar-Ilan University wanted to know how daydreaming and “mind wandering” affected task success. In their experiment, a transcranial current was directed to the areas of the frontal lobe that have been found to be associated with mind wandering. Participants were asked to track and respond to numerals flashed on a computer screen and also to report on a scale of 1 to 4 of how much they were experiencing spontaneous thoughts that had nothing to do with the numeral task. The results were far from expected.

The experiment found that increased mind wandering behavior made by external stimulation actually helped success on the numeral task rather than hindering success like originally thought. One of the explanations for this was that both mind wandering and task functioning are controlled in the same areas of the brain, the frontal lobes. By stimulating the spots associated with daydreaming, task functioning may have also stimulated and increased. So in terms of this experiment, daydreaming actually increases cognition.

So how can the results of the experiment be used in the real world? The low levels of electrical stimulation could actually be therapeutic in nature for those who have low levels of neural activity. Regularly stimulating the frontal lobe to increase cognitive function could have positive long-term effects for those with low or abnormal neural activity.

Something that the Bar-Ilan University lab would like to study next is how external electrical stimulation would affect other behaviors, like multi-tasking. Would it be the same as this current study and positively help success rates, or would it negatively hinder them? That is something we will have to look for in the future.

I personally think this study is really interesting because I find myself daydreaming a lot and have always thought that it was bad. I’ve tried many things to get myself out of the habit of my mind wandering, but after reading this article it may not be such a bad thing after all. Although excessive daydreaming would probably be detrimental, it sounds like little to moderate daydreaming is actually beneficial to cognition and task performance.

So if you find yourself daydreaming, don’t fret. Let your mind wander to success.

source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150223164531.htm

Prove your mom wrong: Gaming is beneficial to cognitive development.

Do you remember when you were a child and your mom would limit your television watching time, or when she would take away your Nintendo DS, or not let you use the computer for those addicting games? As a normal child your response was always “WHY MOM?” but she always had a better answer and it almost always include something like “You could be spending this time reading, or playing outside, those video games are only making you dumber.” Do you remember? Well I am here to tell you that there is a possibility that your mom was wrong. Research has demonstrated that video games can be beneficial to cognitive development.

When people talk about video games they focus on the negative effects it has on gamers’ lives: social isolation, violence, and addiction; but very rarely do you hear anything about beneficence. As I scrolled through my twitter feed, I saw an article that Psychology Today called Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games. It automatically caught my attention, but the context was even more interesting.

The underlying theme of the article is to explain what aspects of the video games has a positive effect on our intelligence and why. When you engage in the activity to play video games, you are signing yourself up for a multitasking adventure, faced with obstacles that require you to overcome them in matters of second, while keeping in mind your goal and the best ways to achieve it. With this being said research has suggested that this process demonstrates long-lasting positive effects on: perception, attention, memory, and decision-making. It has demonstrated that gamers test higher on visual attention, executive function and cognitive flexibility.

When it comes to visual attention, research specifically focused on Sustained attention, impulsiveness and vigilance. This accounts for the amount of time you spend looking at a specific stimulus, while also improving your selective attention, in that sense that you are able to pay attention to many things at once. Impulsiveness accounts for ability in which you respond to the stimuli in a certain way without putting much thought into it, while also knowing that perhaps that was the best option. Also, when you play video games, and have this visual attention, and make a certain move, you need to keep an eye out for any new stimuli that may appear as a result of a past action. After all, your vision is being over stimulated in a way that games believe to be compensatory. Yet while your visual sense is being stimulated, Eichenbaum believes that gaming also has a positive effect on executive functioning, specifically in frontal lobe and the ability to make decisions, plan ahead, switch tasks, and multitasking.

I believe that a lot of these benefits can be traced to the very basic cognitive definition of elaborative rehearsal. I thought of this automatically primarily because it has been primed, but also because when I think about gaming, I think about the fact that these people are playing the same game over and over again. So they are repeating the information but in a way that is meaningful: learning what to do from previous experience. On another note, I thought about unintentional learning, the idea that they do not think they are learning, much less sitting in front of a book on how to successfully accomplish the goal of the game. Instead, they are thinking they are engaging in this activity for fun and not doing any precious research on how to accomplish the goal. In my perspective, gaming can help you to think faster on your toes, while taking into consideration the best available option.

If you are anything like me, you like to prove people wrong. So take advantage of this opportunity, call your mom, and tell her that she was wrong. Also keep this in mind, when you have kids of your own. Save yourself from that call from tem telling you that you were wrong.

If you want to read some more about this topic, here are the links.

Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201502/cognitive-benefits-playing-video-games

Research: http://www.journalofplay.org/sites/www.journalofplay.org/files/pdf-articles/7-1-article-video-games.pdf