Author Archives: rmarcus

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?


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.


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.


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!


Learning Disabilities and IQ

There seems to be a certain stigma we may encounter in school. People seem to associate poor grades and/or learning disabilities with having a low IQ. In reality, there are so many people who have accomplished such incredible things, even geniuses, who struggled in school and even dropped out because of it. Albert Einstein, for example, had learning disabilities and is still one of the most influential geniuses there is. In actuality, people with learning disabilities have average or above average IQ’s.

A learning disability is not a problem with intelligence or motivation. The brain is simply wired differently in a way that can make receiving and processing information more difficult. This can lead to problems with reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, listening, and concentrating. There are several examples of learning disabilities. Dyslexia involves trouble understanding written words while Dyscalculia is difficulty with math. Also there is dysgraphia, a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letter or write within a defined space. These are only a few of the many types of learning disabilities there are. Many people with learning disabilities may do poorly in school as a result to these difficulties and may suffer with lower self-esteem or depression as a result.

little boy tired of reading

MRI studies have shown that there are brain differences in students with learning disabilities. These studies have found that the brain area involving matching sounds and letters is compromised in children with learning disorders. Also, FMRI studies show that frontal brain regions are important for high fluency levels in reading. More fluent readers have more active frontal regions of the brain than children with learning problems. Children with learning problems often show more activity in other parts of the brain while reading than others, like the parietal and occipital lobes.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that people with learning disabilities actually have average or above average intelligence. In a study done on 415 adolescents that were learning disabled, results showed that 43 of theses adolescents had an IQ score of 120 or higher. There is usually a large discrepancy between their ability and their achievement. Studies indicate that as many as 33% of individual with learning disabilities are gifted. A study done at Yale University found that in individuals with dyslexia, IQ and reading ability did not correlate. Dyslexic individuals with high IQ often had a slow reading pace. So, as you can see, these studies support the idea that learning disabilities and IQ are separate in nature and one does not tell you something about the other.


The most important information to take away form this is to debunk the myth that learning disabilities of any kind or attentional problems such as ADHD mean you are stupid or lazy by any means. Teachers and students need to be understanding of students who may not process and learn information the way that everyone else does. They also should understand that just because someone is struggling with school doesn’t mean they are stupid or are not trying. Having a learning disability shouldn’t stop anyone from achieving their goals. People with these disabilities have a high capacity for knowledge and should not let certain learning problems interfere. In reality, with hard work, any student with these disabilities can succeed.

smile book


Sleep Deprivation: What it does to your Cognitive Abilities

Sleep Deprivation is something we all can relate to. This topic hits close to home for most college students. We have all experienced staying up late to complete a paper or study for an exam. However, sleep deprivation severely impairs cognitive functioning. It hinders your ability to perform certain cognitive tasks to the best of your ability, and can have many negative effects.


A study was done on the Neurophysiological Effects of sleep deprivation in 12 healthy adults. This group took FMRI’s of 12 healthy individuals to find the effects of sleep deprivation on the mind. They found that total sleep deprivation has been associated with general psychomotor slowing and diminished cognitive performance. In specific, they found that perceived energy levels, concentration and speed of thought decreased significantly when adults were sleep deprived. This makes it much more difficult to pay attention and focus, so you become more easily confused. This makes it much for difficult to think logically and critically.

Sleep deprivation also impairs alertness and memory. When you’re sleep deprived, you may forget and misplace things because concentration and memory are impaired. If you aren’t able to concentrate on what is happening in your working memory and short-term memory systems, then that information won’t be able to be stored in your long-term memory. This can interfere with your ability to learn efficiently in school.

It is associated with mood changes, and altered emotional functioning. It may cause anger and irritability and may lessen your ability to cope with stress. It also puts you at greater risk for depression. Slowed reaction time caused by sleepiness can increase the likelihood that you will get into a car accident. About 20% of accidents are caused by drowsy driving.

Many college students will try to pull all nighters for exams during finals week or any other time of the school year. This is ironic because this study shows that high levels of sleep deprivation decrease alertness, ability to concentrate, and memory ability. So it can hinder your cognitive ability and performance on the exams.
Another study from the University of California, Berkeley found that sleep deprivation can lead to short-term euphoria, which can lead to poor judgment and risky, addictive behaviors. These researchers used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to study the brains of 27 healthy adults. These adults were shown pleasant scenes and asked to rate the pictures as either neutral or positive. People who had skipped a night’s sleep rated the scenes as more positive than people who hadn’t missed any sleep. Brain scans showed heightened activity in the mesolimbic pathway which is a brain circuit driven by dopamine. This neurotransmitter regulates positive feelings, motivation, addiction, cravings and decision making. Positive feelings may seem like a good thing, but this effect is very short term. This effect on the brain can lead people to make impulsive and poor decisions. This study shows that sleep deprivation inhibits peoples planning and decision making abilities.

Overall, sleep deprivation can be very harmful to cognitive functioning and has many negative effects, so it is crucial to get enough sleep at night.



How Can You Improve Your Memory?


Our working memory can hold about 7 numbers at a time. Are people who can remember thousands of numbers geniuses? How is it that people can remember thousands of digits of pi?

Working memory is defined as the storage system in which information is held while that information is being worked on. The holding capacity of working memory is described as “7-plus-or-minus- 2 “ items. This has been tested with a digit-span task. In this task, people are read a series of digits and must repeat them back. The longer the list gets however, the more difficult this becomes without making any errors. Once the list contains more than 7 or 8 digits, this task becomes extremely difficult.

This got me thinking- how is it that people some people can memorize so many more digits at a time than others? Is there a reason that certain people have a greater capacity for remembering a lot of items than others? Is there something different about their brain?

A man named Akira Haraguchi memorized 100,000 digits of pi. He spent 16.5 hours reciting number after number. How is this possible? Haraguchi has said that he is not a child prodigy of any sort. Moreover, when he was a kid, he even had trouble memorizing multiplication tables. His secret to memorizing 100,000 digits of pi is his use of mnemonics. The Mnemonic strategy is a technique designed to improve memory accuracy and make learning easier. This helps memory because it imposes an organization of the digits to be learned. In a study found on page 191 of our textbook, those who used mnemonic systems vastly out performed students who used other memorizing strategies such as verbal rehearsal.

Akira Haraguchi used a certain mnemonic method that involves assigning every digit 0-9 to consonant sounds and then turning this into words by adding vowels. This makes the numbers easier to recall because images are easier to recall than numbers. This method is called the “Major Method”. Here is the system he used:


0 = s, z

1 = t, d

2 = n

3 = m

4 = r

5 = l

6 = j, sh, soft g, soft ch

7 = k, g

8 = f, v

9 = p, b

unassigned = vowels, w, h, y, x


So for example, if you wanted to memorize the numbers 701, you would apply the letter g, s and t to the number, so you can just remember the word “ghost.” Remembering the word or image of a ghost is a lot easier than remembering the numbers 701. This makes recall of the numbers so much easier.

This is great news to everyone because you don’t have to be a genius to be able to remember numbers this way. With practice, anyone could remember thousands of numbers! Over and over, memory depends on making connections among ideas. If you are exposed to certain numbers without giving it any thought, these numbers will be extremely difficult to recall. However, connecting them to preexisting knowledge like words helps us recall this information much easier. Learning mnemonic strategies can be very useful to anyone. The use of mnemonics could help you memorize phone numbers, math formulas, birthdays; the list goes on and on. This is great news for students who need help memorizing information in school, or anyone who wants to improve their memory.


This article was very good at describing the kind of mnemonic device used to be able to memorize numbers and it also did a good job of making it so that the average individual can use these tricks. However, I wish it had discussed more uses for the mnemonic devices.