Making a fist may help prevent performance choking but is there any evidence it can help with memory? The result of a study led by Ruth Propper of Montclair State University in New Jersey and published in the journal PLoS One, suggest that some simple body movements can improve memory by temporarily changing the way the brain functions. Clenching your right fist before remembering information and your left when you want to remember it can boost your recall. This strange strategy may work because clenching your hands activates the side of the brain that handles the function. In right-handed people, for example, the left side of the brain is primarily responsible for encoding information, while the right hemisphere is primarily responsible for recalling memory. (If you are left-handed, the opposite may apply but this is as yet unclear.) Propper and colleagues studied 50 right-handed college students, mainly women. They were given a list of 36 words to remember and a small pink ball to clench. One group squeezed the ball twice for 45 seconds each time with their right hands before memorizing the words, then did the same with their left hands before writing down as many words as they could recall. Another group performed the same task but reversed the order of the fists they made. The group that started with the right hand and activated the left hemisphere, which helps encode memory, and then clenched their left hand and activated the right hemisphere during recall, performed the best on the memory test. They recalled an average of 10 words if they clenched their right hand for encoding and left for recall, which was four more than those who used the opposite clenching pattern. You might want to experiment with this . . .
Monday, May 20, 2013
No surprise, neuroscientists are looking for ways to help individuals avoid the phenomenon of choking. According to new research published by the American Psychological Association, some athletes may improve their performance under pressure by using a simple technique to activate specific parts of the brain. For example, by squeezing a ball or clenching their left hand before competition. Because of lateral specialization of the two hemispheres, researchers theorized that squeezing a ball or clenching the left hand would activate the right hemisphere of the brain and reduce the likelihood of an athlete’s choking under pressure. In three experiments with experienced soccer players, judo experts and badminton players, researchers in Germany tested the athletes’ skills during practice and then in stressful competitions before a large crowd or video camera. Right-handed athletes who squeezed a ball in their left hand before competing were less likely to choke under pressure than right-handed players who squeezed a ball in their right hand. (Studies have focused exclusively on right-handed athletes because some relationships between different parts of the brain aren’t as well understood for left-handed people, according to the authors. (Note: while this technique probably wouldn’t help athletes whose performance is based on strength or stamina, such as weightlifters or marathon runners, it could apply to athletes whose performance is based on accuracy and complex body movements, such as soccer players or golfers.) This research could have important implications outside athletics, as well. For example, elderly people who are afraid of falling often focus too much on their movements, so right-handed elderly people may be able to improve their balance by clenching their left hand before walking or climbing stairs.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Rumination can interfere with concentration and performance of motor tasks, resulting in the phenomenon of choking. Athletes usually perform better when they trust their bodies rather than thinking too much about their own actions or what their coaches told them during practice, at least according to researcher Juergen Beckmann PhD, chair of sport psychology, Technical University of Munich in Germany. Something as simple as consciously trying to keep one’s balance, for example, may produce imbalance, as was seen in some sub-par performances by gymnasts during the Olympics in London. Research has shown that rumination is associated with the brain’s left hemisphere. It’s the right hemisphere that is associated with superior performance in automated behaviors, such as those used by some athletes. The right hemisphere controls movements of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side. Too much “rumination,” therefore, appears to activate the left hemisphere, which may result in choking. Researchers have been attempting to find ways to activate the right hemisphere and capitalize on the brain’s automated behaviors. More on that tomorrow.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
In July of 2012 I blogged about “choking” and performance failure under pressure. In his book “The Art of Failure” Malcom Gladwell described choking as thinking too much with a resulting loss of instinct. Using fMRI technology, a team of neuroscientists in London studied choking and found that activity in the ventral striatum (a subcortical brain region dense with dopamine neurons) tended to increase as people got more excited about potential rewards. In some brains, however, striatum activity was inversely related to the magnitude of the reward. Translated, this may mean that some individuals fall apart (choke) under the pressure of the moment because they care too much. The pleasure of the activity has vanished. What remains is the fear of losing, a fear of failure, which can trigger choking. There’s more. According to researcher Juergen Beckmann PhD, chair of sport psychology at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, for skilled athletes, many movements (e.g., kicking a soccer ball, completing a judo kick) become automatic with little conscious thought. When athletes under pressure fail to perform well, they may be focusing too much on their own movements rather than relying on their motor skills that have been developed through years of practice.
Friday, May 17, 2013
People are often encouraged to “think outside the box,” especially in corporations that are trying to increase profitability and/or turn an enterprise around. Creativity is a highly sought-after skill (although outside-the-box thinking actually terrifies some administrators who ask for ideas and then shoot them down almost as fast as they are presented—perhaps from fear of taking a calculated risk that has no guarantee of success). The “think outside the box” is, of course, a metaphor. And as with many metaphors, suggests a connection between creative cognition and concrete bodily experiences. (It reminds me of the many times my brother and I built creations from large cardboard boxes and played “inside the box”). A group of seven researchers led by Angela K. Leung of the School of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University developed five studies to explore the impact of enacting metaphors for creativity on outcomes of creative problem solving. For example, participants were provided with large boxes and then told to solve a specific problem “outside the box.” Literally. Results showed that embodiment of a metaphor can active cognitive processes in a way that promotes both convergent and divergent thinking and that facilitates the generation of new ideas and connections.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Is it possible to reduce belly fat? Can you do something to stop the fat-layering impact of cortisol that is released in the presence of phyhsiological and emotional stress including anxiety? Some researchers say yes. When you understand that belly fat is impacted by chronic stress then it seems almost intuitive to develope strategies to manage the chronic stress. Practicing the 20:80 Rule works well for me, as do other relaxation tools such as Brain Breathing, engaging in 10 minutes of mindfulness a couple of times a day, and getting sufficient sleep for your brain. Some people benefit from taking a stress management course. Others make time to play or listen to favorite music. Still others have learned to stop trying to control everything in life, to know your own opinions and to realize that others have different opinions and (all things being equal) that just reflects different brain perceptions rather than an absolutely "right or wrong." Getting regular physicial exercise and drinking plenty of pure water can help as well. Bottom line? The more strategies you have for reducing anxiety and emotional stressors before the adrenalin and cortisol pours out, the more likely you are to reduce the deposit of fat in abdominal cells. This is another of those instances where prevention is typically much better than cure..
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Human beings often complain of "belly fat," perhaps females more than males, and studies have linked increase in weight in the belly area to a variety of increased health risks. Studies have revealed that the body tends to respond in the same way to both physiological and emotional stress. When a zebra is chased by a lion, the zebra's body releases adrenalin and cortisol to help is escape. The physical exercise (assuming the zebra outruns the lion) helps to compensate for the adrenalin and cortisol and the zebra doesn't pile on belly fat. In this culture, the human body responds to emotional stress with the release of a similar cocktail of hormones and chemical substances, which can make you feel hungry. Not only that, the body keeps releasing cortisol as long as the stress continues. Cortisol, in part, is designed to tap into your body's fat stores to deliver it to the working muscles... or to move it to another location if your muscles are not exercising. In the presence of anxiety and/or a prolonged stress response, cortisol moves fat from storage areas and relocates it to fat cells deep in your abdomen. Cortisol is also the hormone that helps little fat cells grow into bigger fat cells, all of which contributes to weight gain in the abdominal area (weight gain that doesn't seems particularly interested in reducing itself through exercise or even dieting). So what can you do? Stay tuned.