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In the News: Brain Calisthenics, Bilingual Brains, Debunking Myths on Mental Illness

Let us highlight a couple of insightful and brief articles in the New York Times and a very powerful analysis in The New York Review of Books; they provide useful clues about Brain Calisthenics, Bilingual Brains, and Debunking Myths on Mental Illness.

Brain Calisthenics for Abstract Ideas (NYT):

Now, a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this same bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest.

The challenge for education, Dr. Kellman added, “is what do we need to do to make this happen efficiently?”

Experts develop such sensitive perceptual radar the old-fashioned way, of course, through years of study and practice. Yet there is growing evidence that a certain kind of training — visual, fast-paced, often focused on classifying problems rather then solving them — can build intuition quickly.

The Bilingual Advantage (NYT):

Q. Many immigrants choose not to teach their children their native language. Is this a good thing?

A. I’m asked about this all the time. People e-mail me and say, “I’m getting married to someone from another culture, what should we do with the children?” I always say, “You’re sitting on a potential gift.”

There are two major reasons people should pass their heritage language onto children. First, it connects children to their ancestors. The second is my research: Bilingualism is good for you. It makes brains stronger. It is brain exercise.

The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? (The New York Review of Books):

The authors emphasize different aspects of the epidemic of mental illness. Kirsch is concerned with whether antidepressants work. Whitaker, who has written an angrier book, takes on the entire spectrum of mental illness and asks whether psychoactive drugs create worse problems than they solve. Carlat, who writes more in sorrow than in anger, looks mainly at how his profession has allied itself with, and is manipulated by, the pharmaceutical industry. But despite their differences, all three are in remarkable agreement on some important matters, and they have documented their views well.

First, they agree on the disturbing extent to which the companies that sell psychoactive drugs—through various forms of marketing, both legal and illegal, and what many people would describe as bribery—have come to determine what constitutes a mental illness and how the disorders should be diagnosed and treated.

Second, none of the three authors subscribes to the popular theory that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

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