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Training Attention and Emotional Self-Regulation – Interview with Michael Posner

(Editor’s Note: this is one of the 20 interviews included in the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age)

Michael I. Posner is a prominent scientist in the field of cognitive neuroscience. He is currently an emeritus professor of neuroscience at the University of Oregon (DepartmentMichael Posner of Psychology, Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences). In August 2008, the International Union of Psychological Science made him the first recipient of the Dogan Prize “in recognition of a contribution that represents a major advance in psychology by a scholar or team of scholars of high international reputation.”

Dr. Posner, many thanks for your time today. I really enjoyed the James Arthur Lecture monograph on Evolution and Development of Self-Regulation that you delivered last year. Could you provide a summary of the research you presented?

I would emphasize that we human beings can regulate our thoughts, emotions, and actions to a greater degree than other primates. For example, we can choose to pass up an immediate reward for a larger, delayed reward.

We can plan ahead, resist distractions, be goal-oriented. These human characteristics appear to depend upon what we often call “self-regulation.” What is exciting these days is that progress in neuroimaging and in genetics make it possible to think about self-regulation in terms of specific brain-based networks.

Can you explain what self-regulation is?

All parents have seen this in their kids. Parents can see the remarkable transformation as their children develop the ability to regulate emotions and to persist with goals in the face of distractions. That ability is usually labeled ‚ self-regulation.

The other main area of your research is attention. Can you explain the brain-basis for what we usually call “attention”?

I have been interested in how the attention system develops in infancy and early childhood.

One of our major findings, thanks to neuroimaging, is that there is not one single “attention”, but three separate functions of attention with three separate underlying brain networks: alerting, orienting, and executive attention. Read the rest of this entry »

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