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Train your brain to focus on positive experiences

(Editor’s Note: we are pleased to bring you this arti­cle thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine).

The Neu­ro­science of Happiness

Best-selling author Rick Han­son explains how we can rewire
our brains for last­ing happiness
By Michael Bergeisen

We’ve all been there: obsess­ing over a faux pas we com­mit­ted at a party, infu­ri­ated by an unkind word from a col­league, rumi­nat­ing over a tough break-up with a spouse or friend. We suf­fer some misfortune—big or small, real or imagined—and the pain or humil­i­a­tion sticks with us for hours, days, or even years afterward.

The mind is like Vel­cro for neg­a­tive expe­ri­ences,” psy­chol­o­gist Rick Han­son is fond of say­ing, “and Teflon for pos­i­tive ones.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Draw­ing on some of the lat­est find­ings from neu­ro­science, Han­son has spent years explor­ing how we can over­come our brain’s nat­ural “neg­a­tiv­ity bias” and learn to inter­nal­ize pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences more deeply—while min­i­miz­ing the harm­ful phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal effects of dwelling on the negative.

For years, research has shown that, over time, our expe­ri­ences lit­er­ally reshape our brains and can change our ner­vous sys­tems, for bet­ter or worse. Now, neu­ro­sci­en­tists and psy­chol­o­gists like Han­son are zero­ing in on how we can take advan­tage of this “plas­tic­ity” of the brain to cul­ti­vate and sus­tain pos­i­tive emotions.

In his recent book, the best-selling Buddha’s Brain: The Prac­ti­cal Neu­ro­science of Hap­pi­ness, Love, and Wis­dom, Han­son describes spe­cific prac­tices that can pro­mote last­ing joy, equa­nim­ity, and compassion—and backs it all up with sound science.

Han­son recently spoke with host Michael Bergeisen about some of these very prac­ti­cal, research-based steps we can all take to rewire our brains for last­ing hap­pi­ness. Below we present a con­densed ver­sion of the dis­cus­sion. Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive and Emotional Development Through Play

We some­times neglect to men­tion a very basic yet pow­er­ful method of cog­ni­tive and emo­tional devel­op­ment, for chil­dren and adults alike: Play.

Dr. David Elkind, author of The Power of Play: Learn­ing That Comes Nat­u­rally, dis­cusses the need to build a more “play­ful cul­ture” in this great arti­cle The Power of Play And Learningbrought to you thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine.

- Alvaro

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Can We Play?

– By Dr. David Elkind

Play is rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing from our homes, our schools, and our neigh­bor­hoods. Over the last two decades alone, chil­dren have lost eight hours of free, unstruc­tured, and spon­ta­neous play a week. More than 30,000 schools in the United States have elim­i­nated recess to make more time for aca­d­e­mics. From 1997 to 2003, children’s time spent out­doors fell 50 per­cent, accord­ing to a study by San­dra Hof­ferth at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land. Hof­ferth has also found that the amount of time chil­dren spend in orga­nized sports has dou­bled, and the num­ber of min­utes chil­dren devote each week to pas­sive leisure, not includ­ing watch­ing tele­vi­sion, has increased from 30 min­utes to more than three hours. It is no sur­prise, then, that child­hood obe­sity is now con­sid­ered an epidemic.

But the prob­lem goes well beyond obe­sity. Decades of research has shown that play is cru­cial to phys­i­cal, intel­lec­tual, and social-emotional devel­op­ment at all ages. This is espe­cially true of the purest form of play: the unstruc­tured, self-motivated, imag­i­na­tive, inde­pen­dent kind, where chil­dren ini­ti­ate their own games and even invent their own rules.

Read the rest of this entry »

Peace Among Primates– by Robert Sapolsky

(Editor’s Note: One of the most orig­i­nal minds we have ever encoun­tered is that of Robert Sapol­sky, the Stanford-based neu­ro­sci­en­tist, pri­ma­tol­o­gist, author of A Primate’s Mem­oir, and more. We highly rec­om­mend most of his books. Above all, for any­one inter­ested in brain health, this is a must read and very fun: Why Zebras Don't Have Ulcers- Robert SapolskyWhy Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide To Stress, Stress Related Dis­eases, and Cop­ing. We are hon­ored to bring you a guest arti­cle series by Robert Sapol­sky, thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine.)

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Peace Among Pri­mates

Any­one who says peace is not part of human nature knows too lit­tle about pri­mates, includ­ing ourselves.

–By Robert M. Sapolsky

It used to be thought that humans were the only sav­agely vio­lent pri­mate.  “We are the only species that kills its own, nar­ra­tors intoned por­ten­tously in nature films sev­eral decades ago. That view fell by the way­side in the 1960s as it became clear that some other pri­mates kill their fel­lows aplenty. Males kill; females kill. Some use their tool­mak­ing skills to fash­ion big­ger and bet­ter cud­gels. Other pri­mates even engage in what can only be called war­fare, orga­nized, proac­tive group vio­lence directed at other populations.

Yet as field stud­ies of pri­mates expanded, what became most strik­ing was the vari­a­tion in social prac­tices across species. Yes, some pri­mate species have lives filled with vio­lence, fre­quent and var­ied. But life among oth­ers is filled with com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism, egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, and coop­er­a­tive child rear­ing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Power of Mindsight-by Daniel Goleman

Daniel Gole­man requires no intro­duc­tion. Per­son­ally, of all his books I have read, the one I found most stim­u­lat­ing was Destruc­tive Emo­tions: A Sci­en­tific Dia­logue With the Dalai Lama, a superb overview of what emo­tions are and how we can put them to good use. He is now con­duct­ing a great series of audio inter­views includ­ing one with George Lucas on Edu­cat­ing Hearts and Minds: Rethink­ing Education.

We are hon­ored to bring you a guest post by Daniel Gole­man, thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine, a UC-Berkeley-based quar­terly mag­a­zine that high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tific research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Enjoy!

- Alvaro

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The Power of Mindsight

How can we free our­selves from pris­ons of the past?

– By Daniel Goleman

When you were young, which of these did you feel more often?

a) No mat­ter what I do, my par­ents love me;

b) I can’t seem to please my par­ents, no mat­ter what I do;

c) My par­ents don’t really notice me.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mindfulness and Meditation in Schools: Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools

Mind­ful Kids, Peace­ful Schools

With eyes closed and deep breaths, stu­dents are learn­ing a new method to reduce anx­i­ety, con­flict, and atten­tion dis­or­ders. But don’t call it meditation.

— By Jill Suttie

At Toluca Lake ele­men­tary school in Los Ange­les, a cyclone fence encloses the asphalt black­top, which is teem­ing with kids. It’s recess time and the kids, who are mostly mindfulness exercises for teenagersLatino, are play­ing tag, yelling, throw­ing balls, and jump­ing rope. When the bell rings, they reluc­tantly stop and head back to their class­rooms except for Daniel Murphy’s sec­ond grade class.

Murphy’s stu­dents file into the school audi­to­rium, each car­ry­ing a round blue pil­low dec­o­rated with white stars. They enter gig­gling and chat­ting, but soon they are seated in a cir­cle on their cush­ions, eyes closed, quiet and con­cen­trat­ing. Two teach­ers give the chil­dren instruc­tions on how to pay atten­tion to their breath­ing, telling them to notice the rise and fall of their bel­lies and chests, the pas­sage of air in and out of their noses. Though the room is chilly the heat­ing sys­tem broke down ear­lier that day the chil­dren appear com­fort­able, many with Read the rest of this entry »

Announcing Expert Contributors to SharpBrains.com

Start­ing this week, you will start see­ing a grow­ing num­ber of Expert Con­trib­u­tors writ­ing in our blog and web­site, so that we can col­lec­tively dis­cuss the lat­est research and trends on cog­ni­tive and emo­tional train­ing, brain fit­ness and health, and the impli­ca­tions of brain research in gen­eral for our every­day lives. All of it, spiced up by stim­u­lat­ing brain teasers.

So, if you haven’t already, make sure to sub­scribe to our newslet­ter (above) and our RSS feed (on the right).

Let me intro­duce, In alpha­bet­i­cal order, the Expert Con­trib­u­tors who will share their knowl­edge with us in Jan­u­ary and February.

- Wes Car­roll, SB in Com­puter Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing from MIT, and Puz­zle Mas­ter for Ask a Sci­en­tist lec­ture series.

- Simon Evans, PhD., and Paul Burghardt, PhD., who col­lab­o­rate in the Uni­ver­sity of Michigan’s Depart­ment of Psy­chi­a­try and the Mol­e­c­u­lar and Behav­ioral Neu­ro­science Insti­tute, to study the effects of nutri­tion and exer­cise on brain function.

- Greater Good Mag­a­zine, a quar­terly mag­a­zine pub­lished by a UC-Berkeley cen­ter to “high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tific research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altruism.“ 

- Gre­gory Kel­lett, a recent grad­u­ate from the Cog­ni­tive Neurology/Research Psychology Masters pro­gram at SFSU.

- Eric Jensen, author of Enrich­ing the Brain: How to Max­i­mize Every Learner’s Poten­tial, and well-known syn­the­sizer of brain research infor­ma­tion with impli­ca­tions for K12 education.

- Pas­cale Mich­e­lon, Ph. D., an Adjunct Fac­ulty at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in Saint Louis, Psy­chol­ogy Department.

- Tom O’Brien, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus in math­e­mat­ics edu­ca­tion, South­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity, and author of prize-winning games.

- Joshua Stein­er­man, M.D., Post­doc­toral Clin­i­cal Fel­low in the Depart­ment of Neu­rol­ogy at Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity Med­ical Center.

- David Rabiner, Ph.D., Senior Research Sci­en­tist and Direc­tor of Under­grad­u­ate Stud­ies at Duke Uni­ver­sity. Dr. Rabiner main­tains the highly-regarded Atten­tion Research Update.

Please Note: if you would like to become an Expert Con­trib­u­tor, Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroscience, Psychology, Baby Boomers and more

Some good col­lec­tions of arti­cles in the blo­gos­phere, if you are inter­ested in these top­ics.
Neu­ro­science and Psy­chol­ogy (Encephalon)

Blog­ging Boomer

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Eco­nom­ics and Social Policy

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