Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


New book suggest ways to understand behavior and boost happiness in light of human evolution

We humans evolved to be social crea­tures. By gain­ing the skills to coop­er­ate with oth­ers, we were able to stave off preda­tors, eat more con­sis­tent­ly, and care for each other’s young, allow­ing our genes to car­ry for­ward.

So, why do we still strug­gle at times to get along—even to the extent that we war on one anoth­er? And how can under­stand­ing our evo­lu­tion­ary her­itage help us have bet­ter rela­tion­ships and more hap­pi­ness today? Read the rest of this entry »

Transcript: David DiSalvo on How Cultural Evolution Outpaces Natural Evolution and Old Brain Metaphors

Below you can find the full tran­script of our engag­ing Q&A ses­sion today with David DiS­al­vo, author of What makes your brain hap­py and why you should do the oppo­site, mod­er­at­ed by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez. You vis­it pre­vi­ous Q&A Ses­sions Here.

Full Tran­script (Light­ly edit­ed) of Live Q&A held on Decem­ber 9th, 2–3pm ET

Read the rest of this entry »

The Evolution of Empathy

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

The Evo­lu­tion of Empa­thy

Empa­thy’s not a unique­ly human trait, explains pri­ma­tol­o­gist Frans de Waal. Apes and oth­er ani­mals feel it as well, sug­gest­ing that empa­thy is tru­ly an essen­tial part of who we are.

Once upon a time, the Unit­ed States had a pres­i­dent known for a pecu­liar facial dis­play. In an act of con­trolled emo­tion, he would bite his low­er lip and tell his audi­ence, “I feel your pain.” Whether the dis­play was sin­cere is not the issue here; how we are affect­ed by anoth­er’s predica­ment is. Empa­thy is sec­ond nature to us, so much so that any­one devoid of it strikes us as dan­ger­ous or men­tal­ly ill.

At the movies, we can’t help but get inside the skin of the char­ac­ters on the screen. We despair when their gigan­tic ship sinks; we exult when they final­ly stare into the eyes of a long-lost lover.

We are so used to empa­thy that we take it for grant­ed, yet it is essen­tial to human soci­ety as we know it. Our moral­i­ty depends on it: How could any­one be expect­ed to fol­low the gold­en rule with­out the capac­i­ty to men­tal­ly trade places with a fel­low human being? It is log­i­cal to assume that this capac­i­ty came first, giv­ing rise to the gold­en rule itself. The act of per­spec­tive-tak­ing is summed up by one of the most endur­ing def­i­n­i­tions of empa­thy that we have, for­mu­lat­ed by Adam Smith as “chang­ing places in fan­cy with the suf­fer­er.”

Even Smith, the father of eco­nom­ics, best known for empha­siz­ing self-inter­est as the lifeblood of human econ­o­my, under­stood that the con­cepts of self-inter­est and empa­thy don’t con­flict. Empa­thy makes us reach out to oth­ers, first just emo­tion­al­ly, but lat­er in life also by under­stand­ing their sit­u­a­tion.

This capac­i­ty like­ly evolved because it served our ances­tors’ sur­vival in two ways. First, like every mam­mal, we need to be sen­si­tive to the needs of our off­spring. Sec­ond, our species depends on coop­er­a­tion, which means that we do bet­ter if we are sur­round­ed by healthy, capa­ble group mates. Tak­ing care of them is just a mat­ter of enlight­ened self-inter­est.

Ani­mal empa­thy

It is hard to imag­ine that empathy—a char­ac­ter­is­tic so basic to the human species that it emerges ear­ly in life, and is accom­pa­nied by strong phys­i­o­log­i­cal reactions—came into exis­tence only when our lin­eage split off from that of the apes. It must be far old­er than that. Exam­ples of empa­thy in oth­er ani­mals would sug­gest a long evo­lu­tion­ary his­to­ry to this capac­i­ty in humans.

Evo­lu­tion rarely throws any­thing out. Instead, Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Use It or Lose It, and Cells that Fire together Wire together

Every­one has heard of “Use It or Lose It.” Now…what is “It”?

Last week I gave a talk at the Ital­ian Con­sulate in San Fran­cis­co, and one of the areas atten­dees seemed to enjoy the most was learn­ing about what our brains are and how they work, peak­ing into the “black box” of our minds. With­out under­stand­ing a few basics, how can we make good deci­sions about brain health?

At a quick glance:, the brain is com­posed of 3 “brains” or main sub-sys­tems, each named after the evo­lu­tion­ary moment in which the sub-sys­tem is believed to have appeared. Read the rest of this entry »

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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