Brain Training

10 Tips to Improve Creativity September 24 2014, 0 Comments

Remember that oft-used saying about right brained and left brained people? How left brained people are logical, objective, and scientific, and right brained people are artsy, emotional, and creative? If only we could harness our right brain, all of us could be the next Picasso, or Mozart! Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

It would, if it weren’t completely false.

Fortunately, modern neuroscience has evolved past such segmented thinking and has a few things to offer those of us who wish for more creativity:

1. Quit worrying about being smart

In 1921, Lewis M. Terman, the mastermind behind the IQ test, rounded up a sizeable group of young kids with an IQ over 135. These children, decidedly with a genius-level intellect, were followed up with at regular intervals throughout their lives. The surprising result of this study was “intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated”. A third of the group failed to graduate from college. In contrast, what researchers have found is that those who do invent and create worthwhile ideas, such as winners of Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, often come from low to mid-level careers.

2. Just Chill

Your brain is a delicate balance of chemicals which have a powerful impact on your mood, focus, and creativity. Serotonin, which is responsible for the calm, happy you, and dopamine, which controls your energy and alertness, are the main ingredients for maximizing creativity. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones which counteract these neurotransmitters. This is why people under duress are very unlikely to seek out novel, unfamiliar things. Our natural response is to “play it safe”, which is devastating for our creativity.

3. Get Some Shut-Eye

Not getting enough sleep can curtail our serotonin levels. Most people need at least 2 hours of deep, non-REM sleep, which is less than a third of our night’s rest. Be careful with caffeine though; not only will it interrupt sleep, but it also acts as an emotion enhancer. It can be good for your creative side if you’re feeling motivated and assured; but if you’re feeling anxious or stressed? Not so much.

4. Become a Morning Person

Good news for early risers: serotonin happens to be at its highest in the morning hours. For an extra boost, try including more protein rich foods for breakfast, such as milk, peanut butter, eggs, or greek yogurt. These protein-rich foods add another boost to serotonin levels.

5. Forget about Eureka

We think of ideas as being spontaneous, like finding a forgotten quarter along the path. Truth is, an idea is really nothing more than a new, innovative connection between already existing ideas. It seems new to us because we have been unaware of the mental bridges our minds have been building. So before getting concerned about whether or not you have a Eureka moment, remember that your brain has already done most of the work for you.

6. Think Divergently

One of the greatest obstacles to our creative selves is our tendency to think convergently, or our ability to come up with the one best solution to a well-defined problem. You were taught how to do this whenever you were given multiple-choice quizzes or standardized tests. To break out of this, practice thinking divergently. Try free-writing, where you remove your own mental filter and write out every thought that comes through your head. The more you practice exploring multiple solutions, the more divergent you’ll become.

7. Teach Yourself Something

As Cambridge was closed on account of the Plague in 1665, Isaac Newton spent the summer shut up in his room teaching himself the fundamentals of motion, gravitation, and light. In the same summer he effectively conceived the theory of calculus. While none of us are perhaps quite as gifted as Newton, it seems as though the most creative people are driven by curiosity to learn subjects on their own, rather than be fed information. Often, the modern classroom is viewed as a hindrance to creative learning, and many gifted people are college dropouts for that very reason. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Ted Turner, all inventive geniuses, left school to pursue their creativity.

8. Take an Interest in Different Fields

Becoming a “renaissance man” does more for you than help you at trivia. The most creative people often dabble in a wide variety of subjects; science, math, art, music, etc. As your brain tries to concoct ideas, it draws upon your knowledge base. Put simply, the wider your base, the more diverse (and creative) your ideas will be.

9. Daydream

Most writers and artists will tell you that creativity cannot be forced. A number of studies have found that most moments of enlightenment are preceded by periods of relaxed thought and contemplation. In one study, volunteers were asked to relax and encouraged to think about whatever they wished. A neuroimaging PET scan on their brains revealed increased activity in the association cortices of the brain, which are responsible for generating ideas. Free association and allowing your mind to wander are great ways to unlock your unconscious mind.

10. Put yourself out there

As the saying goes, “When you work at the cutting edge, you’re likely to bleed.” Creativity demands a mental resilience to rejection and skepticism from others. Historically, most breakthroughs were not recognized as such by the leading authorities of the time. The more you place yourself in ambitious situations, the more confident you’ll be in expressing your original thoughts in the public forum.

Terman, Lewis Madison; M. H. Oden (1947). Genetic Studies of Genius ...: The gifted child grows up; twenty-five years' follow-up of a superior group (4 ed.). Stanford University Press. p. 352. "Strategies of Divergent Thinking". University of Washington. Herper, Matthew. "Some Billionaires Choose School Of Hard Knocks." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 29 June 2000. Web. 13 Sept. 2014.v Morgan, Augustus De, and Philip E. B. Jourdain. Essays on the Life and Work of Newton. Chicago: Open Court, 1914. Print. Young, James Webb. A Technique for Producing Ideas. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Print. Andreasen, Nancy C. "Secrets of the Creative Brain." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 25 June 2014. Web. 06 Sept. 2014.

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10 Tips To Increase IQ September 24 2014, 0 Comments

For nearly 100 years, your IQ, or intelligence quotient, has long been a yardstick for human intelligence. Research has shown that having a higher IQ has a positive impact to nearly every aspect of human life; those with higher IQ’s have better GPA’s [1], higher income, less violence, and better health [2]

While genetic factors have a important influence on your IQ, here are 10 things you can do to give your brain a boost:

1. Turn On Some Mozart

Known as “The Mozart Effect”, listening to classical music has been shown to have a noticeable effect on spatial temporal reasoning. In one study, college students who listened to just 10 minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos showed an increase of over 8 points in their IQ [3].

In another study, children who were given 2 hours of musical training each day showed nearly a nearly 14 point increase in a vocabulary test 20 days later. [4] The theory here is that music and language are linked, and that increasing one’s “musical training” will result in better verbal proficiency.

2. Brush Up On Your Spanish

Speaking a second language not only beefs up your resume, but also your mental capacity. Those who are bilingual have been shown to have better mental flexibility, abstract thinking. [5] Balancing two languages requires some effort from the brain, enhancing what is called it’s executive function; or it’s ability to remember information while switching between tasks. Those who are bilingual are already accustomed to bouncing back and forth between languages, so problem solving comes more naturally. [6]

3. Hit the Gym

Not only will it make you look good, it will help you think better. Exercise floods your brain with neurotransmitters such as BDNF, which is an important ingredient for neurogenesis and long-term memory [7]. Some studies conclude that exercise can increase your logical thinking and verbal intelligence by up to 50%[8]. Before you get too crazy with weights, however, remember that the real catalyst here is your heart rate.

4. Think about Thinking

This strategy, called metacognition, literally means “knowing beyond”. Our unique anatomy and enormous frontal lobe allow us to consider our own thinking processes, and, when appropriate, refine them. When we learn to regulate our own learning, we suppress extraneous information and focus more on the task at hand [9]. When confronted with a problem, ask yourself, “How have I dealt with problems like this one before? How did it turn out? Is there anything I could do to solve this problem better?” In time, your familiarity with your own mind will help you enhance it.

5. Eat More Fish

Cold-water fish are packed with an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, essentially the building blocks for your neurons. High levels of DHA have been shown to improve cognition as well as prevent neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s [10]. The American Heart Association recommends getting 2 servings of fish per week. Also high in omega-3 are beans, walnuts, and flaxseed.

6. Stretch Your Brain

If you think of your brain as an infinitesimally intricate highway system of interconnected neurons, it makes sense that the roads that get used often will get expanded and the roads that don’t will be demolished. So it is with your brain; the activities you do will strengthen or weaken certain neural pathways. This concept is called neuroplasticity, meaning that the more varied and challenging tasks you perform, the more diverse and strong the mental links will be.

So get ready to work out your brain! Puzzle and logic games are a great way to increase brain plasticity. The key is to break out of routine; to enrich your environment. Explore a new place, drive a different route to work, pick up a new hobby; find new and interesting ways to surprise your brain. [11]

7. Curl Up With A Good Book

No, it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. Turns out that sitting down with a novel will do more for you than just create a well-read individual. In a recent study, researchers scanned the brain as participants were reading a fictional thriller. The MRI showed increased activity not only in the section of the brain associated with language comprehension, but also motor and sensory movement. In short, as readers became engrossed in the book, their brains behaved as though they were acting out the story. This interactivity increases connections within different sections of the brain, improving cognition. [12]

8. Button Mash

Call of Duty, anyone? For those who don’t like to read, there ‘s still hope: video games may enhance brain function. Video games occupy the attention the frontal lobe, which controls higher thought, such as processing information and making decisions. The stimuli from video games engage this kind of thinking, effectively “working out” the frontal lobe. [13]

Effects of video games on productivity may not be so encouraging.

9. Meditate

It’s not just for monks anymore. In a 2010 study, volunteers with memory loss problems were subjected to an 8 week meditation course. The results showed a statistically significant increase in verbal fluency, mental flexibility, and memory. [14] Even those who are not familiar with the practice can benefit from meditative exercise, without much training. Simple practices, such as focusing on your breathing, can have measurable cognitive benefits. [15]

10. Stop Eating…At Least For A Bit

This activity, called intermittent fasting, may have a surprising effect on intelligence. Like exercise, going without food for period of time increases stress factors on the brain. The brain reacts by releasing BDNF, which triggers the growth of new neurons. Not only does this improve memory, it also helps prevent the mental decline associated with aging.

[16] [1]Kamphaus, Randy W. (2005). Clinical assessment of child and adolescent intelligence. Springer. [2]McDaniel, M (2006). "Estimating state IQ: Measurement challenges and preliminary correlates". Intelligence 34 (6): 607–19. [3] Rauscher, Frances H.; Shaw, Gorden L. (1995). "Listening to Mozart enhances spatial-temporal reasoning: towards a neurophysiological basis". Neuroscience Letters 185: 44–47 [4] Moreno S., Bialystok E., Barac R., Schellenberg E. G., Cepeda N. J., Chau T. (2011). Short-term music training enhances verbal intelligence and executive function. Psychol. Sci. 22, 1425–1433 [5] Leopold W. F. (1953). "Patterning in children's language learning". Language Learning 5 (1-2): 1–13 [6] Bialystok E, Martin MM (2004). "Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: evidence from the dimensional change card sort task". Dev Sci 7 (3): 325–39 [7] Bekinschtein P, Cammarota M, Katche C, Slipczuk L, Rossato JI, Goldin A, Izquierdo I, Medina JH (February 2008). "BDNF is essential to promote persistence of long-term memory storage". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105 (7): 2711–6. [8] Aberg et al. Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009 [9] Kieran, C. R. Fox; Kalina Christoff (2014). "Metacognitive Facilitation of Spontaneous Thought Processes: When Metacognition Helps the Wandering Mind Find Its Way". The Cognitive Neuroscience of Metacognition: 293–319. [10] Arsenault, Dany,, Carl Julien et al. (2011). "DHA Improves Cognition and Prevents Dysfunction of Entorhinal Cortex Neurons in 3xTg-AD Mice". PLoS One. [11] VIOLA, Luciane F. et al. Effects of a multidisciplinar cognitive rehabilitation program for patients with mild Alzheimer's disease. Clinics [online]. 2011, vol.66, n.8 [cited  2014-09-02], pp. 1395-1400 . [12] Berns Gregory S., Blaine Kristina, Prietula Michael J., and Pye Brandon E.. Brain Connectivity. 2013, 3(6): 590-600. [13] Kühn S, Lorenz R, Banaschewski T, Barker GJ, Büchel C, et al. (2014) Positive Association of Video Game Playing with Left Frontal Cortical Thickness in Adolescents. PLoS ONE 9(3): e91506. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0091506 [14] Khalsa DS, Newberg A. Kirtan Kriya meditation: a promising technique for enhancing cognition in memory-impaired older adults. In: Hartman-Stein PE, Rue AL, editors. editors. Enhancing Cognitive Fitness in Adults: A Guide to the Use and Development of Community-Based Programs. New York: Springer; (2011). p. 419–31 [15] Zeidan et al. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 2010; [16] Li L, Wang Z, Zuo Z (2013) Chronic Intermittent Fasting Improves Cognitive Functions and Brain Structures in Mice. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66069. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066069

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