A recent study demonstrated that two cups of hot cocoa a day for a month improved brain health and thinking skills in the elderly. The study included 60 people who on average were in there 70s. Those participants with impaired blood flow showed an 8.3% percent improvement in blood flow and a 31% improvement in response time on a working memory test.
In more technical terms:
There is a strong correlation between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function, and both can be improved by regular cocoa consumption in individuals with baseline impairments. Better neurovascular coupling is also associated with greater white matter structural integrity.
Neurovascular coupling refers to the link between brain activity and the amount of cerebral blood flow. Better blood flow, better thinking. This is a new finding.
Participants consumed no other chocolate during the test.
Cognition is embodied. That is, how well you think and learn is in part controlled by how you use your body. We have covered many examples of how this works in the Next Brain Blog including stepping back for better emotional control, talking with your hands, thinking by walking around, posture effects (e.g. folding your arms) and short-duration physical activities interspersed with study.
See Use Your Body to Improve Thinking Instantly for more details.
Now the PsyBlog offers an excellent summary in 8 Easy Bodily Actions that Transform Mental Performance. These include for example, how using a deep voice can improve abstract thinking, a power stance can improve your sense of control, and just imaging yourself walking towards an important person or object can increase a sense of mastery.
Some of these are new to me and I am actively experimenting with them. Interested to hear from readers that have tried them out.
Being thirsty might be distracting enough to significantly interfere with your results on a simple response time test. At least that is what recent research reported in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests.
The Live Science blog summarizes the experiment nicely in the post, Drinking Water May Provide a Mental Boost. The bottom line:
“In the study, participants who drank about three cups of water (24 ounces, or 775 milliliters) before taking a battery of cognitive tests performed better on a test that measured reaction times compared with those who did not drink water…Reaction times were 14 percent faster among the water group than the no water group.”
For this effect to work participants needed to feel thirsty and were asked to avoid eating and drinking over the night before the experiment.
The article goes on to report that the link between slaking your thirst and cognitive performance is far from clear.
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A group of artists, brain imaging specialists, computer programmers, neuro-technologists and others are building a 15 foot model of the brain. It includes a network of colorful LED lights that are activated by signals sent from a portable EEG headset you wear while walking through the model.
The plan is to launch the project at the next Burning Man event. The team hopes (pending funding) to then take it to schools and inspire students and teachers.
As we age our memory changes. Sometimes it is hard to know if your experiences are natural “senior moments” or early warning signs of serious memory problems such as those related to dementia, mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease. MemTrax was developed to help address this issue. It is a simple visual memory test you can take in 1-4 minutes. Your score is easy to understand and if you take the test on a regular basis, say every month, you can see how it changes over time.
The initial test is free and you can see how it works in this demo. You can take the test on from your computer, iPhone or iPad.
I am interested to hear from readers that use MemTrax or other instruments that screen for neurodegenerative memory decline.
The AARP has an excellent article on brain boosting foods. It covers 14 recipes ranging from pecan cranberry and orange muffins to an asparagus, mushroom and ham quiche with a potato crust. You get a full recipe for each dish as well as a brief explanation of the brain enhancing ingredients.
The information comes directly from the book, ThinkFood: Brain Healthy Recipes. The AARP worked with Posit Science to collect ideas from 50 renown food bloggers. Unfortunately, the book is currently unavailable. I am interested to hear from readers that have a copy and want to share their favorite recipe.
Click the image to watch the official trailer.
There is a lot of interest in getting better at innovation these days. While much of the focus is on creativity skill, a broader view indicates there are four areas you need to cultivate to build your innovation brain. These include:
- Find or energize an innovation calling
- Reframe thinking to go in new directions
- Learn rapidly and deeply from experience
- Influence others to adopt new practices.
Surprisingly, the topic of influence seems to get the least attention. Innovators must convince others to invest time and resources in their raw ideas, persuade early adopters to try out prototypes and spend tremendous energy getting others to change behavior in order to grow a user base. Influence is a key to all phases of innovation.
There are many excellent books on how to get better at positive influence. Two of my favorites are the Influencer now in a second edition and How to Get People to Do Stuff. The Influencer advocates a focus on vital behaviors and provides a broad framework for crafting influence strategies. Get People to Do Stuff zeros in on the seven sources of motivation and provides very specific suggestions. For example:
“If you use nouns when making a request, rather than verbs – for example: “Be a donor” versus “Donate now” – it results in more people taking action. That’s because nouns invoke group identity.”
A careful read of both books reveals that they are recommending many of the same ideas. Indeed, I recently completed a review of over a dozen of the best books on influence and found they have five common themes and offer 25 best practices. The themes most relevant for innovators include:
- Craft compelling messages and stories
- Provide extra support to early adopters
- Be authentic, likeable & appreciative
- Master the five factors of innovation diffusion
- Leverage opinion leaders and indirect influence.
I’ve documented the 25 best practices as knowledge cards in the NewHabits, a free iPhone and iPad App. You play a card daily to experiment with and eventually master a proven influence technique. Cards are designed to fit into your everyday routine and take minutes to use. Each card is a small-step learning experience that accumulates over time into the habits of highly effective influencers.
An example card and table of contents for the deck is shown below.
One of the best ways to sharpen your mind is to debate others. Whether you do it formally or informally in written form or verbal form challenging the thinking of another person will give you a good mental work out.
But what are the rules of mental engagement? How can it be done in a civil way that maximizes its brain boosting effects? One of the best suggestions I have seen comes from Daniel Dennett a well-known philosopher in his new book, Intuition Pumps and other Tools for Thinking.
He starts the book with a quote that very much reflects the philosophy of the Next Brain Blog:
“You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands and you can’t do much thinking with your bare brain.”
His specific suggestion for engaging others is summarized in the section on Rapoport’s Rules and involves a four step process:
- First you summarize the other person’s point and have them confirm that you understand it.
- List all the points you agree with.
- List the new things that you have learned from studying the other person’s position.
- Finally offer an initial criticism or rebuttal.
An excellent way to positively provide feedback and engage others in discussion and debate. It also gives your brain an excellent workout by requiring emotional control, replay, reflection and critical reasoning.
Rapaport’s rules are only one example of the many thinking tools Dennette reviews. I will blog about several others later this month.
Next time you find yourself disagreeing with someone apply Rapaport’s rules and give your brain a workout.
Willpower is the ability to carry out plans and reach goals especially when obstacles challenge us. It is what we use to resist temptation and keep going when we want to stop. Motivation, self-control, determination and grit all rolled up into our force of will.
The topic of willpower is getting a lot of attention these days. A few examples:
- Akst, D. (2011). We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess
- Baumeister, R. and Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
- McGongal, K. (2011). The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It
Some researchers argue that willpower is like a muscle. If we push too hard we become fatigued and can fail. On the other hand, if we train we can become very strong and develop endurance. But what techniques should we use to train?
To guide my training efforts I have reviewed the research and compiled 25 techniques that are practical enough to use in an everyday setting. To keep things simple I’ve documented each technique on a knowledge card that takes only a few minutes to use. Check out the example card to the right.
You can access the techniques in NewHabits a free iPhone and iPad app. Look in the store for the willpower deck. In the morning I quickly scan the deck and pick a card I want to play. With each play I strengthen my willpower muscle. It is easy to share the cards with friends through email, Facebook or Twitter.
Give the App and try and share your cards with others. I would like to hear from readers about how well the cards work and what other cards should be added.