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Why Letting Yourself Make Mistakes Means Making Fewer of Them

Allowing mistakes is the best way to avoid making them.

Think back to the last time your boss assigned you a new project or task at work, or the last time you tried to tackle something really difficult in your personal life.  How did it feel?  I’m guessing scary, right?

While some people seem eager to tackle new challenges, many of us are really just trying to survive without committing any major screw-ups.  Taking on something totally new and unfamiliar is understandably frightening, since the odds of making a mistake are good when you are inexperienced.  Small wonder that we greet new challenges with so little enthusiasm.

How can we learn to see things differently?  How can we shift our thinking, and approach new responsibilities and challenges with more confidence and energy?

The answer is simple, though perhaps a little surprising:  Give yourself permission to screw-up.   Start any new project by saying  “I’m not going to be good at this right away, I’m going to make mistakes, and that’s okay.”

So now you’re probably thinking, “If I take your advice and actually let myself screw up, there will be consequences.  I’m going to pay for it.”  Fair enough.  But you really needn’t worry about that, because studies show that when people are allowed to make mistakes, they are significantly less likely to actually make them!  Let me explain.

We approach most of what we do with one of two types of goals: what I call be-good goals, where the focus is on proving that you have a lot of ability and already know what you’re doing, and get-better goals, where the focus is on developing your ability and learning a new skill.  It’s the difference between wanting to show that you are smart vs. wanting to get smarter.

The problem with be-good goals is that they tend to backfire when things get hard.  We quickly start to doubt our ability (“Oh no, maybe I’m not good at this!”), and this creates a lot of anxiety.  Ironically, worrying about your ability makes you much more likely to ultimately fail.  Countless studies have shown that nothing interferes with your performance quite like anxiety does – it is the goal-killer.

Get-better goals, on the other hand, are practically bullet-proof.  When we think about what we are doing in terms of learning and improving, accepting that we may make some mistakes along the way, we stay motivated despite the setbacks that might occur.

Just to give you an example, in one study I conducted a few years ago with my graduate student, Laura Gelety, we found that people who were trying to be good (i.e., trying to show how smart they were) performed very poorly on a test of problem-solving when I made the test more difficult (either by interrupting them frequently while they were working, or by throwing in a few additional unsolvable problems).

The amazing thing was, the people who were trying to get better (i.e., who saw the test as an opportunity to learn a new problem-solving skill) were completely unaffected by any of my dirty tricks.  No matter how hard I made it for them, students focused on getting better stayed motivated and did well.

Too often, when the boss gives us an assignment, we expect to be able to do the work flawlessly, no matter how challenging it might be.  The focus is all about being good, and the prospect becomes terrifying.  Even when we are assigning ourselves a new task, we take the same approach – expecting way too much too soon.

The irony is that all this pressure to be good results in many more mistakes, and far inferior performance, than would a focus on getting better.

How can you reframe your goals in terms of getting better? Here are the three steps:

Step 1:  Start by embracing the fact that when something is difficult and unfamiliar, you will need some time to really get a handle on it.  You may make some mistakes, and that’s ok.

Step 2:  Remember to ask for help when you run into trouble.  Needing help doesn’t mean you aren’t capable – in fact, the opposite is true.  Only the very foolish believe they can do everything on their own.

Step 3: Try not to compare yourself to other people – instead, compare your performance today to your performance yesterday.  Focusing on getting better means always thinking in terms of progress, not perfection.

Heidi Grant Halvorson Ph.D.   The Science of Success    Feb 01, 2011

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What is BDNF and What Does it Do?

BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, is a protein produced inside nerve cells.  The reason why it is so important to a healthy brain is because it serves as Miracle-Gro for the brain, essentially fertilizing brain cells to keep them functioning and growing, as well as propelling the growth of new neurons.

Although neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are important in helping the brain function because they carry the signals of neurons, the protein BDNF build and maintain the brain circuits which allow the signals to travel.

BDNF improves the function of neurons, encourages their growth, and strengthens/protects them against premature cell death.  It also binds to receptors at the synapses, to improve signal strength between neurons.

Essentially, the more BDNF in the brain, the better the brain works.  

What Happens When There’s Not Enough?

Naturally, we want more of this protein in the brain.  But what exactly happens when there is a lack of BDNF or when something prevents it from working properly? Along with impaired learning, decreased levels have been associated with a variety of neurological/mental conditions such as alzheimer’s, epilepsy, anorexia nervosa, depression, schizophrenia, and OCD.  Let’s talk about the specifics of a few of them.

Connection Between Depression and BDNF

Although researchers do not say that low levels of the protein is the cause of depression, many studies have found a connection between the two.  In the book Spark, Dr. John Ratey pointed out that a study of 30 depressed people found that every single one of them had low levels of the protein.  In a postmortem study of people who committed suicide and had depression, the researchers also found significantly decreased levels of the protein.

Even in individual without a mental illness, lower levels of the protein have been correlated with personality traits that make them less mentally resilient and more vulnerable to depression.

Again, researchers have not been able to find a single cause of depression and saying that low BDNF is the cause of depression would be irresponsible.  But it looks to be a factor.

Connection Between Anxiety and BDNF

Anxiety is fear.  Fear, to the brain, means a memory of danger.  Danger means something different to someone with a diagnosed anxiety disorder than someone without.

Here’s how anxiety works in the brain.  When confronted with real threat, there is no difference in brain scans of someone who doesn’t have anxiety disorder and someone who does.  However, the difference comes into play when it comes to everyday life, when situations are non-threatening.  A brain with anxiety cannot distinguish between a threatening situation and a nonthreatening situation, so it is always on high alert and fearful.  So to someone with an anxiety disorder, every situation is a dangerous situation.

The National Institute of of Mental Health labels anxiety a learning deficit—because the brain is unable to learn to discriminate between dangerous situations and benign situations.

Recent research has led scientists to believe that the protein is an essential ingredient in combating anxiety.  Scientists think this is due to the fact that it helps the brain learn to essentially work around the fear and create positive memories. In addition, higher levels of the protein ramps up levels of serotonin, which calms the brain down and increases the sense of safety.

Low BDNF and Impaired Learning

Since BDNF provides the infrastructure for effective learning, it follows that the lack of the protein impairs effective learning.  Additionally, people with gene mutations that robs them of the ability to produce the Miracle-Gro are more likely to have learning deficiencies.

In a 2007 study of humans, German researchers found that people learned vocabulary words 20 percent slower when compared to people that increased BDNF levels right before learning (by exercising).

Essentially, the protein is a mechanism for the brain to learn.  It gives the synapses the tools it needs to take in information, process it, associate it, remember it, and put it in context to see the big picture.

Age as a Factor

Alike many other chemicals in the human body, aging decreases BDNF levels.  That’s why it takes us longer to learn to do complex tasks as we age.  Remember, the protein is instrumental in learning quickly and learning well.

To make matters worse, it is estimated that 1 in 3 people have a genetic mutation that makes BDNF levels fall much faster than average.

Just how fast do the levels drop when you have this genetic mutation?  A study at Stanford University sought to answer this question.  The study took 144 airplane pilots ages 40 to 69.  They had the pilots do annual flight simulator test over a few years time.  The end result? The test scores of pilots who had the genetic mutation dropped twice as fast as the scores of the pilots that did not have the mutation.

But luckily, we don’t have to live with ever-decreasing levels.  That is because we can increase them through various ways, whether we have the genetic mutation or not.

Increasing BDNF Levels

As the Miracle-Gro of the brain, the more of it we have, the better.  Although it is a relatively new discovery, scientists do know that it can be increased in several ways.

 

Exercise

Aerobic exercise increases its production.  But science thinks exercise not only increases production the protein, but it also adjusts it to optimal levels that have been programmed into our DNA through evolution.

Carl Cotman, a neuroscientist at UC Irvine, ran an experiment with rats to see if there was a difference in BDNF production between various exercise routines.  Turns out, there is.  After just two weeks, those who exercised daily produced the protein much more rapidly than those who exercised on alternating days (150 percent of baseline versus 124 of baseline).  However, after a month, there was no difference in production of BDNF between those who exercised daily and those who exercised every other day.

But the study also noted that the protein returned to baseline (non-exercise) levels just after two weeks of not exercising.  This was true for both groups.  However, it shot right back up after just two days of exercising: 139 percent for daily exercisers and 129 for alternating day exercisers.

Researchers found that exercise in old rats made the brain function (almost) just as good as young rats.

Exercising is by far the most surefire and fastest way to increase BDNF levels.  That is why it is so effective in relieving stress and symptoms of mental illnesses.  This is also why exercise allows the brain to learn so effectively.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are plentiful in fish, especially deep-water fish (salmon, tuna, cod).  They have been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, heart problems, oxidative damage, and inflammation of the neurons.  They also provide a neuroprotective layer for the brain by raising and normalizing BDNF levels.

Although some sources say that you can take omega-3 supplements, there are studies out there the question the overall efficacy of fish oil supplements.  So the best way to get your omega-3 fatty acids is to eat them.  But if you are interested in seeing how much (and if) omega-3 supplements increase BDNF levels in men, then keep up with this clinical trial, which has not been completed yet.

While there are other sources of omega-3 fatty acids as well like nuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds, there is insufficient evidence to show that they have the same benefits as omega-3 from fish.  Omega-3 fatty acids from deep-water fish contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are essential to many of the benefits it provides.

Probiotics

In the book Brain Maker Dr. David Perlmutter recommends five strains of probiotics to increase BDNF levels in the brain.  Those are Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifodobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium longum.  Here are the common foods in which you can find each strain:

Lactobacillus plantarum: sauerkraut, pickles, brined olives, kimchi, Nigerian ogi, sourdough, fermented sausage, stockfish, and some cheeses (such as cheddar)

Lactobacillus acidophilus: yogurt, kefir, miso, and tempeh

Lactobacillus brevis: pickles, saurkraut, and beer hop

Bifodobacterium lactis: yogurt, miso, tempeh, pickled plum, pickles, kim chi, and many other forms of fermented and pickled fruits/vegetables that have not gone through the manufacturing process

Bifidobacterium longum: yogurt, milk, fermented dairy foods, saukraut, and soy-based products

Intermittent Fasting

For those that are not familiar, intermittent fasting is a form of dietary restriction in which the person goes without food for a certain amount of time (usually 12 to 24 hours).

Although the evidence is still thin, there are some studies out there that show intermittent fasting can increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor.  Dietary restriction seems to stimulate the production of new neurons, increase the brain’s ability to resist aging, and restore function to the brain following injury.  More specifically, intermittent fasting appears to result in a stress response at a cellular level that stimulates neuronal plasticity and the production of certain proteins, like BDNF.

Again, more research needs to be done on the connection between intermittent fasting and brain-derived neurotrophic factor but results so far look promising.

*******

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor is the foundation of all things good in the brain.  It allows the brain to work effectively and efficiently.  When there is enough Miracle-Gro in the brain and it is allowed to work efficiently, it enables the brain to create more memories, learn quicker, and operate at a higher level. When there’s a deficiency of it in the brain, it causes all kinds of cognitive and mental issues.

 


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5 Evening Habits That Set You Up For A Day of Success

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand. – Vince Lombardi

Those of us that have played sports, or been involved in any kind of competitive activity, will attest that a number of variables – controllable and uncontrollable – ultimately determine our success. It is our job to execute on the former without being negatively impacted by the latter.

Vince Lombardi is considered by many to be the greatest professional football coach of all time. Perhaps Lombardi’s most celebrated attribute was his ability to motivate and get the best of out his players and staff. He realized that people require drive and motivation to produce their best work and be successful.

Lombardi also realized that, while he was a great coach, much of the will to succeed came from inside of the players themselves. And so it is with each one of us. If success is to be our destination, we must commit to self-discipline. We must commit to “perfecting” the right behaviors and mitigating the wrong ones. This includes recognizing – and working on – all controllable factors…even those that are much less obvious.

Our evening habits play a crucial role to our success, though we may not give them the attention they deserve at times. It is so easy, in this era of overwork and overexposure to stress, to use our evening time counterproductively. We must resist such forces, however tempting they may be.

To that end, we’ve developed a list of five evening habits that will prepare you for a day of success. We encourage you to consider each one, and measure your aptitude on each.

HERE ARE FIVE EVENING HABITS THAT CREATE TOMORROW’S SUCCESS:

1. PRIORITIZE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

This is a drum that has been beaten before, and will be beaten again: physical activity – of any and every kind – is absolutely critical to our well-being. This also includes our relative success. When we prioritize physical activity, we’re fine-tuning our minds and bodies for the work ahead of us.

Though not a “typical” time for working out, getting your sweat on at night can be beneficial. After all, what better time for a physical and mental tune-up than after a long day’s work? We could probably use some stress relief too, and exercise is arguably the best stress reliever out there.

time

2. GIVE LOVED ONES YOUR TIME
Of course, it is important to devote some of your valuable off-time to friends and family. Success isn’t truly success unless its achieved with your loved ones. One of the perceivable shortcomings of some of those who’ve achieved great success (e.g. Einstein) is that they did so while sacrificing their relationships. Maybe it wasn’t the intent of Mr. Einstein, but many of his relationships were an abysmal failure; though, the man himself remains one of the most celebrated.

Most of us are not Albert Einstein. We’re probably not going to devise anything similar to the Theory of Relativity; or attempt to provide an equation for the space/time continuum. But, whatever our definition of success is, we’re going to find it difficult to get there without prioritizing our loved ones. Even if we should achieve it, as Einstein did, that success may be more bittersweet.

3. IDENTIFY TOMORROW’S THREE BIGGEST TASKS

This one is incredibly important. Many of us (this writer, included) are not particularly adept in short-listing our work…we kind of just “go with the flow” at times. The process of trying to achieve success is made more difficult when we don’t prioritize, and this includes in our work.

So, to make things simpler, jot down the tomorrow’s three most demanding tasks and commit to them early. In doing so, it’ll become more difficult to get sidetracked; either with less-important tasks or useless distractions. More energy will be expended in completing these tasks, while both our collective attention and energy will become much more focused.

4. COMMIT TO LIFELONG LEARNING

Success is more of a mental exercise than anything else. Our cognitive abilities directly impact the likelihood of success on any scale. Thus, it is important to keep our brain active. One of the best ways in ensuring that we remain cognitively-active is to learn something new, each and every day.

The world is saturated with enough interesting information to keep us occupied throughout multiple lifetimes. A terrific way to obtain this new information, while continually-developing our smarts, is to commit to reading for a designated period of time every evening. Give 15 minutes a go at first, and then commit to more if so willing and able.

5. REFLECT ON THE DAY AND GIVE GRATITUDE

Before a well-deserved sleep, make it a goal to reflect on the day. What were some of the successes? What could you have done better? What will you do the same of tomorrow? What will you do differently? Be honest with yourself.

The eclipsing day undoubtedly brought its trials; and sometimes it’s important to reflect on those, as mentioned above.

Just as important, however, is to recognize – and give gratitude towards – the many blessings that unfolded throughout the day. What are you grateful for? Remember that gratitude and carry it forward. As John F. Kennedy said: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciate is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

 

Power of Positivity     OCTOBER 1, 2016 

 


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7 Simple Ways to Make It a Better Day

When someone visits a psychiatrist for the first time, it’s usually at an inflection point: Something big has happened, is happening, or is about to happen. Helping patients navigate their way through such transitions is the goal.

Over the years I have learned an important lesson. In addition to discussing the “big issue” that brings a patient through the door, it is equally important to focus on the everyday. Talking about how the person spends their time and conducts their daily life is essential. Understanding their habits and rituals not only helps me understand who they are, it also enables me to recommend small changes that can help them feel a little bit better. Often, a minor tweak in someone’s day-to-day routine can help them feel stronger—even within their stress.

As writer Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Her words ring true for all of us. The actions we perform on an everyday basis determine who we are in the long run.

Here are seven ways to make the most of your daily life:

1. Learn something new.

Look for an opportunity to expand your knowledge every single day. Listen to a podcast, read an interesting article, or learn something from a friend. Remember, everyone you meet knows something you don’t.

2. Make someone’s day.

Do something, anything, for someone else. It’s an immediate mood booster. Going out of your way to be kind to others also helps you feel more in control.

Kindness

3. Use your strengths.

You excel when you get to do what you do best. Research shows that employees who get to use their strengths outperform those who don’t; these employees also feel more fulfilled.

4. Fortify yourself.

Actively decide to eat well, move more, and sleep better. Every bite of food, every extra step, and every extra hour of rest has a significant impact. Your everyday decisions affect the quality of your health and life.

5. Think forward.

What are your long-term goals? Do at least one thing that brings you a step—even a baby step—closer to them each day.

6. Do something meaningful.

Do something, no matter how small, that somehow improves the world. It may be as simple as picking up a piece of garbage from the street.

7. Take a moment.

Spend, at minimum, 30 seconds reflecting on what you have accomplished and appreciating what you have. Expressing thanks is one of the simplest ways to feel better.

Samantha Boardman, M.D.       Jul 12, 2016
 
For science-backed, actionable insights delivered directly to your inbox,
visit www.PositivePrescription.com and sign-up for The Weekly Dose
 
Samantha Boardman, M.D., is a clinical instructor in psychiatry
and assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill-Cornell Medical College.


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This One Shift Will Change The Way You See Yourself (& Others!)

  • The Challenge: We often assume our abilities and behaviors cannot (or are too hard to) be changed.
  • The Science: You are, indeed, capable of change! It’s all about the way we look at it!
  • The Solution: Cultivating a growth mindset can create positive change and new opportunities in your life!

We are often taught from a young age and through a variety of influences that ability is fixed. Either we’re smart or we’re not.  We’re athletic or we’re not. We’re artistic or we’re not. And certainly, we all differ to some extent in the types of things that seem to come more naturally to us.

Sometimes we’re standing in our own way

The problem is, this way of thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if a young child does poorly on a math test and thinks “I failed this test because I’m not good at math,” she is less likely to study as much for the next test (thinking it’s not worth the effort, since she’s not good at math).  Consequently, she also does poorly on the next test, which reinforces the belief in her lack of mathematical ability.

However, if this same child, after doing poorly on the first math test thinks instead, “I must have failed this test because I didn’t study enough, or didn’t have the right kind of help” then she is more likely to seek out the help she needs the next time, and spend more time studying – thus increasing her chances of doing better on the next test.

What is your type of mindset?

This example illustrates the difference between what Carol Dweck calls a “fixed” mindset and a “growth” mindset. People who have a fixed mindset tend to believe that abilities and talents are fixed traits, and that that they are stable over time. In other words, people are born a certain way and don’t change.

People who have a growth mindset, on the other hand, tend to believe that with dedication and intentional practice, we can improve our abilities and learn new skills and behaviors.  In other words, people can change.

Believe you can develop new skills

What seems like a simple and perhaps inconsequential distinction has big implications for what we can achieve. Research shows that students who believe (or are taught) that intellectual abilities can be developed (as opposed to being characteristics that are fixed) are more likely to succeed in challenging classes, and show high achievement through challenging transitions. In sum, if you believe that your abilities can be developed, you’re more likely to develop them.

Your mindset in the workplace

Not only does a fixed or growth mindset influence our personal behavior, but it also influences the way we see and treat others. A 2008 study of managers found that those who assumed personal qualities to be fixed traits (i.e. a fixed mindset) were less likely to recognize positive changes in the performance of their staff. They were also less likely to coach their employees about how to improve performance. However, managers who received an intervention designed to cultivate a growth mindset subsequently provided more useful coaching to their employees, and more accurate performance appraisals.

growth-mindset

 

How our mindset also affects our relationships

Mindset affects our friendships and romantic relationships as well. A 2012 study of romantic couples revealed that people who do not think their partner is capable of changing (a fixed mindset) are much less likely to notice their partner’s genuine efforts to improve the relationship when these efforts do happen. People who believe their partner can change (a growth mindset) and recognize that s/he is making efforts to improve (even small efforts) are more likely to feel happy and secure in their relationship.

These kind of interactions happen every day. For example, think of that friend of yours who never follows through on what he promises. If you have a fixed mindset, then you likely believe this person will never change (i.e. “that’s just the way he is”).  Because of this mindset, the research shows that you are less likely to engage with him, to give him feedback that might be useful, or to help him find strategies that might make follow-through easier. Perhaps most importantly, you are much less likely to notice any improvements in this person’s behavior if he makes them.  In other words, because you think he can’t change, you’re not able to see changes when they happen, even if they’re right in front of your face.

What you can do:

1) Don’t write yourself off! Catch yourself making blanket statements about your own abilities, and try to reframe them.

  • Instead of saying, “I’m not athletic,” reframe by saying “I haven’t spent a lot of time playing sports.”
  • Or try adding the word “yet” onto the end of those blanket statements, and open the door of possibility. For example, “I’m not a good artist…yet” or “I can’t speak well in front of people…yet.”

2) Notice change and effort. Be on the lookout for positive changes in others’ abilities and behavior, no matter how small these improvements may be. Point them out and show appreciation and encouragement for people’s effort; noticing and appreciating the changes people are striving to make will strengthen your relationships.

3)Cultivate a growth mindset. Believe that we all can further develop our abilities and skills with dedication and practice. We can learn new things if we work at it!

The moral of the story?

Adopting a growth mindset has the potential to open up new opportunities in your own life. It will also allow you to see other people differently (and often in a more positive light), and open up possibilities for new and improved relationships. Start noticing your mindset today!

Katie Conlon, M.A., MAPP is a Trainer, Coach, and Consultant. She works with the Center for Leadership and Organizational Change at the University of Maryland and runs her own private practice, The Phoenix Nest. She is an Assistant Instructor in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania, and a member of the faculty of the Flourishing Center’s Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology. Katie also develops curriculum for George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. She earned a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in counseling and personnel services from the University of Maryland.

By Katie Conlon             July 1, 2014

 


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Where Neuroscience is Making the Impossible, Possible

Glimpse a revolutionary future enabled by neuroscience

Recently, while preparing to deliver a TED talk on Broadway, “What Will Be the Next Big Scientific Breakthrough?,” I thought a lot about the impossible.

Once, human flight was impossible. Instant communication anywhere, anytime was impossible. Leaving Earth was impossible. Seeing farther than the naked eye was impossible.

Scientific revolutions have turned a long list of impossibilities into everyday possibilities. And science is far from finished transforming absurd fantasies into everyday realties.

Nowhere is this more true than with neuroscience.

Thanks to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we can already see living brains think, we can relieve Parkinson’s tremors with the flip of a switch through brain implants, and we can beam thoughts instantly across the planet from one person to another via sensitive scalp probes and superconducting brain stimulators.

Where is neuroscience poised to elevate the art of the possible and change our lives?

Here are three of the most tantalizing possibilities. Some of these seem far-fetched at best and absurd at worst, but that is always true of revolutionary advances just before they happen. Physicians thought Ignaz Semelweiss was insane for believing microbes caused disease. Ditto for Wegener who postulated that continents drift and for Barry Marshall, who argued that the bug h pylori causes ulcers. The list of insane ideas that ultimately proved correct goes on and on: a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs, humans descended from primitive species, Earth revolves around the sun.

Buckle your seat belts for a wild ride through a (possibly) revolutionary future, brought to you courtesy of modern neuroscience. Some of this work may fizzle out, but some will dynamite our concept of what is impossible.

  • Implanting and triggering false memories. MIT neuroscientists Liu and Ramirez (see TED talk) injected mice with nanoscopic optical switches that are absorbed by neurons in the hippocampus while the neurons are form new memories. The MIT scientists then trained these mice to fear a particular environment through mild shocks. Using implanted lasers to turn on optical switches can excite the same hippocampal neurons that recently formed the “fear” memories. Liu and Ramirez got mice to “replay” fear memories in new environments that the rodents had no reason to fear. This was an astonishing accomplishment at multiple levels. Tagging and identifying nerve cells that hold specific memories was once thought to be impossible. Selectively activating such a small population of neurons to replay the memories was believed to be even more improbable.

Why should we care?

If this technique were to work in humans, it might be possible to create and stimulate positive memories to overwrite bad memories, such as those of PTSD sufferers. Or, as Steve Ramirez himself has speculated, perhaps we can someday erase the pain of bad romances!

brain

 

  • Bring the dead back to life. Recent advances in stimulating growth of new brain cells using stem cell implants, genetic switches, and other tricks, raise the possibility of reviving patients who are clinically “brain dead.” Through the “ReAnima” project, biotech companies BioQuark and Revita Life Sciences received approval to attempt to revive 20 patients declared brain dead using a combination of peptides and mRNA that stimulate new nerve growth, stem cell implants, optical and electromagnetic brain stimulation, and other techniques to kickstart stalled brains. Finally, cryopreservation of brain tissue shows some promise in cats, rodents, and other mammalian species. For example, cat brains frozen for years, then carefully thawed, exhibit measurable neural activity. Perhaps, someday, even after brains “die” they can be frozen and later brought back to some semblance of  life.

Why should we care?

Apart from giving new hope to deep coma victims and their families, the combination of neural regeneration and revitalization techniques could help treat Alzheimers, Parkinson and stroke patients. The methods may even restore healthy “older” brains to youthful vigor. And the possibility that we might succumb to an incurable disease, be frozen (or preserved some other way), and later be resurrected when the disease becomes curable, cannot be completely ruled out. It sounds crazy and probably is crazy, but based on the cryo-neuroscience, I would never say such a thing is impossible.

  • Making animals as smart as humans. Rash and colleagues at Yale University discovered that they could make embryonic mouse brains more human-like by delivering fibroblast growth factor to the animals’ developing brains. Rash succeeded in inducing mice brains to develop gyri and sulci typical of more “advanced” mammals such as cats, monkeys, and humans. As shown in the photo, mouse brains are normally smooth, lacking the complex folds that allow human brains to pack in hundreds of billions of neurons into a small volume. But Dr. Rash induced “gyrification” in mouse brains that gave these normally unfolded brains folds. Other researchers have achieved similar results by activating the Trnp1 gene in mice (a gene shared with humans) permitting embryonic rodent brains to develop and grow longer than they normally would.

Why should we care?

I am not eager to have a pet mouse or dog that is as smart—or even smarter—than I am. I like  dogs who are loving, uncomplicated, and not prone to argue with me about when to take a walk.  But, if the early promise of “induced gyrification” pans out, someone is bound to create smarter animals to perform tasks that were once the sole province of humans. This will reduce payroll costs, employee medical insurance costs, and get around unions (unless the newly intelligent creatures decide to unionize, demand the right to vote and so forth). Perhaps we will need smarter humans just to cope with the smarter animals we create!

This raises a question: if increased gyrification produces smarter animals, why not smarter humans? Countries wishing to field smarter soldiers, or smarter scientists might be tempted to turbocharge human brains.

Taken together, if all three of these impossible neuroscience advances make the impossible possible, what will our future hold?

  • Can we learn new things simply by going to a memory salon for treatments?
  • Can we regrow lost brain tissue and recover from “incurable” neurodegenerative diseases?
  • Can we come back to life after leaving it?
  • Can we discuss Proust and Goethe with our Labrador retriever and seek his opinion on our troubled relationships?
  • Can we ask this same canine where he believes science will next make the impossible, possible

 Possibly!

To have more fun with neuroscience, learn more about my new book, Brain Candy.

References


https://www.ted.com/talks/steve_ramirez_and_xu_liu_a_mouse_a_laser_beam_…
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Xu Liu,† Steve Ramirez,† and Susumu Tonegawa, Inception of a false memory by optogenetic manipulation of a hippocampal memory engram
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Trnp1 Regulates Expansion and Folding of the Mammalian Cerebral Cortex by Control of Radial Glial Fate Ronny Stahl,Tessa Walcher, Camino De Juan Romero,5 Gregor Alexander Pilz,3 Silvia Cappello,3 Martin Irmhttp://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(13)00349-8
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Eric Haseltine Ph.D. Eric Haseltine Ph.D.      Long Fuse, Big Bang      Jul 09, 2016


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The Common Spice That Boosts Learning Ability

One cause of low learning ability is an imbalance of proteins in the hippocampus that can be corrected.

The common household spice cinnamon could be used to enhance learning ability, a new study reveals.

Some people seem to have more difficulties with learning than others.

Some lab mice are the same.

But when lab mice that were poor learners were fed cinnamon their learning improved, the researchers found.

Dr Kalipada Pahan, who led the study, said:

“This would be one of the safest and the easiest approaches to convert poor learners to good learners.”

One cause of a low ability to learn is thought to be an imbalance of proteins in the hippocampus, the part of the brain vital for memory and learning.

Cinnamon, though, is transformed by the body into sodium benzoate: a drug used to treat brain damage that rebalances critical proteins.

In the study, mice were fed cinnamon for a month.

The results showed that the poor learners improved dramatically in terms of their learning and memory.

cinnamon

Dr Pahan said:

“We have successfully used cinnamon to reverse biochemical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with poor learning.”

Cinnamon, though, did not have any effect on the mice who were already good learners.

Dr Pahan said:

“Individual difference in learning and educational performance is a global issue.
We need to further test this approach in poor learners. If these results are replicated in poor learning students, it would be a remarkable advance.”

Cinnamon has also been found in previous research to reverse changes related to Parkinson’s in the brains of mice.

Along the way, they have discovered the best type of cinnamon to use (Ceylon versus Chinese), Dr Pahan explained:

“Although both types of cinnamon are metabolized into sodium benzoate, we have seen that Ceylon cinnamon is much more pure than Chinese cinnamon, as the latter contains coumarin, a hepatotoxic (liver damaging) molecule.”

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology (Modi et al., 2016).

 
source: PsyBlog  July 13, 2016