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You can train your brain PDF Print E-mail

By David E. Harrison

It is an unfortunate legacy of the early scientific psychologists, (Binet, Galton, Burt and others), that some psychologists still believe in the "fixed" Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) which Burt believed was the outcome of measuring "innate, general intellectual ability".  However, practical evidence that intelligence is not "fixed" is clearly displayed by intensive training given to students in the U.S.A. in preparation for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests commonly used for streaming into the university system.  (Amazingly, after that, American students often quote SAT scores as if they are "fixed").

Modern research shows that our intellects are very much affected by our "life experiences" mother-support in early childhood, education, training and the content of jobs.  The direct impact of training on brain growth is illustrated by the recent work carried out on those London trainee taxi drivers who (before GPS) were required to learn every London street name, location and format, and had to be able to specify optimal routes from one side of London to the other, taking account of traffic flows, one way streets etc.

To learn "The Knowledge", the informal name for this task, trainee taxi drivers would spend a couple of years cycling around London, notebooks in hand, cramming this information into their brains in any way possible.  The interesting finding has been that (through MRI scanning) certain areas of those student taxi drivers' brains increased in connectivity.  (complexity of circuits) and size, during the learning period.  Thus there is solid evidence that brain activity leads to physical development of the brain, much as an athlete develops muscles.  Similarly, mental functions have been found to fall away with disuse, much as the muscles atrophy when the athlete becomes sedentary.

Why aren't we Smarter?
It is commonly accepted that we use only up to 20% of our brains' capacities so we may reasonably pose the question "Given that we have the spare capacity, and that, with training, the brain can even be induced to grow, why are we not all much smarter than we seem to be?"

Answers have included:
(a) Most mothers provide sub-optimal stimulation during important years of brain and motivational growth - birth to about 7 years of age.  (Not surprising if mum is out looking for food).

(b) At school, large classes lead to inflexible teaching strategies.

(c) The teaching profession is under-paid.  Their rewards should be so structured as to attract the most talented and dedicated persons into teaching.

(d) The competitive large classroom motivates only a small proportion of students who happen to have the right combination of competence and competitiveness at the time.

The student who falls behind in the competition often adopts a negative self-evaluation, frequently with the caustic agreement of the teacher.  For a kid this is a difficult situation to overturn.  It is much easier to lapse into the comfort of unmotivated incompetence, or even motivated class-disruption!

(e) Exam systems are archaic and, by and large, lead to early specialization in a world in which the sum of human knowledge doubles in 10 years!

(f)  Just as is the case in athletics, mental training requires effort, and to many of us (for reasons associated with [a] to [d] above) thinking is a painful experience.

Achieving brain development would require high motivation and more enjoyable thinking activities than we tend to come across in our formal educations.  Some methods of self-development are described in the "Rotary Careers and Self-Development Handbook" available via Peter Compton on 04-486790/1. Ideas on how to turn brain-training into fun will be included in my next column.

There are thousands of free "brain-training" methods and games on the internet.  Many of them are most enjoyable.

David E. Harrison is a consulting Industrial & Vocational Psychologist. Website: www.hresonline.com Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   Tel: 04-700867

 
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