Monday, March 18, 2013

MOOCs - the wave of the future

MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) are all the rage right now in technology and education. They are certainly not lacking in controversy, opportunity, availability or even from proponents and opponents. Here is a great article talking about some of the challenges to extending MOOCs to where it is needed most.

In a recent conversation with a colleague I feel that what we are seeing right now is just the exciting beginning. Lots of stuff out there, some good, some bad - but we haven't really been able to see the full range of possibilities. There will be at least another decade of development and incorporation before we begin to see any kind of massive change to a mixed model. It's a tech toy right now, there needs to be significant changes to infrastructure and culture perception for there to be any real change.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Potato chip addiction?

Our bodies respond in ways to junk food that our brains kind of enjoy, and they have very specific types of responses to junk food. Well...rats do anyway. Kind of explains a lot, doesn't it?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Technology and depression

So, you have an iPhone and you have depression. There's an app for that! I have no idea if this functions for any particular reason (although I'm sure the developers have very sound reasons), but I imagine that the placebo effect also plays a strong role. It is, nevertheless, very interesting.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Can drinking coffee help you in meetings?

It depends. If it is a stressful meeting coffee can help women cope better, but men...not so much. I wonder if it is a physiological reaction or a psychological one?

Build a better brain!

Well, maybe not "build" as such...but they are definitely working to analyze what can help improve your cognitive toolkit to make your brain a little better at what it does.

Language can influence your perception

There is some very good research going on in this area these days. I've posted before about various native tribes of people who's language can affect how they perceive color or affects how they do math. Now it seems that they are finally making this more of an empirical study and less of a sociological one and the results are showing that, yes, language influences our perception. I find this exceedingly cool.

There are no magic bullets

There is no magic bullet to help you stay fit, diet and exercise are the only way. And, as it turns out, the same recipe applies to staying fit mentally, you just have to add "novelty" to the mix. This is not a surprise. If you stay fit generally, you are probably also going to reap the benefits cognitively. Novelty challenges the brain so the more you can introduce, the more your brain has to refresh all the existing connections while forming new ones. So, exercise, diet and novelty = healthy life and brain. Simple. there anything they can't do?

Recent research has shown that placebos can work even without deception. I have nothing to add to this - it is just straight up freaky.

Depression treatment cont.

To continue with the topic of depression, it seems that medication doesn't seem to work very well when you only suffer from mild depression. It's a problem that exists in many medical issues: the band within which any anomaly is considered "healthy" can be pretty broad. However, if you are just at the edge of that band either way you probably don't get much medical treatment. Does this mean you're healthy? In many cases the answer is absolutely no, and yet it is difficult to treat with medicine as medicine is usually only used for the more severe space outside the "healthy" envelope. That same problem arises with depression - there are forms and types of depression that simply aren't touched by most anti-depressant medications.

Meditation or medication?

Which is more effective for depression? Medication or meditation? There really isn't a clear answer, but there is more and more research being done on the topic, and some of the results seem rather surprising.

Bad news for smokers

Smoking apparently makes your brain thinner - and not in a good way. Cortical thickness is directly correlated with smoking. Now, we're not sure what that effect ultimately means, but I'm going to side with the "that can't be good" arm of the debate.

Developing brain-doping drugs

There are a great many more drugs that can be used to enhance physical ability, and it should come as no surprise that there are quite a few drugs out there that can have some ability to enhance your cognitive ability as well. It should also come as no surprise that there is quite a bit of active research going on to design cognitive enhancing drugs. It will be very interesting to see what the future holds for us in this area.

Our brains like predictability

Which would explain why our brain won't let us hear unexpected sounds. It is remarkable how much our brains construct the "reality" we sense around us. Our perceptive abilities are remarkably narrow in scope and capacity and yet our brains help us build what we perceive as a rich tapestry of sensation around us.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mood lighting is an actual thing!

Here is another story that is only slightly less weird, but still pretty freaking cool: Color of ambient light directly affects our brain's emotional processing. Once again, I cannot do the article justice. It is simply cool to see a study that finds such an interesting effect.

So, apparently mood lighting really IS a thing!

Psychology of the future?

Every once in a while you read about a study that leaves your mind boggling, here is one such study: Study finds students are affected by psychological phenomena from the future. I cannot do the article any justice in trying to convey the utter weirdness, and also the undeniable coolness of the study in question.

Freaky stuff.

Gender equality in math

This is a much more complicated article than the title implies, but, yes, research has shown that essentially, boys and girls have equivalent abilities in math. There have been a number of studies on the subject (it is probably one of the best studied areas in the gender equality debates), and most of them point to general equality, and if they find a difference it is only in a few percentage points of difference, statistically significant, but practically unnoticeable.

Self-esteem needs to go away

I cannot count the number of times and the effort I have spent in banging the drum about how useless a term like "self-esteem" is in almost any circumstance. Research has shown again and again that efforts at boosting "self-esteem" are full of crap, and the concept itself is tenuous at best and utter garbage when looked at through the lens of popular culture. Try on this definition for size: self-acceptance. It certainly has the substance the author speaks of, other terms can also be used, self-worth or self-determination - but they all break down to one important factor: self-esteem as a holistic concept is bogus, but if you break it down into domain-specific areas, now you might get somewhere.

Zap your brain to improve math skills

I'm pretty sure I've posted about this before, but it is still cool: electrically stimulating your brain can help you be better at math (temporarily). This is not to say that you should take a 9 volt battery to your next math test and shove it on your tongue - it's a little more precise than that, but still.....I see a lucrative market if you could make a pocket-sized version of this.

Do something to increase learning

This shouldn't come as any surprise, but it is good to see it confirmed with observations, but apparently brain connections form faster when motor learning is engaged. In other words, if you DO rather than just listen, then you will learn faster and better.

As I said, educators have known this for a very long time, but it's good to see some neuroscience backing up the idea.

Aging isn't what it used to be...

This is good news for all of us that find ourselves aging much faster than we would like to admit. 70 yr olds are smarter than they were in the past. I wonder if this is similar to the Flynn effect for IQ testing?

Bad news ladies...

...Estrogen spikes can impair learning. I wonder what the effects are on pregnancy (longer, more sustained elevated estrogen levels) or if it just an artifact of an estrogen spike? Does testosterone have the same effect on men? Experiments have already proven that the presence of an attractive woman reduces cognitive pretty much, yes.

Ban cell phone conversations!

Well, they're not bad for your health, but they are certainly bad for your concentration, especially if you are listening to someone else have a conversation on a cell phone.

Aging - it's not what you think it is,,, least research is showing that what we typically associate with aging really isn't a "normal" part of aging. We've already seen research that shows that dementia is not a "normal" part of aging, and now we find out the memory loss isn't a part of that either.

Before you know it sore joints and wrinkled skin won't be a part of normal aging either. 

One can hope.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Data mining - not so easy

For those that have been paying attention it seems that science and a great deal of business is focused on more and more data. It is now quite common to see an "original" study that is simply an aggregation of multiple other studies with a new twist on statistical analysis. In business it can be even bigger data because the capability exists to collect data at increasingly minute and detailed levels of interaction.

However, there is a problem. Despite the increasing amount of data available, it still doesn't mean that there isn't an opposing and increasingly strong likelihood that you will interpret the data incorrectly. Whether working on business analysis or scientific analysis, the possibility to misinterpret or misunderstand (the more innocent mistake) or deliberately misuse or misinterpret data is still the single greatest danger.

Lies, damn lies and statistics. It's a great quote, and it is an incredibly important meme to remember whether you are looking at a study or doing a study yourself.

Sleep deprivation - not a good idea

This post is a companion to the prior post on strategies for studying. One of the first and most important strategies for learning effectively is to get a good night's sleep, primarily because there are some seriously bad effects of sleep deprivation.

Seriously - if you're a student, don't forget to get adequate sleep. You'll thank yourself later.

Strategies for studying

This is for all you students out there: 2 effective strategies for studyig

You should ALWAYS involve specific, planned out techniques and strategies when studying. Just "studying" simply doesn't get the job done. If you're trying to force material into your head that isn't interesting to you personally (which, for most of us is about 80% of what we are "required" to learn in high school or college) then you have to know how to force your brain to register and recall things.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Give your brain a break

Not a bad article. I preach to my students all the time that managing your attention is THE KEY to doing well at any endeavor. Understanding how your brain tells you when it has reached overload is a great way to begin to manage your attention span, and thus your stress levels.

How Your Brain Tells You When It’s Time for a Break |

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Repressed memories don't exist

Attention all Freudian psychologists: give it up already! Research shows that repressed memories don't exist. Actually, we've know for some time that many of the more famous examples of "repressed memories" - especially those used in court cases - were due entirely to therapists encouraging the memories in their patients.

Exercise to increase cognitive function

I've posted about it before, but here it comes up again: exercise can increase cognitive function over the long term. It seems that consistent exercise is more or less one of the biggest keys in maintaining a good quality of life over the lifespan.

Misdiagnosing childhood disorders

There is most definitely a problem with misdiagnosing children with disorders like ADD or ADHD, but this article points to a rather huge number of misdiagnoses. The current zeitgeist in the world of psychological treatments tends to focus a lot on medication, and the current zeitgeist of our culture tends to be more tolerant if not downright eager to accept a diagnosis like ADD or ADHD. I'm not sure what root causes are (but I have my theories), nor am I sure what the fix is, but I do know that it is becoming more of a problem all the time.