Archive for 'Self-Improvement'

Emotion revealing itself to researchers…

http://www.inderscience.com/search/index.php?action=record&rec_id=22645

This abstract points to a great example of the work being done to verify what AVS/Entrainment enthusiasts already know – that emotions, brain rhythms and audio-visual stimulation are usefully inter-related.

When looking for answers that apply to people in general, statistical science has a lot to offer – it’s nice knowing that what you think is happening with your sessions has a sound underlying mechanism. On the other hand, once you become familiar with your own personal responses, emotion/stimulus correspondences much better than “the average recognition rate of 56.66% and 66.67%” can be routinely achieved, i.e. knowing what your own EEG typically looks like, you will be able to tell a lot more about yourself than you could with a “blind” EEG, and you will quickly be able to predict your own response to a particular stimulus.

Abstracts like this are a goldmine for session developers – tantalising snippets just begging to be incorporated into AVS sessions.

With such safety and simplicity, it’s easy to underestimate what can be achieved with sound and light.

Cheers,
Craig

Neuro-Programmer 3 release!

We are proud to introduce the long-awaited Neuro-Programmer 3!

In the last five years since the release of version 2, we have invested heavily into research to improve the neural stimulation and overall effectiveness of the program. We have also been collecting input from our customers on how to increase usability and enhance the user experience.

This release adds an array of new and exciting features, making Neuro-Programmer more powerful, usable and more effective than ever before.

Here are a few of the new features available in NP3:

– Improved sessions and neural stimulation methods

– Biofeedback-optimized neural stimulation

– Export to MP3 or OGG

– Reverberation / Echo effects

– Pitch / tempo effects

– Volume normalization

– Visual plugins and enhanced screen flashing

– ALL sessions are now editable

– Improved recording and hypnosis scripting tools

– New layout, wizards and overall enhanced user experience

Try it out for yourself today! Explore the website for more information:

What’s new

Purchase

Screenshots

Video Tutorials

Upgrade from version 2

Enjoy!

New Years Resolutions: How to Succeed with Change Without Really Failing

New Years is a comin’ around the corner, and if you are like millions of other American’s, you’ll come up with one or more New Year’s resolutions, and then a few months later, you’ll find yourself consumed with other responsibilities. Sigh. Why is change so hard? Is there anyway to increase our likelihood of success? Yes! But we can’t expect it to be easy.

Deciding to change requires a cost benefit analysis. Many of our vices, whether they be overeating, smoking, gambling, shopping, or watching too much TV, have benefited us in the short term in some way. We may either find some pleasure in our habits, or they may serve to ease our anxiety about our present moment or situation. They may sooth us due to their familiarity, and may feel hopelessly ingrained. We may have received plenty of advice on how to change, and the steps look easy enough, so why haven’t we been able to implement them? Our doctors/therapists/mothers/experts have told us why we need to drop those pesky habits and/or embrace healthy ones. We’ve been told how it will affect our health, and we know that we aren’t doing ourselves any good by continuing with the status quo. So what is holding us back?

According to Hal. Arkowitz and Scott. O. Lilienfeld in the article “Why don’t people change?” in a 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind, there are four major forces that block change. 1.) The status quo feels like home. Its comfortable and familiar. Change is scary and unpredictable. 2.) People are concerned if they fail, they’ll just feel worse. 3.) Faulty beliefs. For example people might consider themselves a failure unless they’ve completely eliminated the problem. Or recommendations to change by family or authoritative figures are taken as an imposition against personal freedom, and thus we rebel. 4.) Our habits may be our best solution for dealing with distress or anxiety.

So with all these mental blocks to changing our habits, its no wonder that many of the tips we are given (ie. portion control, cutting up credit cards, etc), don’t do us much good unless we are ready and committed to change.

In the 1980’s Prochaska and Diclemente developed the Transtheoretical Model of Change, which is also called the Stages of Change model. It is used by therapists and researchers to describe what stage of change we are in. They are: 1.) the precontemplative phase: where we really aren’t interested in changing. 2.) the contemplative phase: a person may recognize at times that the behavior needs to be changed, but they aren’t ready to make the commitment to change. 3.) the preparation phase: a person may have decided to change, perhaps they’ve set a date or made small changes, but they are still not completely committed. 4.) the action phase: the person has made the commitment to change and has achieved abstinence from 1 day to 6 months. 5.) the maintenance phase: a person has changed behavior for 6 months, and is trying to prevent a relapse. Many therapeutic programs assume you are in the action phase and ready to change. But there is now plenty of research showing with a large number of addictive behaviors that if the therapy you receive doesn’t match your stage of change, that your chances of success are substantially lower. And what stage are most of us in? This probably depends on what behavior we are talking about, but its likely that most of us are in the contemplative phase with the more addictive behaviors.

Say there are 2 people who are trying to quit smoking and they’ve been abstinent for 1 or more weeks. But one of them came to the decision quickly because their friend’s father was just diagnosed with lung cancer. The other spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of being a non-smoker, gathered information about what it would take, and mentally prepared for any negative consequences of change (like loss of peers for example). Technically speaking, as per Janis & Mann (1977), the first person used a hypervigilant decision making process, was scared into quitting, and was motivated by a high degree of anxiety. The second used a vigilant decision making process, where she approached the decision more calmly and carefully. Research shows that people who’ve used vigilant decision making to reach the action phase are more likely to succeed. And the person who was scared into quitting has a higher chance of falling back into the contemplative phase.

So lets review. In order to successfully quit smoking, gambling, shopping, etc., we need to be in a therapeutic program that matches our stage of change. We are also more likely to succeed if we are well informed about the process, if we have thought carefully about the consequences of change, and if we prepared to address them.

So for those of us who aren’t ready to embrace change or who are good at talking ourselves out of it, there is a form of therapy called motivational interviewing that is worth a try. Motivational Interviewing is based on the concept of “I learn what I believe as I hear myself talk” (Miller, 1995, Miller & Rollnick, 1991). By asking the right questions, a therapist works to help you find your own reasons to change, and helps you think positively about the idea. The therapist needs to never be construed as being pushy or we are more likely to resist. He or she must be compassionate, and most importantly be very patient. It takes awhile to reprogram our thinking, and as we embrace action for change, we may encounter difficulties that bring us back to our original mindset. The therapist needs to help us prepare for what might happen and make sure that we are ready to handle it. And the therapist must help use set challenging and yet reasonable goals throughout the process. Thus motivational interviewing can help us use a vigilant decision making process to decide to change.

Now that we have a better understanding of what’s involved in getting rid of those vices, let’s start with some changes in how we approach our New Years resolutions. For those tough habits, success requires a lot of support. Ideally, we need a cognitive behavioral therapist who will access our readiness to change and determine what stage we are in, and who practices “motivational interviewing” as a part of their treatment. If you don’t have access to a therapist, you can start with the “Readiness the change ruler” by G.L. Zimmerman, C.G. Olsen and M.F. Bostworth in an article entitled “A ‘Stages of Change’ approach to helping patients change behavior”. It helps you determine what stage you are in, and gives you appropriate questions that match each stage of change. Its goal is to give you incentives to keep moving you forward through the process.

Changing those pesky persistent behaviors is no easy ride. It takes a considerable amount of energy to be disciplined, so the better we can relax and nurture ourselves the easier it will be to succeed. So we might consider adding yoga classes or other healthy ways of relaxing to our list of New Years Resolutions. People who succeed in major behavior change often have a great social network of support. So join group therapy, a 12 step program, or set goals with friends and family. And try to stay positive. The mantra “Yes we can” can be changed to “Yes, I can!” Embrace it folks! It could be your ticket to personal change!

References:

Arkowitz, H., Lilienfeld, S.O. Why don’t people change?. Scientific American Mind. June/July 2007: 82-83.

Janis L., Mann L. (1977). Decision making: A psychological analysis of conflict, choice and commitment. New York: Free Press.

Miller, W., (1995) Increasing motivation to change. In R. Heaster & W. Miller (Eds.) Handbook of alcoholism treatment approaches: Effective alternatives (2nd ed., 89-104). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Miller, W., Rollnick, S., (1991) Motivational interviewing: Preparing people to change addictive behavior. New York: Guilford.

Prochaska, J. DiClemente, C., Norcross J. (1992) In search of how people change: Application to addictive behaviors. American Psychologist; 47: 1102-1114.

Ryder, D., Deciding to Change: Enhancing Client Motivation to Change Behavior. Behavior Change. Vol 16 (3): 165-174.

Zimmerman, G.L., Olsen C.G., and Bostworth, M.F., A ‘Stages of Change’ approach to helping patients change behavior. American Family Physician 61(5):15; March 1 2000

Can we effect personal change?

For those of us who’ve been watching the news, it’s obvious that change has come to Washington. The most visible sign is that we will soon have a self-described mutt (in his case half black and half white) with immediate family from 3 different continents in the White house! How did it happen? It began with the efforts of one very effective community organizer who inspired many of us to find time in our busy schedules to work for something we believed in. It took thousands of volunteers and tons of time and money. But if we want to change something in our own personal lives, does it take that much effort?

According to this month’s Scientific American Mind article “Set in Our ways”, we are constantly yearning for something new, yet we begin to loose our appetite for novelty after age 30. Why? Well the most likely explanation is that we get bogged down by the responsibilities of life. Substantial change in our lives becomes more difficult as we develop social circles (ie work, family) that we are more interdependent with. The upside is that we become more reliable and agreeable with age.

Because new experiences can bring “chaos and uncertainty”, we become creatures of habit and hold onto what is familiar. According to brain researcher Gerhard Roth at the University of Berlin, habits imbue us with “feelings of pleasure”, and “holding to the tried and true gives us a feeling of security, safety and competence while at the same time reducing our fear of the future and failure”.

A study by Kate C. McLean at the University of Toronto Mississauga found that young people were more profoundly affected by novel experiences than older people. This is in line with research from Brent W. Roberts at the University of Illinois who found that our personalities become increasingly stable till about 60, when they begin to become less stable. Interestingly, it is this time in an adult’s life where children leave home.

Some people are more open to changes than others. Psychologist Richard W. Robins of the University of CA at Davis showed in a longitudinal study that the personality trait “openness”, relative to others, is a life-long trait.

So with societal responsibilities and what appears to be an ingrained desire for stability, how can we overcome this monumental force to induce personal change?

First we need to understand that the older we get, the harder it will be to change. Second, our self-efficacy, our belief in our power to achieve a goal matters. If our self-efficacy is too high, we are more vulnerable to “false hope syndrome”, where we may fail due to overblown expectations. We may launch forward without fully appreciating the challenges we face, and thus we may fail to educate ourselves about the best way to achieve our goals. In the case of trying to change a bad habit, we need to realize that we might rebel if are feeling deprived, and that our body may be more willing to accept small and gradual changes. We also need to recognize that our brains have been wired or programmed for a long time to engage in a particular habit, and that it takes time and persistence to change that wiring. Setting more realistic goals maybe the key to success. If our self-efficacy is too low, we may be easily discouraged, and become resigned to a belief that change is out of our control. Thus for effective personal change, perhaps the first thing we should work on is self-efficacy, which can be influenced by our social interactions, having appropriate models for change, our experiences and our perceptions of our physiological responses.

There is much research that looks at factors required to influence personal behaviors, habits and addictions. Stay tune for more details in future blogs. Meanwhile, returning to the question of whether personal change takes a monumental amount of time, people and money as it did to change our leadership: I believe for our most ingrained habits, it does. But I also believe if we begin by working on our self-efficacy, as Obama did with the mantra “Yes we can”, that we are off to the right start!

New study on Brainwave Entrainment (By Dr. Huang)

I’m pleased to announce the publication of “A Comprehensive Review of the Psychological Effects of Brainwave Entrainment” in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine this month. This paper is the most comprehensive review of peer reviewed research in the subject, and was written in order to inform those within and the beyond the field of brainwave entrainment (BWE), and to provide sufficient background for future research.

Most of the research known to date has been summarized by David Siever in two unpublished manuscripts that he sells and distributes. They contain much valuable information about the history of BWE, both published and unpublished studies and proposed mechanisms of action. However, despite their length, they do not provide a complete listing of the peer reviewed literature, nor have his manuscripts faced the scientific scrutiny that comes with publishing in a peer reviewed journal. In fact, in our comprehensive search, we found articles that have never before been mentioned by those in the brainwave entrainment development and scientific community. Why? Believe it or not, the problem is in the inconsistency in terminology used to describe BWE. The term, BWE, until today, cannot be found in the scientific literature. Instead it is referred to as audiovisual stimulation, photic stimulation, photic driving, auditory entrainment, etc, etc. In all I did a search using 31 different terms to look for articles on brainwave entrainment, which returned 27,830 articles using Ovid (1 out of the 4 databases I used to do the search). Only a very small handful of these turned out to be articles on BWE. Thus much of the credit needs to go to my bosses at Transparent Corporation, who gave me the time to do this exhaustive, time consuming, and yet important work.

I looked for papers with psychological terms that described outcomes that I’d seen associated with BWE on the web, in conferences and in the published and unpublished literature. After combining the two searches, and screening for those that were indeed articles addressing psychological outcomes of BWE, and those that passed some basic scientific criteria, we ended up with just 20 articles.

The psychological effects that had been examined in relation to BWE included cognitive functioning (we divided it into verbal, non-verbal, memory, attention and overall intelligence), stress (long and short-term), pain, headache/migraines, mood, behavior and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). When two or more studies had examined similar outcomes, we placed them into tables for greater comparability. Thus we had five tables divided by cognitive functioning, stress, pain, headaches/migraines and mood. Studies used a variety of different frequency protocols and stimulation methods which are outlined in the tables.

Out of the 20 studies, 17 were actually developed to support or confirm a hypothesis, and of these, all found a positive effect in at least one outcome. And in each outcome mentioned, at least one study had a positive finding. What was remarkable was that for some outcomes, only one of several protocols had a positive effect, while others were improved by a variety of different protocols. The most consistent positive findings were found in attention (4/4 studies), pain (3/3 studies) and headache/migraines (3/3). While positive effects were found in all other outcomes examined except for mood, either fewer studies had been conducted or a smaller percentage of the protocols examined were effective. Mood was examined in the 3 studies where the effects of theta were examined on a variety of outcomes. So we believe that the ability of brainwave entrainment to positively effect mood has not been properly tested in the peer reviewed literature.

Overall, we conclude that brainwave entrainment shows real potential to positively affect psychological outcomes. However, more and bigger studies need to be done, using additional outcomes and outcomes already examined. We hope that we’ve provided the necessary background to inspire future research and collaboration, so that the field of brainwave entrainment can gain recognition and momentum in the scientific literature.

To view a copy of this article, visit:

http://www.transparentcorp.com/research/

Tina L. Huang, Ph.D.
Director of Research
Transparent Corporation

Brainwave Entrainment And Depression

Depression is one of the main reasons I became interested in developing brainwave entrainment software. The first system I designed had a depression session I used to wean off of high doses of antidepressants. So, when new depression research surfaces, as it did late last year, I just can’t wait to get my hands on it.

First, some thoughts on depression and BWE.

Many BWE sessions for depression owe their success to the studies on Neurofeedback, which has identified some key neural characteristics of chronically depressed people. The depressed brain seems to exhibit lower overall brainwave amplitudes, and seems particularly deficient in the beta range. Alpha also seems overly abundant frontally, in the left hemisphere, and deficient in the right. You could say that the right hemisphere, which tends to be loosely associated with emotions, needs to be calmed down, while the left hemisphere, loosely associated with logic and rational thinking, needs to be stimulated into taking a more dominant role.

For people who are or have been chronically depressed, this may sound more than a little bit familiar. Rational thoughts play no part in depression. When asked why you are depressed, there really is no good excuse.

Based on the results of these EEG tests, brainwave entrainment sessions for depression were developed to stimulate beta. In some cases, alpha is sent to the right hemisphere to calm it down, while beta is sent to the left to perk it up. This is the type of session I used for myself.

In a study on Seasonal Affective Disorder (essentially, seasonal depression), Kathy Berg and David Siever used beta stimulation to raise 85% of the subjects out of depression. Anxiety and over-eating decreased. Motivation even increased. Siever has told me that more studies on depression are in the pipeline, waiting to be published.

I’ve also seen Gamma sessions used successfully for this purpose. The energizing effect alone is very beneficial to depressed individuals, who often feel as though they are “sleep walking” through life.

The latest study, which I’m going to discuss in a moment, also used beta, and reported some really extraordinary results as well.

However, depression is a broad topic. It obviously isn’t limited to people with low beta waves or frontal alpha asymmetries. Everyone gets depressed. Every few weeks I get an email from a user who used the depression session after having a bad day, or a bad week, and unfortunately most of the time a beta session just doesn’t work for them. This is not unexpected, since depression sessions are designed for the chronically depressed, not to help lighten the mood on a dreary day.

For melancholy caused by the everyday trials of human life, a pleasant relaxation session tends to work better. And there is some research to support this as well. Dr. Norman Shealy examined the effect of 30 minutes of 10 Hz stimulation, and found that it was enough to lift 60% of his subjects out of depression. He also noted an increase in serotonin levels.

High stress levels, anxiety and insomnia can also be the cause of depression. For these causes, even theta can be very helpful. But be cautious when dealing with slower frequencies, particularly theta and delta. Two separate studies (Lane, 1998, Wahbeh, 2007) found that theta and/or delta could actually increase depression scores (using the POMS, Profile of Mood States, test). Interestingly, the Lane study also showed that beta decreased those same depression scores.

Now to the new research.

Late last year,David Cantor, Ph.D. released some of the details of a new brainwave entrainment study on depression at the annual conference of the EEG and Clinical Neuroscience Society.

He used 14 Hz stimulation daily for 4 weeks, using pulsing tones and LED glasses.

Here are the results:

After 4 weeks, [Beck Depression Inventory] testing revealed “a huge drop” in self-reported depression scores in the treatment group, compared with no change in the untreated group, said Dr. Cantor.

QEEG testing also showed neurophysiologic changes in the treated patients (but not the untreated group) that corresponded to their reports of improved mood. “The QEEG changes we saw were noted in the frontal regions of the brain that have been shown by other studies to be involved in mood regulation,” he said.

The groups were then crossed over, so that the untreated group received treatment and vice versa for another 4 weeks. Similar results were noted in the newly treated group, but the group that had received the first phase of treatment showed a sustained effect of treatment, both behaviorally and neurophysiologically, even after 4 weeks of discontinuation. “That is suggestive of an enduring effect of the therapy,” Dr. Cantor said.

“To our knowledge, this may be one of the first studies that shows, in a crossover design, that audiovisual entrainment produces changes in brain function in particular regions that are involved in mood regulation,”

I find it particularly exciting that the effect lasted even after stimulation was discontinued. I can relate this to my own experience. I haven’t had to use the depression session hardly at all after the initial couple months of daily training.

There has been some debate over the years about whether the results of entrainment can become permanent. Some neurofeedback books I’ve read have adamantly claimed that it can’t, yet a growing body of evidence and follow-ups are starting to prove otherwise. Brainwave entrainment seems to increase the “flexibility” of the brain, or the ability to switch between one state and the next. For ADD and general cognition, research has shown the effects to be very long-lasting, and now perhaps we will start seeing similar results for other problems such as depression.

Here is an article on Cantor’s work if you’re interested: http://www.entrepreneur.com/tradejournals/article/172316583.html

The Mind WorkStation release

A couple months ago I was browsing through some old posts on the forum and I found one from September of 2006 where I talked about an application that was going to be in beta testing in “a couple months”. How’s that for an off estimate?

After two years of research and development, Mind WorkStation was finally released on Monday. We celebrated with a pizza party.

A huge amount of work went into this. This is the seventh software product we’ve released, and by far the most ambitious and complex. All through the development, release and support of the other products I’ve been taking notes about what users want to be able to do, what research needs to be done and what problems are encountered. So, in this application we had a very large to-do list. And all throughout development we were working very closely with other researchers, developers, AVS manufacturers, EEG and biofeedback vendors.

Dr. Huang’s new research played a big part in constructing the sessions that come with it. For example, we have been able to separate sessions into verbal vs non-verbal skills improvement. A session for memory has been developed, based on some very promising studies. There are also more fascinating sessions included, such as a migraine session using alternating-eye photic stimulation at 30 Hz, or a muscle contraction headache session randomly stimulating 1-3 Hz. Another even more successful migraine session uses frequencies chosen by the user based on comfort, instead of using a set protocol!

The idea of self-chosen frequencies is very interesting, especially when dealing with a large frequency range and people who have no experience with brainwave entrainment. Some choose gamma, others choose theta, others choose delta, and so on. Yet, at least with migraines, all appeared to benefit the user tremendously.

Michael Hutchison wrote that people have a subjective feeling of “connectedness” to a frequency when they are being entrained to it successfully. Perhaps this subjective feeling has a part to play in the success of self-chosen frequencies. I’ve written many times about how different everyone’s response is to brainwave entrainment. One person may respond very well to 8 Hz but not to 10. Or to 5 Hz but not to 7. EEG research has yielded some intriguing insights into why this is.

Brainwave entrainment occurs best at one’s natural dominant frequencies. In fact, the more dominant the frequency is (the higher the amplitude), the narrower the range a person can entrain to. Someone with a very high dominant 10 Hz frequency, may not be able to entrain at all to 7 Hz.

This is where EEG-Driven stimulation becomes very useful. It is a simple thing to discover a person’s dominant frequency in any frequency band, and that data can then be transferred in real-time to Mind WorkStation to be converted into audio/visual stimuli. We worked with the fine people at Thought Technology to develop a number of EEG protocols that do this. I also developed similar protocols in BioExplorer as well, so our EEG customers can do the same. The EEG-driven sessions I’ve tried so far have been nothing short of amazing.

The response to Mind WorkStation so far has been very positive. It is already being put to use developing sessions for clinics, nursing homes, ADD kids and more. I’m really looking forward to seeing what people do with it. We purposefully designed it to be as flexible as possible, so I fully expect to see it used in ways I could never have imagined. In the end, that’s the point; to make research and development in this industry easy.

Before I get back to regular blogging, I thought I would use this space to share some cool Mind WorkStation features.

Waveform Ramping

In Mind WorkStation waveforms can be “morphed” into each other over time. For example, you could start with an isochronic beat, and slowly morph it into a sine wave:

Here is an animation showing what happens to the sound over time:

-

3D Audio Positioning

This allows you to position audio in 3D space. Take a listen to the results with a relaxation script read by Max, along with some other relaxing sounds. Listen with headphones if possible.

 3D sound sample.mp3

Ambience Generator

The ambience feature randomly generates sound, reducing habituation by creating a different experience every time.

Random ThunderStorm.mp3

Random Forest.mp3

Those are three neat features I like to show off, but there is a lot more to the program. Biofeedback integration, playlists, entrainment-safe audio effects, filtering methods, new stimulation techniques, and so on. Visit the below links if you’re interested in learning more:

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/overview.php

http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/features.php

Better yet, download it and try it out for yourself! http://www.transparentcorp.com/products/mindws/download.php

Regular posting will resume soon. A lot has happened in the entrainment and neuroscience world in the past few months, I just haven’t had time to write about it. :)

The effect of belief on intelligence

A unique and fascinating new study was released this year by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, researching the effects of belief on cognitive performance.

The results: children who believed that intelligence was malleable and could be improved were much more likely to perform well in school. Children who believed intelligence was something set in stone – a genetic gift from birth that never changes – did not perform as well.

To test this, Dweck separated one hundred 7th grade students into 2 equal groups. All students had suffering math scores. One group was taught good studying habits, the other was taught about the plasticity of the brain, and how the brain can change; new neural connections can be formed and intelligence can actually be increased.

At the end of the semester, the children who had the crash course in neuroscience ended up performing better than those who were taught study skills! This is because their beliefs about intelligence had changed.

Here’s some excerpts from an article on this:

“Some students start thinking of their intelligence as something fixed, as carved in stone,” Dweck says. “They worry about, ‘Do I have enough? Don’t I have enough?'”

Dweck calls this a “fixed mindset” of intelligence.

“Other children think intelligence is something you can develop your whole life,” she says. “You can learn. You can stretch. You can keep mastering new things.”

She calls this a “growth mindset” of intelligence.  

“When they studied, they thought about those neurons forming new connections,” Dweck says. “When they worked hard in school, they actually visualized how their brain was growing.”

“We saw among those with the growth mindset steadily increasing math grades over the two years,” she says. But that wasn’t the case for those with the so-called “fixed mindset.” They showed a decrease in their math grades.

“If you think about a child who’s coping with an especially challenging task, I don’t think there’s anything better in the world than that child hearing from a parent or from a teacher the words, ‘You’ll get there.’ And that, I think, is the spirit of what this is about.”

In the articles on our website, we’ve been talking for years about how beliefs can work for or against your cognitive performance. Many people who approach us with cognitive issues want to focus only on the neurological or physiological aspect of that. Often, after a few months of work, it becomes apparent that a psychological approach is needed – the physiology is right for peak performance, but the belief system keeps the brain stuck in first gear. Negative beliefs about one’s intelligence can often be very hard to counteract. This study is useful in that it shows that merely learning more about the brain can help give your brain the boost it needs to make real progress.

NPR has a nice broadcast of this new research online: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7406521

Short term vs long term meditation on attention and delta waves

The beneficial effects of meditation on general health are well known, but what is surprising to many researchers is its positive effect on attention.

Australian Neuroscientist Dylan DeLosAngeles measured the brainwaves of a 13-person meditation group as they progressed through five different meditative states. He expected to find a brain pattern that slowly moved toward sleep, or increased Delta waves.

Instead, he found that Delta waves actually decreased. The brainwaves of these meditators indicated a calm, attentive mind, as opposed to a sluggish or dazed one. Alpha waves increased during the first states of meditation analyzed, and later decreased as the meditators moved on to other states.

Last month another study was published on the meditation-attention link, this time analyzing the effects on inexperienced students after just 5 days of meditation training.  This is unique because most of research so far has been focused on experienced meditators.

Here is what they found:

Recent studies suggest that months to years of intensive and systematic meditation training can improve attention. However, the lengthy training required has made it difficult to use random assignment of participants to conditions to confirm these findings. This article shows that a group randomly assigned to 5 days of meditation practice with the integrative body–mind training method shows significantly better attention and control of stress than a similarly chosen control group given relaxation training. The training method comes from traditional Chinese medicine and incorporates aspects of other meditation and mindfulness training. Compared with the control group, the experimental group of 40 undergraduate Chinese students given 5 days of 20-min integrative training showed greater improvement in conflict scores on the Attention Network Test, lower anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, and higher vigor on the Profile of Mood States scale, a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol, and an increase in immunoreactivity. These results provide a convenient method for studying the influence of meditation training by using experimental and control methods similar to those used to test drugs or other interventions.

This matches the subjective reports I’ve received from people over the years. It doesn’t take long to see a noticeable effect. This is great news for meditation newbies, but don’t discount the beneficial effects of a long-lasting daily meditation routine. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, studied both experienced and novice meditators. He found long-time meditators to be less susceptible to “attentional blink”, which means they are able to distinguish between two closely spaced objects where other people can not. He also found that extremely experienced meditators showed less brain activation in response to distracting sounds, while showing more activity than novices in regions related to concentration.

Weekly Brain Video: Memory techniques

Andi Bell isn’t an autistic savant. He wasn’t born with photographic memory. Yet, he is currently the reigning champion in the speed category of the World Memory Championships.

This is possible because of a memory technique Andi uses, which is explained in the following videos:

[YouTube]X-xl7_hdWZo[/YouTube]

Part 2:

[YouTube]9NROegsMqNc[/YouTube]

This technique reminds me a lot of Memory Pegs, which many of you may have already heard of.

The basic idea of these memory techniques is to associate a story or image with what you want to remember. The more humorous and outlandish the story, the better. For example, if I wanted to remember to buy turkey and paper towels at the store, I might picture a live turkey comically trying to escape from a wrap of paper towels.

I use this technique when I play Brain Age, which lists words much like the experiment in the above videos. I associate 2 words with something comical, and move to the next pair. Usually, I can remember all of them, and I certainly don’t have prodigious memory.

To me, the interesting and unique part about Andi Bell’s technique is the use of a familiar route to further reinforce the memory pathways. Start at the door of your house, associate a memory with it, walk into the foyer, associate a memory with that, walk through the living room, a new memory, and so on. This is brilliant.