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Sat, 06 Feb 2016
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How your language shapes your brain and personality

© Prevent Disease
The language you are introduced to affects the structure of your brain, influences how you see the world and who you are. But what if you speak two languages?

Can learning a language rewire your brain?

As our species evolved parts of our brain expanded, resulting in more computing power for language. It's what makes us hard-wired for communication. What is perhaps more surprising is how language can shape our brains throughout our lives.

Most of the evidence for this comes from studies of people who are bilingual. Being bilingual offers widespread benefits across a range of complex cognitive tasks and it comes from distinct areas of the brain.

Brain scan studies show that switching between two languages triggers different patterns of brain activity compared with speaking in one language, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain, at the very front of our skulls, is involved in organising and acting on information, including using working memory, reasoning and planning. Other studies show that bilinguals are faster at getting to grips with a new language.

Quadrilinguist Arturo Hernandez, director of the Laboratory for the Neural Bases of Bilingualism at the University of Houston in Texas, says these differences could reflect differences in the architecture of bilingual brains. In other words, learning another language could change how your brain is wired. "It would make sense, if you have had this very different linguistic experience, to see some sort of stable, long-lasting effect," Hernandez says.

It may also make the brain more resilient. Ellen Bialystok at York University in Toronto, Canada, has found that lifelong bilinguals tend to be diagnosed with dementia on average 4.5 years later than monolinguals, and have more white matter, including in their prefrontal cortex. White matter is made of nerve fibres that connect different brain regions, shuttling information back and forth between them. So boosting language skills appears to build more connected brains -- although Bialystok cautions that this still needs to be confirmed.

More evidence for the benefits of second languages came last year from a study of 608 people who had had a stroke. Thomas Bak of the University of Edinburgh, UK, found that of the bilinguals among them, 40 per cent recovered full function, compared with only 20 per cent of monolinguals. Bak speculates that the mental gymnastics involved in speaking several languages could build extra connections that improve function and help cope with damage. "The idea is that if you have a lot of mental exercise, your brain is trained and can compensate better," says Bak.

It is not certain how languages of different and similar linguistic structures are represented. Many studies have found evidence that all the languages that we acquire in the course of our life are represented in one area of the brain. However, other studies have found evidence that a second language is dissociated from the representation of a mother tongue.

Bulb

Train attention by gaining and using knowledge in new and flexible ways

The concept of playing a game to make your brain more fit seems to make sense. And its the thinking behind a billion-dollar market flogging brain training games and software designed to boost cognitive ability.

But scientists aren't convinced that brain-training games actually help our brain get smarter and sharper, especially in the long term.

There's no convincing evidence that any brain training program actually improves general cognitive abilities or helps prevent or treat dementias, including Alzheimer's disease.

There may not be a "magic pill" to make our brains more efficient. But gaining new knowledge and using existing knowledge in new ways can improve our attention abilities, according to new research by Rachel Wu, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

She has shown that adults can increase their attention skills by grouping objects into categories, and then using these categories to search for objects more efficiently.

Eye 1

Understanding the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths

© Unknown
A new boyfriend love-bombs you, reads your weaknesses and deepest desires, then constructs a persona which perfectly complements you. A dream come true.

But he's divorced from true emotion, only able to mimic the expected emotions in any situation. Your boyfriend is a psychopath.

Eventually, the psychopath's carefully constructed facade starts to crumble, and you notice inconsistencies in his back story, a plague of broken promises, and a stone-cold lack of empathy.

Comment: Further reading:
[T]here are some significant differences as well. Sociopaths are more volatile, and can lash out unexpectedly. Furthermore, most crimes committed by them will be spontaneous and disorganized.

Psychopaths on the other hand are more cunning. Their crimes are well executed, and difficult for police to figure out. They excel at mimicking human emotions, and tend to have a good education and a steady job. They just fit right in. They're the sorts of people who rise to the top of corporations, governments, and law firms. We probably don't even know how many psychopaths there are in the world, or what they're really like. They're simply too elusive to pin down.

Spotting the sociopath in your midst



Fire

Shadows are inevitable on the path of illumination

Stay strong
You brilliant
Compass
You are
Guiding yourself
Home.
There's a point at which you start to feel that the enormity of things is so unbelievable, you wonder how you'd ever been walking around at all. With eyes held so tightly; slivers, before. How on earth did the light get in? How did you ever arrive where you are?

Perhaps, in being led towards the heat.

Comment: The three births of the human spirit - Carl Gustav Jung


Book 2

Healing your mind and body: How writing helps us let go of stress and sorrow

The benefits of writing extend beyond the way it creatively engages the intellect. Writing can be an emotionally rewarding way of letting go of pent up stress and sorrow. It's good to control and override stressful emotional impulses but it serves no benefit if we keep them inside of us. Exercise or talking to loved ones about how you feel can help in this regard, but you may find yourself in a situation where you might not have a voice to hear you or you prefer to keep how you feel to yourself but still need a way to release your emotions. Writing in this case can be very helpful.

Writing helps you enter a flow state in which all the built up emotions rush out of your heart and mind and onto the paper. When you write vividly and honestly about your experiences and how you feel, a gradual collection of emotional experiences will be documented throughout your life. Looking back at the journal, you will be able to see patterns of how certain emotional conflicts arise, giving you insight into the source and nature of your malfunctions, and the environment you are putting yourself in that is increasing those conflicts. You'll be in a position to make a better decision about whether certain behavior patterns are serving you or not, as well as determine which people and things are causing those problems in your life.

Comment: For more information on Dr. Pennebaker's four-day writing exercise, see:


Take 2

Amazed by the media: The importance of awe and why it's manipulated

© Alamy
We are in a season of mass media consumption. Super Bowl 50 occurs this Sunday, and is coming off the heels of the most watched Super Bowl (and television event) in American history. The most recent Star Wars release (The Force Awakens) grossed over $1 billion in a record 12 days, and is on pace to become the highest grossing film of all-time.

What explains why so many individuals are drawn to major productions such as these? Surely, there are many factors, which vary across events and people. One often overlooked explanation is the emotion of awe.

Psychologists refer to awe as an intense emotional experience that overwhelms individuals with a sense of vastness or greatness. It often transforms individuals' sense of what is possible.

Comment: For more, check out SOTT's Earth Changes videos. They're much better than Star Wars or the Super Bowl for inspiring awe - they're the real deal!

Check out: SOTT Earth Changes Summary - December 2015: Extreme Weather, Planetary Upheaval, Meteor Fireballs


Butterfly

A new vision for dreams of the dying

© Jonathon Rosen
One evening in the late fall, Lucien Majors, 84, sat at his kitchen table, his wife Jan by his side, as he described a recent dream.

Mr. Majors had end-stage bladder cancer and was in renal failure. As he spoke with a doctor from Hospice Buffalo , he was alert but faltering.

In the dream, he said, he was in his car with his great pal, Carmen. His three sons, teenagers, were in the back seat, joking around.

"We're driving down Clinton Street," said Mr. Majors, his watery, pale blue eyes widening with delight at the thought of the road trip.

Comment:


Shoe

Break the cycle of procrastination by helping your neocortex defeat your recalcitrant limbic system

Your brain has a neocortex and a limbic system, and sometimes they fight. Here's how to get them to play nice.

Think about all the stuff you've been putting off—really, go ahead. Chances are you've been putting off thinking about the stuff you've been putting off, right? It's not that you don't think those things are important, or even that you believe they'll go away if you ignore them. So why are you procrastinating, and how can you stop that?

It Isn't As Bad As You Think

For starters, you probably procrastinate far less than you think. If we stop to think about it, there are lots of things that need to get done that almost always do get done, some way or another: eating when we're hungry, drinking when we're thirsty, going to sleep when we're tired—you get the idea.

No one has to nag us to eat, drink, or nap. These are all things that are good for us in the long run. But so are turning that report in on time and changing the oil in the car. In other words, not every beneficial behavior causes us to procrastinate.

There's only one factor that seems to separate the good behaviors that we do easily from those we routinely put off doing: how good they feel. In other words, we seem to have no problem doing things that are in our our long-term interest as long as they feel good in the here and now. It's only once those behaviors impose upfront effort or unpleasantness that the jig is up. It's as if all our brains care about is whether something feels good right this moment than whether it will turn out to be good for us later.

Comment:


Butterfly

Want to raise creative kids? Encourage them to think for themselves and support their intrinsic motivation

They learn to read at age 2, play Bach at 4, breeze through calculus at 6, and speak foreign languages fluently by 8. Their classmates shudder with envy; their parents rejoice at winning the lottery. But to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, their careers tend to end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Consider the nation's most prestigious award for scientifically gifted high school students, the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, called the Super Bowl of science by one American president. From its inception in 1942 until 1994, the search recognized more than 2000 precocious teenagers as finalists. But just 1 percent ended up making the National Academy of Sciences, and just eight have won Nobel Prizes. For every Lisa Randall who revolutionizes theoretical physics, there are many dozens who fall far short of their potential.

Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn't suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted — as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.

What holds them back is that they don't learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't make new.

Comment: Rather than fostering creative genius, overbearing parents may actually do great harm by instilling a fear of failure and potentially creating psychological problems that manifest later in life.


Bulb

Spacing out and goofing off can open the door to creativity

© Washington Post
We believe that the opposite of focus— daydreaming, goofing off, spacing out— is to be avoided. Worse yet, having problems focusing is seen as an obstacle to overcome and even as pathological. Self-help books and productivity bloggers strive to keep us on task with advice and hacks.

When we fail to come up with the results we were hoping for, we wonder whether we just aren't working or concentrating hard enough. We've come to consider focus and being on as "good," and idleness— especially if it goes on for too long— as "bad" and unproductive. We feel guilty if we spend too much time doing nothing.

But in thinking this way, we make a fundamental mistake.

Truly successful people don't come up with great ideas through focus alone. They are successful because they make time to not concentrate and to engage in a broad array of activities like playing golf. As a consequence, they think inventively and are profoundly creative: they develop innovative solutions to problems and connect dots in brilliant ways. Dwight Eisenhower logged more hours on the golf course than any other U.S. president yet is also regarded as one of the best presidents this country has ever had.

In a time and age when everyone is over-scheduled and over-focused, creativity is more and more prized— it's the key to your effectiveness and success, in life and in business. It can also be a never- ending source of joy and happiness.

Here are three ways to "unfocus" for heightened creativity:

Comment: The Eiriu Eolas meditation program is an excellent way to use these principles. The exercises can be done any time anywhere, providing instant stress relief, and heightened creativity.