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Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon

The New Science and Stories of the Brain

By Rahul Jandial
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon by Rahul Jandial

Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon (2019) takes a look into the human brain and the science of cognitive health. Debunking common myths about the brain, these blinks will bring you up-to-date insights on cognitive functions such as sleep, memory and creativity, as well as the best ways to harness your natural abilities.

Key idea 1 of 7

You can boost your memory through brain training, self-testing and area-restricted searching.

Scientists have long attempted to discover ways of improving cognitive functions like memory. A great leap forward on this front was made in 1984 when the New Zealand academic James R. Flynn discovered that, from the beginning of the twentieth century, overall IQ scores had been rising by three points per decade. Flynn argued that his discovery proved that humans have adapted to an increasingly cognitively challenging world. Today, most scientists agree that the “Flynn effect,” as it has become known, suggests that the widespread adoption of new technologies, like radio and television and, later, the internet and smartphones, over the last century has made us evolve cognitively. 

The fact that cognitive ability is not simply determined by our genes is great news. It means you can boost your natural memory abilities, for instance by using brain training. Now, it’s true that in 2016, Lumosity, a popular online brain game service, faced a $2 million Federal Trade Commission lawsuit in the US for making unsubstantiated claims – so the reputation of brain-training services has been tarnished recently. But not all brain training is a sham! Brain HQ, a program designed to boost your cognitive speed, has been proven to improve long-term memory and reasoning skills and even drastically reduce the risk of developing dementia. The program requires players to focus on a central target while identifying icons that pop up in the periphery of the screen.

Another way to improve memory is by self-testing. Testing yourself when learning tends to result in better memory recall than simply reading information. For example, do you remember how much the Federal Trade Commission sued Lumosity for? If not, go back over the information in this blink and then try testing yourself again. 

You can also improve your memory with something called area-restricted searching. It involves thinking of every item in a given category before moving onto another one. A 2013 study published in the journal Memory and Cognition found that when asked to list all of the animals they could think of, the intelligent participants of a tested group were capable of listing more animals than the less-intelligent participants only because they could think of more categories of animal. When researchers provided lists of categories to all participants in the group, both intelligent and less-intelligent people performed equally well. So the next time you need to remember items on your grocery list, try to think of everything in a given category, such as fruit or dairy products, before moving onto the next area of the store.

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