Category Archives: psychology

Shocking news about increasing your brain power

Don’t worry. Gaisan’s blog hasn’t been taken over by one of those spamming bots promoting Human Growth Hormone, a larger appendage or a higher IQ. Still, I read some rather shocking (pardon the terrible pun) news from the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke. The study investigates the effects of Functional Electrical Stimulation and wired has an article with soundbytes from key staff. It appears that a small (2 mA) current passed through electrodes attached to the surface of the forehead can increase a subjects’ verbal skills. In the study, volunteers were asked to think of as many words as possible that begin with a particular letter. The current was applied and the challenge was reissued. After the current was applied volunteers were able to come up with on average 20% more words. It is hoped that these findings could be used to create a new drugless treatment for neurological illnesses or used to repair brain trauma. The researchers are as yet unclear as to why the current effectively stimulates brain function but Eric Wasserman, a scientist at the institute proposed the following conjecture:

“What we think we’re doing is changing the electrical environment of neurons and causing them to change their activity,” said Wassermann.>

The only side effects observed so far are a “tingling senstation” around the area where the electrodes are applied. However “It’s unknown whether chronically overdriving an impaired system might cause it to burn out faster”

Thought provoking reads

I’ve read 3 books this year that have had a profound affect on my outlook in life. May sound corny but I think that there’s something for everybody in these books whether sceptic or wild-eyed believer. Mostly however, they provide an insight into what it means to be a thoughtful individual struggling with the many difficult decisions and tasks of our professional and personal lives. The titles are:

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Also, after much discussion with friends and family (some of which are practicing psychotherapists) I believe they contain a very important message about people’s ability to deal with rapid technological change. I call this “the new dystopia of the Information Age”. Catchy title I think you’ll agree! The central thesis rests on the Technological Revolution (TR) having substantial positive and negative effects on our self-esteem; depending on age group, social background, intelligence, etc. Expressing it as two distinct push and pull factors:

  • Before mass media people’s relative self-worth was established in direct comparison with their neighbours. We’re a hierarchical society after all (whether we like it or not) and we look for baselines to compare our progress through life, relative success etc. However, with mass media we’re increasingly bombarded with unreal and surreal media fragments about people who are more superficially successful than ourselves, to the point where the baseline is unrealistically moved. In a sense, the media provides us with the criteria for judgement and then pronounces us “unworthy” in order to sell more image enhancing product. This is significantly lowering the self-esteem of many within our society. I’m not proposing ludditism here, merely saying that there are detrimental effects of exposure to socially-emphatic mass media. Let’s call this group “the disenfranchised”
  • On the flip side, many people, particularly those in the teen to 20-something age group, find a sense of belonging in technological or online communities, bolstering their self-esteem. These “online ghettos or tribes”vary wildly in content & sentiment but their purpose is perhaps common. Also technology is easing access to these online tribes, making them more inclusive and pervasive. Some tribes with purposes fulfilling basic human needs have grown to embrace millions of users. These include the tribe of mobile phone users or the Instant Messaging community… Individuals in this groups may be called “tribe-members” and the people and organisations who create the technologies, online boards, blogs etc. are their “tribe-leaders”

If we assume that we react to external stimulus such as information then the variation, quantity and the manner and pace of delivery of that information must affect the reaction on an individual basis. From reading these books and trying to absorb their insights about NLP, genetics and human nature it seems that our minds and bodies are being pushed to the limit. One of the first casualties is mental health and life satisfaction. Mental health is difficult to ascertain as there are contrasting views on what it actually means and what constitutes mental illness. But it does seem that if the pace and stress of our techno-dystopia was leading to depression then it would be most severely reflected in depression and suicide statistics of teenagers and 20-somethings. In the UK studies have shown that this definitively IS the case. Eating disorders and addictions are also all on the increase over the past 20 years. Suicide rates among teens in the US have increased by 6% over the past 20 years.. The same stats show that almost 1 in 5 US high-school students seriously consider suicide. I believe that tribe-leaders need to better consider the side-effects of particular technologies on the human tribe, emphasising the positive with tribes promoting inclusiveness, compassion and empathy and ensuring greater responsibility among those promoting image-enhancing products.