Mind

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How creative are you? Take this test to find out

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">How do we know if we’re creative? While it can be a hard concept to define, and even more difficult to measure, scientists have developed a way of assessing one aspect of our creativity with a simple test.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">You can take the test yourself and it only takes a few minutes, but it is most accurate if you don’t know how the score is generated.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Head over to the </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.datcreativity.com/" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">project page</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, have a go, and come back to read all about it.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Done? </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Here’s a breakdown of how your score was calculated and why it matters.</span></p> <p><strong>How the test works</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Divergent Association Task (DAT) asks participants (including you) to name ten nouns which are as far apart in meaning as possible.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, “cat” and “pineapple” would be more different than “cat” and “dog”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A computer algorithm then measures the semantic distance - how far apart the words are in meaning and how often they are used in the same context - between the nouns the person submitted.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The test aims to measure an individual’s verbal creativity and their ability to come up with diverse answers to an open-ended problem, also called divergent thinking.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After analysing responses from 8,914 volunteers, the researchers found the DAT test is comparable to current methods of predicting how creative a person is.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Several theories posit that creative people are able to generate more divergent ideas,” the researchers wrote in their paper, </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.pnas.org/content/118/25/e2022340118" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">published</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in </span><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</span></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“If this is correct, simply naming unrelated words and then measuring the semantic distance between them, could serve as an objective measure of divergent thinking.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The newly-developed test was compared against two that are already used to measure creativity: the Alternative Uses Task - involving thinking of as many uses as possible for an object; and the Bridge-the-Associative Gap Task - where you link two words using a third word.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The results found the DAT test was just as useful as the more complicated measures currently used.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Additionally, the data suggests the test is effective across different demographics, making it a suitable choice for conducting large studies.</span></p> <p><strong>Why this matters</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though many of us won’t be conducting studies on creativity any time soon and only one aspect of creativity is scored here, this new test could make the difficult task of studying creativity a little more simple.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Our task measures only a sliver of one type of creativity,” said psychologist Jay Olsen from Harvard University, who is the paper’s first author.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“But these findings enable creativity assessments across larger and more diverse samples with less bias, which will ultimately help us better understand this fundamental human ability.”</span></p>

Mind

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5 tips to cope with overwhelming feelings

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As we struggle with living in isolation, keeping up with work and staying connected to family and friends, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.</span></p> <p><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/therapywithshar/?hl=en" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Sharnade George</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, a celebrity therapist, presenter and writer, shares her five tips for getting on top of overwhelming feelings and learning to cope with them.</span></p> <p><strong>1. Acknowledge the feeling</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When you start to feel panicked, anxious, or out of control, acknowledging the feeling and being able to name it is the starting point for understanding it and managing it.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This advice extends beyond feeling overwhelmed, too. All of our emotions tell us something, and understanding how an emotion feels in your body and how you respond to it can make managing it that much easier.</span></p> <p><strong>2. Know what you can control</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To alleviate panic, it’s important to know what you can and can’t control in your day-to-day life.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Being able to identify controllable and uncontrollable aspects of your life can help you decide where to focus your energy and what things you might choose to let go of.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, if the news is leaving you feeling overwhelmed, you could choose to limit your consumption by watching it once a week or avoid reading it while scrolling on your phone - letting you control what you see.</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p dir="ltr">This graphic is very empowering to us - focus on the things you can control! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WellspringMiami?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WellspringMiami</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RestoringHeartsAndMinds?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RestoringHeartsAndMinds</a> <a href="https://t.co/YmtnmyM5XQ">pic.twitter.com/YmtnmyM5XQ</a></p> — Wellspring Miami (@WellspringMiami) <a href="https://twitter.com/WellspringMiami/status/1241459301656518656?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 21, 2020</a></blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a similar vein, making time for things you know will make you feel better, such as exercise, meditating, journaling, or eating something that brings you joy, can be another way to alleviate panicky feelings.</span></p> <p><strong>3. Take a breath</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since panic causes breathlessness, using </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/breathing-exercises-for-anxiety#abdomen-breathing" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">breathing techniques</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> - such as lengthening your exhale or breathing from your diaphragm - can help you feel calmer.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In an overwhelming moment, George recommends breathing in for four seconds, then breathing out for four seconds, and repeating the exercise three times.</span></p> <p><strong>4. Use affirmations</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Positive affirmations can help to ground and relax you when things get stressful.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CNjxmYohp2P/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CNjxmYohp2P/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by Sharnade | Celebrity Therapist (@therapywithshar)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Instead of thinking about how out of control the world may seem at the moment, George recommends repeating phrases such as “I am doing my best” and “I can manage this” to shift your focus and stay calm.</span></p> <p><strong>5. Avoid catastrophising</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though it can feel difficult to not catastrophise - when your mind assumes the worst possible outcome of a situation will happen - practicing alternative thoughts and behaviours can help.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Engaging in mindfulness can help you control your thoughts and allow you to recognise when they are irrational.</span></p>

Mind

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Loneliness changes our brains

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Whether we are isolated due to COVID-19 lockdowns or any other reason, feeling lonely is a common response which can affect our brains.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Research published in </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20039-w" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Nature Communications</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;"> has found that the brains of those who report feeling lonely look and respond differently to the brains of people who don’t.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It seems like persistent feelings of isolation can affect the size of different areas of the brain, as well as how those areas communicate with the rest of the brain.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The researchers examined the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, genetics, and psychological self-assessments of approximately 40,000 middle-aged and older adults available in the UK Biobank: a database available to scientists around the world.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In comparing the data of participants who reported feeling lonely against those who didn’t, scientists have found several differences in the brains of the lonely.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These differences are centered around a set of brain regions called the default network. These regions are involved in reminiscing, planning the future, imagination, and thinking about others, and we use this network to remember the past, envision the future, and think about the hypothetical present.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The brains of lonely participants were found to have default networks that were more strongly networked and contained a larger volume of grey matter.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This may be due to lonely people being more likely to use their imagination, past memories, or future hopes to overcome their social isolation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“In the absence of desired social experiences, lonely individuals may be biased towards internally-directed thoughts such as reminiscing or imagining social experiences,” said lead author Nathan Spreng from the Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) at Canada’s MacGill University.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CI0fP8wA5W6/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="13"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CI0fP8wA5W6/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by The Neuro (@theneuro_mni)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Loneliness has been identified as a growing health problem, with previous studies showing that older people experiencing loneliness have a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We are just beginning to understand the impact of loneliness on the brain,” said Danilo Bzdok, a researcher at the Neuro and the study’s senior author. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Expanding our knowledge in this area will help us better appreciate the urgency of reducing loneliness in today’s society.”</span></p>

Mind

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What is daydreaming?

<p>Our attention is a powerful lens, allowing our brains to pick out the relevant details out of the overwhelming flow of information reaching us every second.</p> <p>However, scientists <a rel="noopener" href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/932" target="_blank">estimate</a> we spend up to half our waking lives thinking about something other than the task at hand: our minds are wandering. This is striking considering the potential negative consequences, from decreased school or work performance to tragic traffic accidents.</p> <p>We also know that mind-wandering and lapses of attention are more common when we are sleep-deprived, which suggests they may happen when the neurons in our brain start behaving in a way that resembles sleep. We tested the relationship between sleep and lapses of attention in new research published in <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-23890-7" target="_blank">Nature Communications</a></em>.</p> <p>By monitoring people’s brainwaves against their self-reported states of attention, we found that mind-wandering seems to happen when parts of the brain fall asleep while most of it remains awake.</p> <p><strong>Parts of the brain can sleep while you’re awake</strong></p> <p>Directing our attention inwards can be very useful. It can let us focus on our inner thoughts, manipulate abstract concepts, retrieve memories, or discover creative solutions. But the ideal balance between focusing on the outer and inner worlds is hard to strike, and our ability to stay focused on a given task is surprisingly limited.</p> <p>When we get tired, our control of attention goes awry. At the same time, our brains starts showing local activity that resembles sleep while most of the brain appears clearly awake. This phenomenon, known as “local sleep”, was first seen in <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature10009" target="_blank">sleep-deprived animals</a> and then <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2019.00949/full" target="_blank">in humans</a>.</p> <p>We wanted to investigate whether local sleep might also happen in well-rested people, and whether it could trigger shifts in attention.</p> <p><strong>Wandering minds and blank minds</strong></p> <p><a href="https://images.theconversation.com/files/409046/original/file-20210630-15-7nbvoo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/409046/original/file-20210630-15-7nbvoo.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=237&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /></a></p> <p><span class="caption">The Sustained Attention to Response Tasks (SARTs) in the experiment asked participants to view a stream of either faces or digits, and press a button if the face was smiling or the digit was a 3. At the same time, their brainwaves were recorded and they were asked at random intervals about whether they were paying attention.</span> <em>(<span class="attribution"><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-23890-7" target="_blank" class="source">Andrillon et al, Nature Communications (2021)</a>, <span class="license">Author provided).</span></span></em></p> <p>To better understand the relationship between brain activity and lapses of attention, we asked healthy young volunteers to perform a rather boring task requiring continuous attention. As anticipated, their attention frequently shifted away from the task. And when their attention lapsed, their performance decreased.</p> <p>But we also wanted to know what exactly was going through their minds when their attention was not on the task. So we interrupted them at random intervals and asked them what they were thinking about at that moment.</p> <p>Participants could indicate whether they were focusing on the task, their mind was wandering (thinking about something other than the task), or their mind was blank (not thinking about anything at all).</p> <p>In parallel, we recorded their brain activity with an electroencephalogram, which consists of a set of sensors placed on the head that can monitor the rhythms of the brain. Thanks to this non-invasive brain imaging technique, we could search for signs of sleep within wakefulness during the entire task.</p> <p>In particular we focused on “slow waves”, a hallmark of sleep involving brief silences from assemblies of neurons. Our hypothesis was that these lapses in neuron activity could explain lapses in attention.</p> <p>We found local slow waves could predict episodes of mind wandering and mind blanking as well as changes in participants’ behaviour during these lapses of attention.</p> <p>Importantly, the location of slow waves distinguished whether participants were mind wandering or blanking. When slow waves occurred in the front of the brain, participants had the tendency to be more impulsive and to mind wander. When slow waves occurred in the back of the brain, participants were more sluggish, missed responses and mind blanked.</p> <p><strong>Sleep-like brainwaves predicts failure of attention</strong></p> <p>These results can easily be understood through the concept of local sleep. If sleep-like slow waves really do correspond to local bouts of sleep in people who are otherwise awake, the effect of the slow waves should depend on where they occur in the brain and the function of those brain regions as we have found.</p> <p>This suggests that a single phenomenon – local sleep intrusions during waking hours – could explain a broad range of attentional lapses, from mind-wandering and impulsivity to “going blank” and sluggishness.</p> <p>Furthermore, our results suggest that local sleep might represent an everyday phenomenon that can affect us all, even if we are not particularly sleep-deprived. Our participants were simply going about the task at hand. Yet, without realising it, parts of their brains seemed to go offline repeatedly throughout the experiment.</p> <p><strong>Local sleep and attentional deficits</strong></p> <p>We are currently exploring whether this phenomenon of local sleep could be exacerbated in some individuals. For example, most people suffering from attentional deficits and/or hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) also report disrupted sleep. This may result in an increase in local sleep episodes during the day and could explain part of their attentional problems.</p> <p>Finally, this new study reaffirms how sleep and wakefulness can be intermingled in the human brain. It parallels <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2468867319301889" target="_blank">studies</a> in sleep showing how the brain can locally “wake up” in order to process sensory information coming from the environment. Here, we show the opposite phenomenon and how sleep intrusions during wakefulness can make our minds wander somewhere or nowhere.</p> <p><span><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/thomas-andrillon-138229" target="_blank">Thomas Andrillon</a>, Chercheur en neurosciences à l'ICM, <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/inserm-2376" target="_blank">Inserm</a></em>; <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jennifer-windt-1153552" target="_blank">Jennifer Windt</a>, Senior Research Fellow, <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065" target="_blank">Monash University</a></em>, and <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/naotsugu-tsuchiya-1246282" target="_blank">Naotsugu Tsuchiya</a>, Professor, <em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065" target="_blank">Monash University</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com" target="_blank">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/what-is-daydreaming-parts-of-the-brain-show-sleep-like-activity-when-your-mind-wanders-163642" target="_blank">original article</a>.</p>

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Are you a ‘superager’?

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A rare subset of people, known as ‘superagers’, can grow older without their minds being affected.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These lucky few maintain youthful memories and are able to recall new experiences, events, and situations just as well as younger people, despite being in their 60s, 70s, or 80s.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">New research, published in </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhab157" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Cerebral Cortex</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">, has captured what the brains of these individuals look like using MRI, suggesting that their brains have resisted the march of time.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While performing a challenging memory task, the brain scans showed that the activity in the heads of superagers appeared identical to those aged, on average, in their mid-20s. Superagers performed better than other participants their age and were on par with much younger adults.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Using MRI, we found that the structure of superagers’ brains and the connectivity of their neural networks more closely resemble the brains of young adults; superagers had avoided the brain atrophy typically seen in older adults,” said neurologist Alexandra Touroutoglou from Massachusetts General Hospital.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“This is the first time we have images of the function of superagers’ brains as they actively learn and remember new information.”</span></p> <p><strong>A recent area of interest</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This group of older people with incredible memories have only recently come to the attention of scientists, with their unusual ageing process intriguing many working in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As we grow older, age-related memory is expected even without suffering from dementia. But, superagers seem to go against this natural process.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Initial research has found superagers may have </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.sciencealert.com/less-than-5-superagers-what-they-have-in-common-elderly-sharp-cognitive" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">particular personality traits</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> - such as high levels of extroversion and low levels of neuroticism - that play a role in their preserved memories, while other studies suggest it could simply be a </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/cognitive-super-agers-defy-typical-age-related-decline-brainpower" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">genetic lottery</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That said, researchers are calling for more studies to explore just why some of us have youthful minds well into our older years, which could help stave the memory loss of those with dementia.</span></p>

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Can you spot the dog among the teddy bears?

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When a collector of cuddly toys lost her dog among her teddy bear collection, she faced a difficult task in trying to find it.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The woman, who is not named but is from the province of Liaoning in China, owns an extensive collection of teddy bears.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As they collect dust, the collection needs a spring clean regularly to maintain them in good condition.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It was while she was cleaning her bears that her Teddy Bear dog - a cross between the Shih Tzu and Bichon Frise - attempted to play with the bears.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">So she could finish cleaning, she picked him up and dropped him in the middle of the toys.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But, when she went to take a break and decided to look for her dog who had fallen asleep in the pile, she said could not find him.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;"><img style="width: 500px; height: 281.25px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7842474/bears1.jpg" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/5718bf4c48db4a0b980607fccfc5a420" /></span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After deciding to record the amusing process of trying to find him and share it with some friends online to see if they could find him, she said she was amazed when it went viral.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Images: 7NEWS</span></em></p>

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What is brain fog?

<p><strong>Anyone can experience brain fog</strong></p> <p>“It’s funny you’re calling me for this interview late on a Monday night, after a long day at work, because I’m feeling some brain fog and mental exhaustion myself at the moment,” says Dr Scott Kaiser.</p> <p>As a doctor, he helps his patients deal with brain fog all day long – it’s one of the most common cognitive symptoms his patients report – but he proves that the mental fuzziness can strike anyone, even the experts.</p> <p>In fact, this “clouding of consciousness” is a state that everyone has likely experienced at some point, says neuropsychologist, Sanam Hafeez.</p> <p><strong>When brain fog is not normal</strong></p> <p>Some people experience this condition on a persistent basis, and it may affect their ability to live their daily lives or cause serious disability.</p> <p>This type of persistent, damaging brain fog is a hallmark of Covid-19 long haulers, people who deal with effects from the virus for weeks or months after they recover from the acute infection.</p> <p>But while it’s frustrating that more people are being affected by it, it has brought the brain fog conversation into the mainstream. It’s gaining broader acceptance and understanding, says Dr Kaiser.</p> <p>“It’s important to recognise when it’s become a problem so you can get help,” he says. “Brain fog isn’t something you just ‘have to live with’ or write off as ‘I’m just getting old.”</p> <p><strong>Brain fog isn't a clinical term</strong></p> <p>“Brain fog” is a very common description people use to describe that feeling of mental exhaustion or fuzziness where it’s hard to think clearly.</p> <p>However, it’s not a clinical term, so you won’t see it on a medical chart and you can’t be diagnosed with it. This may lead some health practitioners to dismiss it as unimportant.</p> <p>But just because it’s hard to define and can differ from person to person doesn’t mean it’s not valid. “Brain fog is a very real and misunderstood condition,” says Dr Kaiser.</p> <p>And it may point to other underlying health issues.</p> <p>“The reason it is challenging is that it is not so much a sign or diagnosis as it is a symptom. Or even more confusing, an interpretation of a symptom,” says neuroscience chief, Dr Brandon Pope.</p> <p><strong>What does brain fog feel like?</strong></p> <p> </p> <p>How exactly brain fog feels is unique to each person, but it always represents a marked decline in cognitive functioning, says Hafeez.</p> <p>Overall, you may feel like you’re just not able to think or do mental tasks as well as you used to.</p> <p>Common brain fog symptoms are:</p> <p>Poor concentration</p> <p>Forgetfulness</p> <p>Confusion</p> <p>Moodiness</p> <p>Inability to pay attention or focus</p> <p>Feeling ‘checked out’</p> <p>Mental exhaustion</p> <p>Lack of mental clarity</p> <p>Inability to multitask</p> <p>There generally aren’t any physical symptoms of brain fog, although some people report a headache or exhaustion, says Dr Pope.</p> <p><strong>Questions your doctor may ask</strong></p> <p>Brain fog can be caused by lifestyle and environmental factors or by an underlying medical condition.</p> <p>To help figure out the source of your mental fuzziness, your doctor will need to get an accurate medical history, says Dr Kaiser. Be prepared to answer these questions from your doctor:</p> <p>When did it start?</p> <p>What does it feel like to you?</p> <p>Is it chronic, or does it come and go? Is there a pattern?</p> <p>Have you been able to identify anything that triggers it?</p> <p>Have you had any illnesses or changes in your health recently?</p> <p>Have you experienced any major events recently, like a death of a loved one or a job change?</p> <p>If your brain fog is severe, you may want to write down your answers to these questions and bring them with you to your appointment.</p> <p>It’s also helpful to bring a clear-minded friend or family member to help you process what the doctor says.</p> <p><strong>Common lifestyle causes and solutions for brain fog</strong></p> <p>“If someone is experiencing decreased levels of cognitive function, or brain fog, it could be due to a myriad of underlying conditions from the very benign to the potentially more serious,” says Dr Pope.</p> <p>The list of things that have brain fog as a symptom is so long it couldn’t be written in one article, and only your doctor can help you pinpoint yours.</p> <p>However, there are some common causes you should consider, starting with your lifestyle.</p> <p><strong>Poor sleep</strong></p> <p>Not getting enough quality sleep is the top cause for brain fog, says Hafeez.</p> <p>During non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, the brain filters important memories. Rapid eye movement (REM) – the deepest stage of sleep – allows the memories to become concrete and plays a role in memory consolidation.</p> <p>When someone does not get enough sleep, memory consolidation is affected. That’s why brain fog is a common symptom of narcolepsy.</p> <p>Your doctor may ask you to improve your sleep hygiene and, if that doesn’t help, may refer you to a sleep study.</p> <p><strong>Poor diet</strong></p> <p>Nutritional deficiencies can cause chronic mental fogginess.</p> <p>The most common culprits are low iron, magnesium, vitamin D, or vitamin B12 levels.</p> <p>The latter is of particular concern for vegans who may not get it in their diet and need to supplement B12. Your doctor can check all of these with a blood test.</p> <p><strong>Gluten</strong></p> <p>Eating foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, has been linked to brain fog in people who have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, according to a 2020 study published in <em>PLOS One</em>.</p> <p>“There is little research as to why gluten affects the brain, but it is known that gluten can affect the neurological system and cause headaches and brain fog,” says Hafeez. “This may happen because gluten alters gut function, and changes in the gut microbiome affect the cognitive centre in the brain and ultimately affect brain function.</p> <p><strong>Stress</strong></p> <p>Anxiety, worry, long work hours, parenting, and other types of chronic mental pressure can have a big effect on brain function.</p> <p>All your mental energy becomes devoted to the stressors, and you feel foggy when you try to focus on something else.</p> <p>It’s easy to let self-care slide when you’re stressed, but for your brain’s sake, it’s important to make sure you’re doing stress-relieving techniques.</p> <p><strong>Medical causes and solutions for brain fog</strong></p> <p><span>Brain fog is an extremely common symptom of many types of medical issues. Sometimes it’s a result of the underlying condition; other times, it stems from treatment, says Dr Kaiser.</span></p> <p><strong>Medications</strong></p> <p>Many common medications, particularly sleeping pills and meds used to treat mental illnesses, can cause your brain to feel fuzzy or unclear.</p> <p>If you’ve recently started a new medication or changed the dose, that may be the cause of your problem.</p> <p>Always tell your doctor about all of the medications you take – that goes for both prescription and over-the-counter drugs.</p> <p><strong>Hormonal changes</strong></p> <p>An inability to concentrate and mental fuzziness are signs of both menopause and andropause, says Hafeez.</p> <p>Hormonal changes in your body directly affect your brain and its ability to function, particularly in women.</p> <p>“Oestrogen levels contribute to memory and other brain processes, and when oestrogen levels lessen, occasional lapses in the brain can occur,” she says.</p> <p>This also explains “pregnancy brain,” the type of brain fog that gestating women often experience.</p> <p><strong>Mental illness</strong></p> <p>It’s no surprise that illnesses that affect the mind, including anxiety, depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can cause mental cloudiness.</p> <p>It’s especially important to get evaluated by a mental health professional if you have a family history of mental illness or have had a big change in your life recently.</p> <p><strong>Disease</strong></p> <p>Diabetes, stroke, hypothyroid, the flu, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders, and some types of cancers are just a handful of diseases that have brain fog as a symptom. Chronic illness, including chronic pain, has also been linked to brain fog symptoms.</p> <p>One illness that comes up a lot in relation to brain fog is dementia, says Dr Kaiser.</p> <p>“People may be afraid to bring up their forgetfulness as they worry it’s the beginning of dementia, but ignoring it won’t make it go away, and the sooner we diagnose you, the sooner we can start treating it,” he says.</p> <p>If lifestyle changes haven’t helped and/or you have symptoms in addition to the brain fog, your doctor may want to run additional tests to rule these conditions out.</p> <p><strong>Brain fog and Covid-19 long hauler syndrome</strong></p> <p>Covid-19 has brought brain fog front and centre – it’s one of the most common symptoms that lasts after the acute infection has resolved.</p> <p>More research needs to be done into Covid-19’s effect on the brain, but the condition is likely due to inflammation in the blood vessels that feed the brain, says Dr Kaiser.</p> <p>“We call it Covid fog,” says infectious disease specialist, Dr Rajeev Fernando. “It’s a newer syndrome we’ve identified, where patients end up experiencing mental clouding for months.”</p> <p>If you’re experiencing “Covid brain fog,” there’s a good chance mental fuzziness is not the only symptom you’re still feeling.</p> <p>“The virus can attack more than one system at a time, including the brain, which may explain the strange constellation of symptoms doctors have been seeing in Covid-19 patients, including nausea, diarrhoea, loss of smell or taste, heart damage and kidney failure, but also neurological problems, including stroke and brain fog,” says Dr Fernando.</p> <p><strong>How to deal with brain fog</strong></p> <p>There’s no single treatment for brain fog.</p> <p>“The treatment will always depend on the cause itself,” says Dr Pope. “I think it takes a combination of a solid history and physical examination by a doctor to begin to get to the why and discuss potential treatments.”</p> <p>In the meantime, he suggests you start by going back to the fundamentals of good self-care, including getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and lowering your stress.</p> <p>Other things that may help include taking a holiday, working on puzzles or brainteasers, or taking a brain-boosting supplement.</p> <p>Make sure all of your physical and mental health conditions are being treated appropriately and are under control.</p> <p><strong>When to call your doctor</strong></p> <p>In and of itself, brain fog typically isn’t an emergency, says Hafeez.</p> <p>However, if it appears suddenly, is a new symptom, or is seriously impacting your life, make an appointment to see your physician.</p> <p>Rarely, it can be serious. If you have a brain fog accompanied by a severe headache, difficulty speaking, loss of vision, weakness, tingling, or numbness you may be having a stroke and should seek medical care immediately.</p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Written by Charlotte Hilton Anderson. This article first appeared in </span><a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/healthsmart/what-is-brain-fog-9-causes-and-solutions"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Reader’s Digest</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, </span><a href="http://readersdigest.innovations.com.au/c/readersdigestemailsubscribe?utm_source=over60&amp;utm_medium=articles&amp;utm_campaign=RDSUB&amp;keycode=WRA93V"><span style="font-weight: 400;">here’s our best subscription offer.</span></a></em></p>

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GPs could soon prescribe creativity to improve wellbeing

<p><a rel="noopener" href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1757913920911961" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">A new paper</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> exploring the effects of crochet on wellbeing has sparked a wider discussion of the benefits of getting creative can be good for our mental health.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After surveying more than 8000 crocheters, Dr Pippa Burns, a medical researcher at The University of Wollongong, found that 89.5 percent of respondents felt calmer from engaging in the craft, while 82 percent felt happier.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These findings didn’t really surprise Burns, who also crochets.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It’s very mindful because you’re counting stitches,” she said. “You’re not thinking about who said what at work or what you need to do tomorrow. You’re just focused on what you’re creating.”</span></p> <p><strong>A potential treatment</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though the prescription of crocheting and sewing has been slow in Australia, other countries have supported the move.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the UK and Germany, more than half of GPs refer their patients to community services - including crocheting and sewing - for a range of social, emotional, or financial issues, in a practice called social prescribing.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This practice has been endorsed by both the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Consumers Health Forum of Australia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Burns, a more targeted education campaign is needed to help GPs and the broader public understand the benefits of social prescribing and increase its uptake.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It’s about society viewing health more holistically,” Burns said. “You don’t just have to have clinical or pharmacological interventions. You can also have creative interventions that could be just as important to someone’s recovery.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Black Dog Institute is also conducting its own study on the benefits of social prescribing.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Clients of their depression clinic have been taking part in arts on prescription workshops with the Art Gallery of NSW, with preliminary results finding participants experienced significant increases in mental health, wellbeing, and feelings of social inclusion.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Professor Katherine Boydell, the institute’s lead researcher, believes social prescribing could contribute to improving health outcomes of patients, and even reduce care costs.</span></p> <p><strong>Doing something badly</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">An eight-week program called ‘Creativity on Prescription’, devised by social enterprise Makeshift and designed in consultation with Burns, a GP, and a psychologist, allows participants to trial a new creative activity each week.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">From dancing and painting to gardening, these activities aim to help participants manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“People experience a different version of themselves,” said Caitlin Marshall, Makeshift’s co-founder and a social worker. “And that’s really important for personal change to happen.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, the biggest obstacle for many is the perception they’re not artistic or creative enough.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“You can go for a run and be really crappy at running and you’re still going to get the benefit of that,” Marshall countered. “Creative practices give us the same thing.”</span></p>

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The different types of dreams and what they mean

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Dreams hold up a mirror to everyday attitudes and actions, sometimes in a surprising or funny way, and help you to see yourself from a new perspective.</span></p> <p><strong>Compensatory dreams</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">are about seeking to balance what is denied through healthy expression. Thoughts, viewpoints and feelings you experience in your waking life are secretly stored in the unconscious mind, eventually surfacing in your dreams. Perhaps you are normally a serious person who plays the role of a clown in your dream. It may be that a part of you feels unloved and in your dream you are surrounded by affection and comfort. You could live in a cramped city apartment with little ventilation and in the dream you’re galloping through rolling hills in the countryside.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is easy to become unbalanced in life and focus too much on one thing, and many of us are very good at wearing figurative masks when operating in working life. If you spend too much time on the masked part of yourself whereby you play a role the psyche rebels, which will result in dreams that pull your attention towards those things you’ve been neglecting or avoiding in order to create balance in the psyche. Not enough balance between work and family? A holiday is long overdue and you’re avoiding taking time off because you think you’re indispensable? You could end up having a compensatory dream that forces you to adopt a more middle ground approach to life.</span></p> <p><strong>Wish fulfilment dreams</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">express hidden literal or symbolic wishes, or see you trying on possible futures. What would it be like to be rich and famous when you are scraping by with the most basic lifestyle? What would it be like to win a Nobel Prize for medicine? It’s fantasy but a useful fantasy in that you are able to recognise what it is your heart desires and perhaps find a way to realise it in waking life – or at least the emotion associated with it such as popularity, acceptance, esteem or desirability.</span></p> <p><strong>Precognitive dreaming</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">is not working out future events from an existing situation but is rather dreaming something before it happens, such as riots, wars and natural catastrophes. This can also apply to personal events.</span></p> <p><strong>Creative dreams</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">inspire inventions and masterpieces. The hypnagogic state, or the transitional period between wakefulness and sleeping (see also further on in this chapter), is where the genius or visionary muses reveal themselves. Will you give the muse a chance in your dream to reveal your next masterpiece?</span></p> <p><strong>Archetypal or collective dreams</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">relate mostly to working out questions that are universal; it’s not all about you. These dreams deal with patterns of behaviour or belief systems that are universally shared. Archetypes are universal dreams, experiences, images, patterns and symbols that reside within us all. They represent models of universal behaviours or personality traits. They emerge in symbolic form in dreams, mythology, fairy tales and ancient traditions. Some common archetype characters we see in dreams are the divine child or inner child, the great mother, the wise old man or woman, the trickster, the princess or damsel in distress and the hero and heroine.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They are known as ‘big dreams’ and have a clear message to the psyche. These significant dreams are often vivid and can be strange and confusing. To understand them you need to know the mythological background and the symbols and motifs of </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">different cultures at different times. Unconsciously we still think as our distant ancestors did, and to recognise this is to deepen your experience and open up new possibilities.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A collective dream will present ‘archetypes’ from the ‘collective unconscious’ and have special meaning for others as well as the dreamer. Our shared dream experiences serve to connect us as a human race. In times of crisis, our dreams unite us.</span></p> <p><strong>Warning dreams:</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">occasionally dreams seem to be clear warnings of danger. If you dream of falling off a ladder, crashing your car, your house catching on fire or you are falling off a cliff, do take the dream seriously. You may have missed cues from your subconscious mind that the car brakes were not depressing hard enough or the heater was making a strange clicking noise, that you are in danger from something happening, and this is manifested in your dreams. Note that, however, dreaming of death does not necessarily indicate a fatal accident; there could be either a symbolic death or an actual physical death.</span></p> <p><strong>Numinous dreams</strong><span style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>:</strong> numinous dreams are strongly religious or spiritual. Ancient cultures were aware that dreams gave access to sources of wisdom beyond the ordinary, offering glimpses into the future and providing possible alternatives.</span></p> <p><strong>Parapsychological dreams</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">include the telepathic, afterlife, past or future life, meeting guides, angels or dead ancestors, parallel lives and all phenomena that can’t be easily explained.</span></p> <p><strong>Hypnagogic dreams:</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">if you find you can’t remember your dreams you can explore the borderland sleep state, known as the liminal space or threshold. It is an altered state of consciousness between being awake and asleep, a sacred space that takes place in a four-dimensional state in which your senses are highly attuned to the spiritual world.</span></p> <p><strong>Shamonic dreams</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">involve elements of initiation, ritual, healing for others and guidance and are passed down from shamanic traditions by indigenous cultures. If we lose contact with our dreams the North American Iroquois believe we lose a vital part of our souls. Indigenous communities worldwide regard dreaming as an essential part of living a fully awakened life.</span></p> <p><strong>Healing dreams:</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that concerns abstract concepts such as being, knowing, identity, time and space. Metaphysicists believe the body receives images as physical events (what you should do or look for in response to physical ailments) and responds accordingly. For example, if you dream you are digging a garden and you come across a disfigured tree root it may mean you have an illness or condition that needs to be addressed and is related to an abnormality. Images that persuade the body to self-heal are delivered to you through your dreams, while emotional healing dreams put you in touch with multiple aspects of yourself including the shadow side you may have repressed or denied.</span></p> <p><strong>Lucid dreams:</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">in a lucid dream you’re aware you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. In some cases you can direct the events and outcome of the dream, that is, you can manipulate the dream and make it go in whatever direction you want.</span></p> <p><strong>Dream sharing:</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">one curious feature of dreaming is the way that close friends or members of the same family, particularly a husband and wife or parents and children, dream the same dream without previously having related it to each other. Still more curious is the way children dream about their parents’ problems even if these have been carefully hidden from them. The dream will not usually be a straightforward statement but will be symbolic and often picturesque.</span></p> <p><strong>Recurring dreams</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">are dreams that repeat themselves. Sometimes they are exactly the same each time they are dreamed; other times the emotion will be the same but the details or ending will change. For example, you are being chased by an aggressive figure and always end up in the same place you can’t escape from. You want to get out of the situation but you know it’s going to end the same way. At this point you wake up feeling fearful, angry, annoyed and frustrated, or other negative feelings that have come to the surface. Recurring dreams can also be humorous and you’re not too concerned about the inevitable ending.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Recurring dreams indicate a real-life issue that hasn’t been confronted or resolved so your anxiety forces you to keep dreaming about it. These dreams call your attention to something you need to change, and will repeat until you acknowledge the problem and resolve the issue. Check with your daily diary to see what anniversary, event or emotion could have triggered the recurring dream and work to deal with it. When you do so, the recurring dream will stop.</span></p> <p><strong>Nightmares:</strong> <span style="font-weight: 400;">nightmares can be experienced by both children and adults. They are vividly realistic and disturbing, will often awaken us and leave us feeling terrified. They may be caused by a number of factors such as watching a scary movie or the news before bed time, late-night snacks, certain medications such as anti-depressants and narcotics, sleep deprivation and psychological triggers such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. At the heart of nightmares is a fear of not surviving.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">This is an edited extract from </span></em><a href="https://www.rockpoolpublishing.com.au/inside-your-dreams"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Inside Your Dreams: An Advanced Guide to Your Night Visions</span></a><em><span style="font-weight: 400;"> by Rose Inserra (Rockpool Publishing $29.99), available where good books are sold.</span></em></p>

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Spanking does more harm than good, study finds

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A review of 69 studies from across the world has found physical punishment doesn’t appear to improve a child’s behaviour of social competence in the long run.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The review was published in </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Lancet</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">, one of the world’s oldest and best-known medical journals.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor in human development and family science at The University of Texas at Austin and senior author of the review, said physical punishments such as spanking are “harmful to children’s development and well-being”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Parents hit their children because they think doing so will improve their behaviour,” Professor Gershoff said. “Unfortunately for parents who hit, our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behaviour and instead makes it worse.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In their research on the impact of spanking and other physical punishments parents might choose to use to discipline a child, the review excluded verbal and “severe” types of punishment that would be classified as child abuse.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though some studies included in the review found mixed results - where some positive and negative effects were associated with physical punishment - the majority showed a significant negative impact across a child’s life and behaviours.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 13 of 19 independent studies, the most consistent finding was that spanking and other forms of punishment created external problem behaviours over time, Professor Gershoff said, such as “increased aggression, increased antisocial behaviour, and increased disruptive behaviour in school.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The review also found that children who were physically punished acted out no matter their sex, race, or ethnicity.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One study included in the review, conducted in Colombia in South America, found that physically-punished young children gained “fewer cognitive skills” than those who were not.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Seven of the studies the team reviewed examined the association between a child’s negative behaviour and the frequency of punishment over time, with five finding a “dose-response effect”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“In other words, as physical punishment increased in frequency, so did its likelihood of predicting worse outcomes over time,” Professor Gershoff said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Other studies in the review found that conduct problems and signs of oppositional defiant disorder - characterised by temper tantrums, argumentative and defiant behaviour, spitefulness, and vindictiveness - were increased by physical punishment.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In addition to these findings, the review also saw that four of the five studies that considered the influence of parenting styles found that an overall warm and positive parenting style “did not buffer the effect of physical punishment on an increase in behaviour problems.”</span></p> <p><strong>Alternatives to spanking</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a variety of alternative methods of discipline, which depend on the child’s age.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“During the first year what infants need is love while they discover new abilities such as crying and making messes,” Dr Robert Sege, a professor and medical doctor who specialises in the study of child abuse, said in an earlier interview. “So parents should distract, by giving them other things to do that are less disruptive or picking them up and moving them to a different place. That’s all they can do.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As they become toddlers and continue doing things you don’t want them to, Dr Sege said the best technique is to tap into their need for attention.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Toddlers crave their parent’s attention, so use that to your advantage,” he said. “Pay attention to the things your children do that are wonderful; reward them for those with praise. Then when they do something you don’t like, put them in time-out and take the attention away. Use that. That’s how time-outs work.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As they get older, he suggests letting children learn the natural consequences of their behaviour.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Instead of shielding, help them learn the lesson, as long as they are not in danger,” he said. “Things like, ‘You didn’t put your toys away, so instead of playing, you have to clean them up before we can play.’ It takes parents out of the loop.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Teens also need to learn how to take responsibility for their actions, he said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And you do that by calling them out on their behaviour and its consequences and then help them figure out how to resolve those consequences.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It’s hard, because it requires, at least at first, a level of mindfulness and thought on what you are doing as a parent,” Dr Sege said. “Parenting isn’t easy. The good thing is that our children excuse us for the mistakes we make.”</span></p>

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Why are more men diagnosed with schizophrenia?

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">New research has found a link between the genetic differences in men and women and their likelihood of developing certain psychotic and mood disorders.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In a study </span><a href="https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(21)01139-2/fulltext"><span style="font-weight: 400;">recently published</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in </span><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Biological Psychiatry</span></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">, researchers looked at the underlying genetic differences between the sexes for the reason why bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression affect the two sexes in different ways and at different rates.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After examining the genomes of 85,735 people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression, and 109,946 people without any of those conditions, the researchers found almost a dozen single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that differed between men and women diagnosed with one of the three disorders.</span></p> <p><strong>What are the impacts of SNPs?</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The four nucleotides - Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine - that are used to make DNA are compared in particular orders to make specific proteins.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">SNPs are a kind of mutation where a single nucleotide - either A, G, T, or C - is swapped for another in a specific spot in the genome. These substitutions can affect our risk of getting certain diseases. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the study of mental disorders in the different sexes, the team found that these mutations would have different impacts on the different sexes. Some SNPs were only linked to disease in one sex, while others decreased the likelihood of the disorder occurring in one sex but increased it in the other.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The researchers also found that these mutations occurred in genes that are linked to vascular, immune, and neuronal development pathways, suggesting cardiovascular and neurological health are affected by each other in some way.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We found a SNP in the </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">IDO2</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> gene,” Jill Goldstein, a clinical neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and the senior author of the study, told </span><a href="https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/genetic-variants-tied-to-sex-differences-in-psychiatric-disorders-68624"><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Scientist</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This particular gene is associated with immune tolerance in humans, meaning it helps suppress the immune system so it doesn’t attack bodily tissues and other substances. The gene is also linked to and has different effects on different disorders.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The SNP [in the </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">IDO2</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> gene] increased the risk of bipolar disorder in women and decreased the risk in men, but it also decreased the risk of major depression and schizophrenia,” she said. “With that same genetic SNP, we found a lower risk of depression and schizophrenia in women, but a higher risk in the men.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“And what was even more exciting was that the pathways that were implicated - vascular pathways and immune pathways - fit with what has been found and mapped by neurobiology,” Goldstein said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In their studies of the shared abnormal changes between the brain and heart, Goldstein and her team found schizophrenia has a high comorbidity with cardiovascular disease.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I was thrilled to see we actually found these genes with shared sex differences in areas that we’ve been studying,” she said.</span></p> <p><strong>Why this matters</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though these differences are small, they can have implications for how treatment can be tailored to different patients.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Gendered differences in the presentation and effectiveness of treatments have been previously identified in other diseases including cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“There are real-life consequences if we do not develop sex-dependent therapeutics, and I think it is critical for precision medicine,” she said.</span></p>

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Losing speech after a stroke can negatively affect mental health – but therapy can provide hope

<p>Around <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa1804492">25% of adults</a> will have a stroke in their lifetime. And <a href="https://www.archives-pmr.org/article/S0003-9993(16)30041-7/fulltext">around one-third</a> of stroke survivors will be left with damage to the part of their brain that decodes and organises language – leaving them with a disability known as <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02687038.2020.1852003">aphasia</a>. Aphasia can affect speaking and understanding as well as reading and writing abilities, but does not affect intelligence. It can vary in severity from getting a few words mixed up, to being unable to say any words.</p> <p>Aphasia can be a difficult and frustrating disability to live with, and can disrupt many aspects of a person’s life – including relationships, holding down a job, and social activities. As such, depression is common, affecting an <a href="https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/16107">estimated two-thirds</a> of people with aphasia. Yet many people with aphasia <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02687038.2019.1673304">struggle to access</a> the psychological support they need – psychological therapies, or “talk therapies”, can feel inaccessible to someone with a language disability.</p> <p><a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/10497323211020290">Our research</a> explored how psychological therapy could be made to work for people with aphasia. Working with speech and language therapists, mental health professionals and stroke survivors, we adapted a form of psychological therapy so that it was accessible for people with aphasia. We found that this form of therapy was valued by people with aphasia, and could make a positive difference in their lives.</p> <p><strong>Accessible therapy</strong></p> <p>The therapy that we delivered to our research participants was adapted from a form of psychological therapy called “<a href="https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/mono/10.4324/9780203116562/solution-focused-brief-therapy-harvey-ratner-evan-george-chris-iveson">solution-focused brief therapy</a>”. This form of therapy supports a person in building meaningful change in their everyday lives. It invites people to describe their hopes for the future, and explores their skills, talents and resources to support them in when adapting to their new circumstances. It also gives them a chance to discuss their experiences and thoughts.</p> <p>Thirty people with post-stroke aphasia received the therapy in our study. Fourteen of our participants had severe aphasia, while 16 had milder aphasia. They were all at least six months post-stroke – and some were as many as 12 years post-stroke. Participants were offered up to six therapy sessions, each of about an hour, spaced over three months. The therapy was delivered by speech and language therapists who had received specific training and supervision from experts in solution-focused brief therapy.</p> <p>To make the therapy accessible, we made sure that the therapists worked closely with participants to help them communicate their thoughts and feelings, using whatever method they could – so as well as talking, participants communicated through drawing, gestures, pictures, objects, mime, or writing key words. Although their intelligence was not affected, many participants found it harder to understand language when spoken rapidly.</p> <p>To support participants’ understanding, therapists used simpler language, slowed their pace of speech and supported communication visually such as by writing key words, or using gestures or pictures. Above all, the therapists gave people time – time to express their thoughts and time to process what the therapist was saying.</p> <p><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/406699/original/file-20210616-3629-1d6qq4s.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" alt="A young man reads a book with an elderly woman." /> <span class="caption">Participants communicated using whatever method they could.</span> <span class="attribution"><a href="https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/young-male-nurse-spending-time-elder-300626726" class="source">Photographee.eu/ Shutterstock</a></span></p> <p>Therapists encouraged participants to describe what “living well” with their aphasia meant to them. They invited participants to notice small signs of progress and share their successes and achievements with the therapist. These could be seemingly small events, such as making porridge with one hand for the first time, and also profound conversations around how they experienced aphasia, their early times in hospital, or describing the process of recovery and adjusting to their stroke. The therapists invited them to notice their own skills and the resources that they had drawn on, and how they could use these to help them continue to adjust to their new circumstances.</p> <p>Our participants agreed that the therapy worked well for people with aphasia – and that it was important for them (and others with aphasia) to have access to psychological support if needed. Many valued being able to talk about their hopes and achievements, and share how they found living with stroke and aphasia. They also valued the companionship and connection they felt with their therapist.</p> <p>Many participants also described experiencing positive changes in their life after attending therapy – including having the confidence to start using the phone again, doing things they used to do such as cooking dinner, or starting a volunteer role. For some, it gave them courage, and let them feel more like themselves again.</p> <p>Our research shows that even people with a severe language disability can benefit from this therapy when it is adapted specifically for them. A challenge is ensuring that mental health professionals and speech and language therapists have the training, skills and confidence to provide appropriate psychological support for people with aphasia.</p> <p>There are around <a href="https://www.stroke.org.uk/what-is-aphasia/aphasia-and-its-effects">350,000 people</a> living with aphasia in the UK. Yet <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1460-6984.12204">public awareness</a> of the condition remains low, making it a poorly understood and often lonely disability to live with. If we give people with aphasia the time to express themselves – noticing and valuing them as people, and not just seeing their disability – it can make a real difference in improving their lives.<!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/sarah-northcott-1227983">Sarah Northcott</a>, Senior Lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy, <em><a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/city-university-of-london-1047">City, University of London</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/losing-speech-after-a-stroke-can-negatively-affect-mental-health-but-therapy-can-provide-hope-160581">original article</a>.</p>

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How to solve a jigsaw puzzle fast

<p><strong>Puzzle-solving tips from the experts</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Sitting down to begin work on a jigsaw puzzle is an exciting but daunting experience. Alfonso Alvarez-Ossorio, the president of the World Jigsaw Puzzle Federation, and Tammy McLeod, a competitive puzzle solver, share their tips on solving puzzles quickly, expert strategies for completing jigsaw puzzles of all sizes, the best methods to get started with the hobby of puzzling, and more details about how jigsaw champions work on their puzzles.</span></p> <p><strong>The challenges of solving a puzzle fast</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The difficulty of a jigsaw puzzle – and the time it will take to assemble it – is directly proportional to the number of pieces,” says Alvarez-Ossorio. In addition, there are two factors that account for the difficulty of a jigsaw puzzle, says Alvarez-Ossorio. First, he says is the “morphology of the pieces, which depends on the manufacturer and the die used (the more you distinguish some pieces from others, the easier),” and second is “the contrast of the puzzle image (the greater the contrast, the more diversity of colours and strokes more defined, the easier and faster the assembly).”</span></p> <p><strong>The right surface</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Where you do jigsaw puzzles is almost as important as how you do one. “In official competitions, vinyl-plastic is used so that the pieces move quickly across the surface,” says Alvarez-Ossorio. The mats are usually used white, “to reflect the light of space – lighting is a very important factor.” When doing a puzzle at home, you’ll want a dedicated space, such as a folding card table, so you can spread out your pieces and so they won’t get lost. If you don’t have room, puzzle mats are helpful because you can easily roll a puzzle-in-progress up for storage when you need to reclaim your dining room or coffee table.</span></p> <p><strong>Different strategies for different puzzles</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In her personal puzzle-solving experience, “a 500 piece jigsaw is small enough to be spread out completely on a table so that all the pieces can be viewed at the same time,” McLeod shares. “This makes it easy to simply pick out pieces to be assembled, without sorting; usually, each piece contains enough details to uniquely identify it.” Larger puzzles are a different story, however. With a puzzle of 2000 pieces or more, “each piece contains a much smaller portion of the full image, so it’s faster to sort into general groups,” she says.</span></p> <p><strong>Edges first?</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A popular strategy is to put the edges of the puzzle together first because, with one straight edge, the pieces are easier to identify and put together. “There isn’t a single strategy that will work for 100 per cent of puzzles, but in the majority of cases, it is easiest to start with the edge,” McLeod says. “This does not apply for non-rectangular puzzles and some puzzles where the edge pieces are cut interchangeably, but generally, to solve a puzzle fast, sorting is key.”</span></p> <p><strong>Cutting corners</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Because there are only four of them, McLeod doesn’t spend time looking for corner pieces. “You’d have to spend a lot of time sifting through all the pieces just to find them,” she says. “Instead, start by pulling out the edges, then when you have most of them, start assembling them.” She goes to say that you shouldn’t be of the mind that you need to find every single edge piece, as that too will waste time. “The few edge pieces that you miss will naturally emerge after other pieces get placed.”</span></p> <p><strong>Smart sorting</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The larger the puzzle, the more time you should devote to sorting the pieces,” says Alvarez-Ossorio. “Divide the jigsaw puzzle by zones, normally identified by colours, though sometimes it can also be by textures.” For example in a puzzle about nature, “separate an area of trees and another from grass – both can be the same colour but the textures are completely different.”</span></p> <p><strong>Perfect placement</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Once you have your pieces sorted, it’s time to start placing them. If your puzzle is of a drawing, painting, or collage that contains lots of details or has words, it makes it easier to place pieces, notes McLeod. On the other hand, “Photographs and landscapes usually have large patches of similar textures which can be a stumbling block for beginners,” she says.</span></p> <p><strong>Take a break</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Don’t expect to complete your puzzle in an afternoon. “I have worked on puzzles with over 4000 pieces that take 60+ hours to complete, so I definitely cannot finish them in a single sitting!” McLeod shares. And yes, fresh eyes can help, especially if you’re tired. You may also want to invest in a lighted magnifying glass.</span></p> <p><strong>Puzzling patience</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Working on puzzles helps you develop your hand-eye coordination, your visual acuity, colour and shape recognition, and your patience,” McLeod says It’s also a very meditative activity, she says, “Your mind can wander while your hands and eyes are involved with assembling plus you get a hit of dopamine every time you fit a piece, so it becomes a long session of satisfying feelings.”</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Written by Jeff Bogle. This article first appeared in <a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/culture/how-to-solve-a-jigsaw-puzzle-fast">Reader’s Digest</a>. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, <a href="http://readersdigest.innovations.com.au/c/readersdigestemailsubscribe?utm_source=over60&amp;utm_medium=articles&amp;utm_campaign=RDSUB&amp;keycode=WRA93V">here’s our best subscription offer.</a></span></em></p>

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How gut bacteria could affect your mental health

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As we continue to investigate the causes and potential treatments of mental health disorders, a growing amount of evidence suggests the microscopic inhabitants of our gut can impact our mental health.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“If you would have asked a neuroscientist 10 years ago whether they thought the gut microbiota could be linked to depression, many of them would have said you were crazy,” said Jeroen Raes, a systems biologist and microbiologist at KU Leuven in Belgium.</span></p> <p><strong>What is the gut microbiome?</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Microbes, which include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microscopic living things, live inside the intestines and on the skin.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Most of the trillions of these microbes live in a “pocket” of the large intestine called the cecum, and are known as the gut microbiome.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The majority of the microbes studied so far have been bacteria, and up to 1000 species can live in the gut. Each species plays a different role in the body, with some being extremely important for your health and others potentially causing disease.</span></p> <p><strong>Bacteria and mental health</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Decades of animal model research and small studies of humans have pointed to a link between mental health and the gut microbiome, with researchers now attempting to identify the specific microbes that could be influencing the brain.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-018-0337-x"><span style="font-weight: 400;">a study</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> published by Raes and colleagues in </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Nature Microbiology</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> examined the correlation between features of a person’s microbiome, their quality of life, and their level of depression. The researchers found that patients with depression had lower levels of two species of bacteria - </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Coproccus </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">and </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Dialister</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> - when compared to healthy controls.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A separate team </span><a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/2/eaau8317"><span style="font-weight: 400;">later reported</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> the abundance of several types of bacteria correlated with the severity of schizophrenia. They also found that individuals with schizophrenia could be frequently differentiated from healthy subjects based on the presence of specific microbes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another study looking at the mechanisms that could drive these mental health disorders transplanted stool samples into mice and monitored their behaviour. They found that mice receiving transplants from schizophrenia patients were more hyperactive and exerted more effort during a swim test than mice receiving stool transplants from healthy patients. The mice also had different levels of neurotransmitters which are essential for brain function, and the levels in the brains of mice with transplants from schizophrenia patients reflected the chemical patterns found in the patients, according to study coauthor Julio Licinio, a psychiatrist at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.</span></p> <p><strong>Why this matters</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though research in mice might be less translational to humans, these studies are useful for finding markers that could be tested to aid in diagnosis.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To negate factors such as stress that could affect the behaviour of the mice, Raes and his colleagues’ study looked at the microbiome differences between healthy and depressed individuals.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The bacteria they found were missing in depressed individuals were examined to determine whether they could produce or break down neuroactive compounds in the gut. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, the genomes of </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Coproccus </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">contain DNA sequences that can generate DOPAC, a product of breakdown of dopamine, which is associated with depression when depleted. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though the findings don’t confirm that lower levels of these species of bacteria correlate with depression, they offer a potential direction for possible pathways and therapeutic targets for these mental health disorders.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Microbiology is not simple, because it involves ecologies,” said University of Florida psychologist Bruce Stevens. “You can’t take down one bacterium without taking down the whole nest, so translation to treatment is going to be tough. A single species won’t do it.”</span></p>

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Why we become more forgetful with age – and what you can do about it

<p> <span></span>How is it that we are able to remember some events in great detail whereas other memories seem to fade away over time? Our memory changes with age, so that we may have a memory slip on a trip to fetch something from the next room, but we’re still able to recall important events from history with great detail. But why?</p> <p>One important aspect of memory formation and retention is the associations we build between the information we later try to remember and other details. For example, when and where the event took place, who was there, or the feelings we felt at the time. These details not only help us as clues to search our memory, but they also allow the mental time travel we all experience when we recall those detailed memories, so that it feels like we can relive an experience in our minds.</p> <p>Scientists refer to this experience as recollection, and some distinguish it from familiarity, which refers to the general feeling that we have experienced something before, but are not quite able to put our finger on all of the <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/quirks-memory/201208/nagging-feeling-familiarity-face">details of the event</a>. For example, you see someone at the supermarket or on public transport who instantly seems very familiar, but you cannot recall who they are.</p> <p>The experience of familiarity is very fast – you can quickly detect that you may know the person – but recollecting the details of who they are comes a bit more slowly (hopefully before they approach you). This is an example of how the processes differ on a subjective, or what’s called a phenomenological, level.</p> <p><strong>What's going on in the brain</strong></p> <p>Apart from the behavioural and phenomenological differences that make the familiarity versus recollection of a face seem distinct from each other, research <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17636547">has also indicated</a> that different areas of the brain underlie the phenomena. The hippocampus, within the medial temporal lobes of the brain, is strongly involved in forming the associations that help to give rise to recollection, whereas the nearby perirhinal and entorhinal cortices appear to be more important for familiarity.</p> <p>Research has shown that the ability to retrieve details of an event and the phenomenological experience of recollection decline as people get older, whereas familiarity remains relatively the same <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19100756">regardless of age</a>. Studies have also shown that the structural integrity of the hippocampus <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15703252">declines</a> with increased age, whereas the entorhinal cortex showed minimal changes in volume. In other words, areas of the brain such as the hippocampus that are important for recollection tend to decline in volume, whereas the areas that support familiarity remain more intact as people get older.</p> <p>Scientists also know that memory does not work as a flawless tape-recorder: it is often the case that we not only forget information, but also misremember it, even if we feel as if we recollect an experience vividly and accurately. That older adults are increasingly unable to retrieve specific details of an event means they could be more susceptible to <a href="http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/False_memory">experiencing false memory</a>.</p> <p><strong>How to stop memories from slipping</strong></p> <p>So what can be done to deter or reverse these changes in older age? While there is no magical pill or super food that can protect us, research suggests a number of strategies that can help ameliorate some of the more difficult impacts of ageing on our memories.</p> <p>One popular suggested solution is to do as many crosswords and sudoku puzzles as possible. It is a perfectly intuitive idea: if we think of the brain like a muscle, then we should exercise that muscle as much as possible to keep it sharp and fit. Yet, so far there is scant evidence to support this belief.</p> <p>At best, you can expect to get very good at doing crosswords and sudoku, but the transfer of those skills to other kinds of abilities that are further away, such as being better able to reason abstractly or remember more information, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26082279">is less supported</a> by research evidence. So, you should certainly keep doing crosswords if you enjoy doing them, but do not believe or <a href="http://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/brain-training.html">buy into the hype</a> that such brain training will ward off cognitive decline or dementia.</p> <p><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/149112/original/image-20161207-18057-1e9o4i4.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /> <span class="caption">Exercising the mind.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">jgolby/shutterstock.com</span></span></p> <p>The method more likely to help is to simply engage in more physical exercise, particularly aerobic exercise. The <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12661673">research</a> regarding the benefits of exercise not only to your physical health but also to your mental health and abilities is much more settled than that of brain training. This does not have to be strenuous exercise that involves running marathons. Something as simple as brisk walking, or anything that gets your heart pumping and causes you to break a sweat, shows strong benefits to your memory performance. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21282661">Research</a> has also indicated that areas of the brain such as the hippocampus which are important for memory show increases in volume as a result of aerobic exercise.</p> <p>So the best advice for improving your memory is to use that half hour you might have spent doing a sudoku puzzle to go for a nice walk with a friend instead.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/70102/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/vanessa-loaiza-321785">Vanessa Loaiza</a>, Lecturer, Department of Pyschology, <em><a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-essex-1291">University of Essex</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/why-we-become-more-forgetful-with-age-and-what-you-can-do-about-it-70102" target="_blank">original article</a>.</p>

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Your brain approaches tricky tasks in a surprisingly simple way

<p>Have you ever sat down to complete your morning crossword or Sudoku and wondered about what’s happening in your brain? Somewhere in the activity of the billions of neurons in your brain lies the code that lets you remember a key word, or apply the logic required to complete the puzzle.</p> <p>Given the brain’s intricacy, you might assume that these patterns are incredibly complex and unique to each task. But <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41593-018-0312-0">recent research</a> suggests things are actually more straightforward than that.</p> <p>It turns out that many structures in your brain work together in precise ways to coordinate their activity, shaping their actions to the requirements of whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve.</p> <p>We call these coordinated patterns the “low-dimensional manifold”, which you can think of as analogous to the major roadways that you use to commute to and from work. The majority of the traffic flows along these major highways, which represent an efficient and effective way to get from A to B.</p> <p>We have found evidence that most brain activity follows these types of patterns. In very simple terms, this saves your brain from needing to work everything out from scratch when performing a task. If someone throws you a ball, for instance, the low-dimensional manifold allows your brain to swiftly coordinate the muscle movements needed to catch the ball, rather than your brain needing to learn how to catch a ball afresh each time.</p> <p>In a study <a href="https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(19)30775-5">published today in the journal Neuron</a>, my colleagues and I investigated these patterns further. Specifically, we wanted to find out whether they play a role in shaping brain activity during really challenging cognitive tasks that require lots of concentration.</p> <p>We scanned people’s brains with high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they performed a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_square">Latin squares task</a>, which is similar to a Sudoku puzzle but uses shapes instead of numbers. Anyone who has played Sudoku before their morning coffee knows how much focus and concentration is required to solve it.</p> <p>The idea behind the Latin squares task is to identify the missing shape in a particular location in a grid, given that each shape can only show up once in each row and column. We created three different levels of difficulty, defined by how many different rows and columns needed to be inspected to arrive at the correct answer.</p> <p><strong>Directing traffic</strong></p> <p>Our prediction was that performing the more difficult versions of the task would lead to a reconfiguration of the low-dimensional manifold. To return to the highway analogy, a tricky task might pull some brain activity off the highway and onto the back streets to help get around the congestion.</p> <p>Our results confirmed our predictions. More difficult trials showed different patterns of brain activation to easy ones, as if the brain’s traffic was being rerouted along different roads. The trickier the task, the more the patterns changed.</p> <p>What’s more, we also found a link between these changed brain activation patterns and the increased likelihood of making a mistake on the harder version of the Latin Squares test.</p> <p>In a way, attempting a difficult task is like trying out a new rat run on your morning commute – you might succeed, but in your haste and stress you might also be more likely to take a wrong turn.</p> <p>Overall, these results suggests that our brain activity perhaps isn’t as complicated as we once thought. Most of the time, our brain is directing traffic along pretty well-established routes, and even when it needs to get creative it is still trying to send the traffic to the same ultimate destination.</p> <p>This leaves us with an important question: how does the brain achieve this level of coordination?</p> <p>One possibility is that this function is fulfilled by the <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/thalamus">thalamus</a>, a structure that lies deep in the brain but is connected to almost the entire rest of the brain.</p> <p>Importantly, the circuitry of the thalamus is such that it can act as a filter for ongoing activity in the cerebral cortex, the brain’s main information processing centre, and therefore could exert the kind of influence we were looking for.</p> <p><a href="https://images.theconversation.com/files/298044/original/file-20191022-28112-nv7utl.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=1000&amp;fit=clip"><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/298044/original/file-20191022-28112-nv7utl.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /></a> <em><span class="caption">Positions of the thalamus and the cerebral cortex within the brain.</span> <span class="attribution"><span class="source">Pikovit/Shutterstock</span></span></em></p> <p>Patterns of activity in the thalamus are hard to decipher in traditional neuroimaging experiments. But fortunately, the <a href="https://cai.centre.uq.edu.au/facilities/human-imaging/7t-magnetom">high-resolution MRI scanner used in our study</a> collected by my colleagues Luca Cocchi and Luke Hearne allowed us to observe them in detail.</p> <p> </p> <p>Sure enough, we saw a clear link between activity in the thalamus and the flow of activity in the low-dimensional manifold. This suggests that when performing particular tasks, the thalamus helps to shape and constrain the activity in the cortex, a bit like a police officer directing busy traffic.</p> <p>So next time you sit down to play Sudoku, spare a thought for your thalamus, and the low-dimensional manifold that it helps to create. Together, they’re shaping the brain activity that will ultimately help you solve the puzzle.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/124891/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/james-shine-730758">James Shine</a>, Robinson Fellow, <em><a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a></em></span></p> <p>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/your-brain-approaches-tricky-tasks-in-a-surprisingly-simple-way-124891">original article</a>.</p>

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Having a blind mind’s eye: What is aphantasia?

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Try imagining a scene at the beach. For some people, the experience will be intensely visual and feel like they are looking at a photo, others might see it hazily or missing some of the colours.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For an even smaller group, they will think of the beach scene more in concepts. They know what a beach looks like but can’t actually see one in their mind’s eye.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This condition, called aphantasia, affects between one and five percent of the population though many don’t realise they have it until they share their experiences with someone without the condition or encounter it online.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While this leads to a lot of self-diagnosis, researchers are looking for more objective diagnostic tools.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Researchers at Macquarie University have experimented with identifying new methods of diagnosis. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In one experiment, the researchers attached electrodes to people’s skin to measure how much they sweat while imagining scary scenarios. The results showed that people with aphantasia didn’t sweat in the same way as people who could see images in their mind’s eye, but they did when shown actual scary images.</span></p> <p><strong>All in our heads</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though the condition has technically been known since the 1800s, a history of imagery research as a low-priority field meant the condition was only named in 2015 when neurologist Professor Adam Zeman and colleagues coined the term - ‘a’ meaning none, and ‘phantasia’ meaning imagery.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though historical research surrounding survivors of strokes and traumatic brain injuries had found they had reported losing the ability to visualise images, the advent of neuroimaging fast-tracked research in the area.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Neuroimaging includes commonly known techniques such as MRIs and CT scans, and this family of techniques showed that specific visual regions of the brain are activated when we imagine things.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For example, if you were shown a picture of a tree, a pattern of activation would occur in these visual regions. When you go to imagine that tree later, your brain attempts to recreate that neural pattern - meaning that you reactivate the neurons in a similar way to how they were activated when you first saw the tree.</span></p> <p><strong>Why do we visualise things?</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though the reason isn’t fully clear, being able to visualise things can help us remember things from the past and imagine future scenarios to make decisions.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">People with aphantasia aren’t that disadvantaged though, instead finding other ways to help them remember things and plan for the future.</span></p>

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Why do we have ‘senior moments’?

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;"> As we get older, we often ascribe forgetting where we put the house keys or what the name of a particular item is as just a “senior moment” rather than simply being forgetful.</span></p> <p><a href="https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(18)30064-3"><span style="font-weight: 400;">New research</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> has offered an insight into the difference between these “senior moments” and other forgetful episodes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Scientists at the University of California used functional resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyse how the brain works when recalling information in a bid to understand what happens during forgetful episodes.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The 40 healthy participants - of which half were between ages 18 and 31 and the other half between ages 64 and 89 - were asked to complete two tasks. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The first involved identifying commonplace objects and then distinguishing them from new ones, and the fMRI was used to see which areas of the brain were being used by the brain during the task.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Some of the images were identical to ones they’d seen before, some were brand new, and others were similar to ones they’d seen earlier, we may have changed the colour or the size,” said Michael Yassa, senior author and director of the Centre for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the university.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The study found that older adults struggled with the subtle changes and didn’t perform as well as the younger adults in identifying new similar-looking objects.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For the second task, participants had to rely on their spatial memory to determine whether objects had changed location. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In this task, the older participants came out on top.</span></p> <p><strong>Images worth a thousand words</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">From the fMRI imaging, the team found that these two tasks rely on different parts of the brain.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">During the first task, the anterolateral entorhinal cortex appeared to be a contributing factor in the performance of older participants, whereas the second task relied on a different part of the brain called the posteromedial entorhinal cortex.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The anterolateral entorhinal cortex acts as the messenger between the hippocampus, where memory is encoded, and the neocortex, which is involved in long-term memory storage. Signal loss in this region of the brain has already been associated with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but this research means that the same loss of signal appears in people who have aged normally and that it could be the reason behind “senior moments”.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">From the second task, the better performance of the older participants suggest that this area of the brain is less affected by aging than other areas.</span></p> <p><strong>Why does it matter?</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">These findings suggest that “not all memory changes equally with aging”, said lead author Zachariah Reagh.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This means that forgetting where you left your keys may have nothing to do with your age.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“This suggests that the brain-aging process is selective,” said Yassa.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">As a result, these findings could help with identifying patients at risk of dementia in the future.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: UCI CNLM / Instagram</span></em></p>

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‘Muting’ your singing partner could be the reason duets work

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Singing duos require a certain level of musical chemistry, and a recent study has confirmed it.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">By analysing the brain patterns of Ecuadorian plain-tailed wrens as they sang, the researchers found that each singer mutes the song-making areas of their partner’s brain as they take turns singing.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The study, published in </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">, saw researchers studying the brain activity of male and female wrens singing individually and in pairs.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They said the motor circuits used for singing are temporarily inhibited in the listening partner, which helps connect the pair’s brains and coordinate turn-taking so it sounds like only one bird is singing.</span></p> <p><strong>Using our senses to take turns</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The study has also provided a new insight into how humans and other cooperative animals use sensory cues to coordinate with each other.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Eric Fortune, co-author of the study and neurobiologist at New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Department of Biological Sciences, said that timing is everything for these sorts of performances.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“What these wrens have shown us is that for any good collaboration, partners need to become ‘one’ through sensory linkages,” he said. “The take-home message is that when we are cooperating well … we become a single entity with our partners.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Think of these birds like jazz singers,” said corresponding author and associate professor of biology at Scripps College Melissa Coleman. “Duetting wrens have a rough song structure planned before they sing, but as the song evolves, they must rapidly coordinate by receiving constant input from their counterpart.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though the team expected the birds would have specialised neurons to coordinate this turn-taking, they were surprised to discover that listening to their partner is what prevents them from singing over the top.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When looking at the brain activity of birds as they sang, the neurons responsible for learning and making music would rapidly fire. But when listening to their partner, their neurons became much less active.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“You can think of inhibition as acting like a trampoline,” Fortune explained. “When the birds hear their partner, the neurons are inhibited, but just like rebounding off a trampoline, the release from that inhibition causes them to swiftly respond when it’s their time to sing.”</span></p> <p><strong>What this means for humans</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though we might not experience the same kinds of inhibition as the plain-tailed wren, poor internet connections during video conferencing or the loss of reception during a phone call affect the sensory information we use to coordinate our conversations with other people and avoid interrupting, speaking over someone, and other conversational pitfalls.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I think this study is important for understanding how we interact with the world whenever we are trying to produce a single behaviour as two performers,” Coleman said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We are wired for cooperation, the same way as these jazz singing wrens.”</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty Images</span></em></p>

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