I have finally caught up with all the archived Brain Science Podcasts. The latest is an interview with Dr John Medina and dicusses his book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.
Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant. His book takes recent advances is neuroscience and brain science and derives practical ways these findings can be used to improve our performance in everyday life. He presents his recommendations as a set of 12 “rules” which can be applied to our educational, work and home situations.
I recommend this podcast (download the mps file) to anyone interested in this fascinating subject. Alternatively Medina’s website is well worth a look. He has gone out of his way to apply these rules to the presentation of information on the website. Consequently it is highly visual and easy to follow.
Dr Medina’s Brain Rules:
Exercise, particularly if it is aerobic, vastly improves executive function and memory. It improves cognition by increasing oxygen flow to the brain and increasing the creation of neurons, their survival and resistance to damage and stress.
The brain evolved to solve problems related to survival in an unstable outdoor environment. Consequently the educational classroom and workplace crucible are not conducive to the best brain performance.
Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
We are all different and parts of the brain develop at different rates for different people. This is ignored by most educational systems (e.g., where grade structures are age-based). This fact is also important in the workplace and in commerce.
Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
This is important for presentation of information. We pay most attention to things like emotions, threats and sex. The brain is not really capable of multi-tasking – a fact ignore by most educational and workplace situations.
Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
The human brain can only hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds in short-term memory. This can be extended by re-exposure to the information. Memories are so volatile that you have to repeat to remember. This relates to the common problem we have of remembering names at partyies but is also very relevant to the structuring of lessons in schools.
Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
Consolidation of learning in our long-term memory is a long-term project. Education should provide for repeated exposure to enhance this consolidation.
Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
The brain is active while we sleep. In fact sleep is probably necessary to our learning. Medina also argues for the “power nap” – that siesta or snooze in the afternoon – as a way of increasing productivity. He quotes a study which showed that a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilot’s performance by 34%.
Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
Our brains are built to deal with stress lasting about 30 seconds. Consequently the long-term stress of modern life can be damaging to cognition. It damages or disrupts memory, executive function, motor skills and our immune response. Stress at home affects performance at work, and vice versa.
Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
Stimulation of all our senses helps cognition because they work together in the brain. Smell is particularly helpful to memory.
Vision trumps all other senses.
Important for presenters. We are very good at remembering pictures – after three days we may only remember 10% of what we hear, but 65% if it includes a picture. Pictures also beat text.So text-laden PowerPoint presentations are very inefficient.
Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
Something we all know but may be afraid to admit. Men and women handle stress differently. They process emotions differently. And there are gender differences in the type and severity of psychiatric disorders we suffer from. The good news is that these different qualities are probably complementary – we can work as a team.
Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.
This never leaves us – but is not encouraged by the classrooms and work situations we are stuffed into. Recognition of this can enhance education. it can also increase work productivity. Medina described how Google encourages employees to “go where their mind asks them to go” for 20% of their time. Apparently 50% of Googles new products come from this “20% time.”