Brain Rules

12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
by John Medina, Pear Press, USA, 2008

Brain Rules

  • To improve your thinking skills, move.
  • Exercise gets blood to your brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.
  • Our intellectual prowess, from language to mathematics to art, may have come from the powerful need to predict our neighbour’s psychological interiors.
  • If someone does not feel safe with a teacher or boss, he or she may not be able to perform well. If a student feels misunderstood because the teacher cannot connect with the way the student learns, the student may become isolated… if a teacher can’t hold a student’s interest, knowledge will not be richly encoded in the brain’s database.
  • When people learn something, the wiring in their brains changes… acquiring even simple pieces of information involves the physical alteration of the structure of the neurons participating in the process.
  • The brain acts like a muscle: The more activity you do, the larger and more complex it can become. Whether that leads to more intelligence is another issue, but one fact is indisputable: What you do in life physically changes what your brain looks like. You can wire and rewire yourself with the simple choice of which musical instrument – or professional sport – you play.
  • Learning results in physical changes in the brain, and these changes are unique to each individual. Not even identical twins having identical experiences possess brains that wire themselves exactly the same way.
  • The various regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people.
  • No two people’s brains store the same information in the same way in the same place.
  • We have a great number of ways of being intelligent, many of which don’t show up on IQ tests.
  • The more attention the brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded – and retained.
  • Better attention always equals better learning.
  • What we pay attention to is often profoundly influenced by memory. In everyday life, we use previous experience to predict where we should pay attention. Different environments create different expectations.
  • “Interest” or “importance” is inextricably linked to attention.
  • Novel stimuli – the unusual, unpredictable, or distinctive – are powerful ways to harness attention in the service of interest.
  • Emotionally arousing events tend to do better remembered than neutral events… Emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories.
  • Studies show that emotional arousal focuses attention on the “gist” of an experience at the expense of peripheral details. Many researchers think that’s how memory normally works – by recording the gist of what we encounter, not by retaining a literal record of the experience. With the passage of time, our retrieval of gist always trumps our recall of details. This means our heads tend to be filled with generalized pictures of concepts or events, not with slowly fading minutiae.
  • Our reliance on gist may actually be fundamental to finding a strategy for remembering details.
  • Memory is enhanced by creating associations between concepts.
  • Meaning [comes] before details.
  • We cannot multi-task. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.
  • Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors.
  • Taking your sequential brain into a multitasking environment can be like trying your right foot into your left shoe.
  • Most teachers overstuff their students… Relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots. Lots of force-feeding, very little digestion… expertise doesn’t guarantee good teaching!
  • And the brain likes hierarchy. Starting with general concepts naturally leads to explaining information in a hierarchical fashion.
  • The brain’s attention all “spotlight” can focus on only one thing at a time: no multitasking.
  • We are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail.
  • Audiences check out after 10 minutes, but you can keep grabbing them back by telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion.
  • Kim Peek… born in 1951… can read two pages at the same time, one with each eye, comprehending and remembering perfectly everything contained in the pages. Forever.
  • Most of what we know about the world has to either experienced by us first-hand or taught to us second-hand.
  • People usually forget 90 percent of what they learn in class within 30 days.
  • Space between repetitions is the critical component for transforming temporary memories into more persistent forms. Spaced learning is greatly superior to massed learning.
  • The more elaborately we encode information at the moment of learning, the stronger the memory… More complexity means greater learning.
  • The neural pathways initially recruited to process new information end up becoming the permanent pathways the brain reuses to store the information.
  • Retrieval may be best improved by replicating the conditions surrounding the initial encoding.
  • Memory worked best if the environmental conditions at retrieval mimicked the environmental conditions at encoding… Learn something while you are sad and you will be able to recall it better, if, at retrieval, you are somehow suddenly made sad.
  • When you are trying to drive a piece of information into your brains’s memory systems, make sure you understand exactly what the information means. If you are trying to drive information into someone else’s brain, make sure they know what it means.
  • Why do examples work? They appear to take advantage of the brain’s natural predilection for pattern matching. Information is more readily processed if it can be immediately associated with information already present in the learner’s brain. We compare the two inputs, looking for similarities and differences as we encode the new information. Providing examples is the cognitive equivalent of adding more handles to the door. Providing examples makes the information more elaborative, complex, better encoded, and therefore better learned.
  • If you are trying to get information across to someone, your ability to create a compelling introduction may be the most important single factor in the later success to your mission.
  • A great deal of research shows that thinking or talking about an event, even immediately after it has occurred enhances memory for that event…
  • Repeated exposure to information in specifically timed intervals provides the most powerful way to fix memory into the brain.
  • Deliberately re-expose yourself to the information if you want to retrieve it later. Deliberately re-expose yourself to the information more elaborately if you want the retrieval to be of higher quality. Deliberately re-expose yourself to the information more elaborately, and in fixed, spaced intervals, if you want the information retrieval to be the most vivid it can be.
  • The last step in declarative processing is forgetting. The reason forgetting plays a vital role in our ability to function is deceptively simple. Forgetting allows us to prioritize events. Those events that are irrelevant to our survival will take up wasteful cognitive space if we assign them the same priority as events critical to our survival. So we don’t. We insult them by making them less stable. We forget them.
  • It is possible to become dysfunctional with too much sleep or not enough. Whatever amount of sleep is right for you, when robbed of that (in either direction), bad things really do happen to your brain.
  • Sleep has been shown to enhance tasks that involve visual texture discrimination, motor adaptations, and motor sequencing. The type of learning that appears to be most sensitive to sleep improvement is that which involves learning a procedure… Clearly, for these types of intellectual skills, sleep can be a great friend to learning.
  • One night’s loss of sleep resulted in about a 30 percent loss in overall cognitive skill, with a subsequent drop in performance.
  • Sleep loss means mind loss.
  • No high-demand presentations and no critical exams would be assigned anywhere near the collision of these two curves (referring to nap time).
  • Sleep well, think well.
  • People vary in how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal.
  • Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.
  • People who experience chronic stress have elevated risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Stressed people don’t do math very well. They don’t process language very efficiently. They have poorer memories, both short and long forms… chronic stress hurts our ability to learn.
  • One of the greatest predictors of performance in school turns out to be the emotional stability of the home…  Children living in hostile environments are at greater risk for certain psychiatric disorders… the effect of childhood stress can stay with them.
  • Stress attacks the immune system, increasing employees’ chances of getting sick…  There’s no such thing as a firewall between personal issues and work productivity. That’s because we can’t have two brains we can interchange depending upon whether we are in our office or in our bedroom. Stress in the workplace affects family life, causing more stress in the family. More stress in the family causes more stress at work, which in turn gets brought home again.
  • The biggest part of successful stress management involves getting control back into your life.
  • Individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you gave no control over the problem – you are helpless.
  • Emotional stress has huge impacts across society, on children’s ability to learn in school and on employees’ productivity at work.
  • Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.
  • Two people can see the same input and come away with vastly different perceptions.
  • Multi-sensory presentations are the way to go.
  • Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.
  • Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.
  • The research investigation, deployed over several years, was called Bringing Baby Home. It consisted of exposing expectant couples to the marital interventions whether their marriages were in trouble or not, and then assessing the development of the child… They found that babies raised in the intervention households… didn’t cry as much. They had stronger attention-shifting behaviors and they responded to external stressors in remarkably stable ways. Physiologically, the intervention babies showed all the cardinal signs of healthy emotional regulation… Can you imagine what a child might look like academically after years of thriving in an emotionally stable environment?
  • Emotional stress has huge impacts across society, on children’s ability to learn in school and on employees’ productivity at work.
  • We learn best if we stimulate several senses at once.
  • Smells have an unusual power to bring back memories, maybe because smell signals bypass the thalamus and head straight to their destinations, which include that supervisor of emotions known as the amygdala.
  • Visual processing doesn’t just assist in the perception of our world. It dominates the perception of our world.
  • We actually experience our visual environment as a fully analysed opinion about what the brain thinks is out there.
  • If information is presented orally, people remember about 10 percent, tested 72 hours after exposure. That figure goes up to 65 percent if you add a picture.
  • We learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.
  • Male and female brains are different. Men and women respond differently to acute stress: Women activate the left hemisphere’s amygdala and remember the emotional details. Men use the right amygdala and get the gist.
  • Our learning abilities don’t have to change as we age. We can remain lifelong learners.
  • Researchers have shown that some regions of the adult brain stay as malleable as a baby’s brain, so we can grow new connections, strengthen existing connections, and even create new neurons, allowing us to be lifelong learners.
  • The adult brain throughout life retains the ability to change its structure and function in response to experience.
  • Most developmental psychologists believe that a child’s need to know is a drive as pure as diamond and as distracting as chocolate.
  • If children are allowed to remain curious, they will continue to deploy their natural tendencies to discover and explore until they are 101.
  • Expertise in specific subjects breeds the confidence to take intellectual risks.
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