Neuroscience Around the Web – Issue 20

Each week I publish a "Week in Review" for our students and alumni where I summarize exciting new developments in psychology and neuroscience. Here are five of the most interesting items from recent weeks:

There are two components to every decision: The decision itself and how confident we feel about the decision

Confidence in a decision requires that the brain looks at itself. We call this metacognition."The default view of metacognition is that you make your decision first, then you check how much evidence you have to feel confident – first you think, then you think about thinking. "Here, the researchers found that those who are better at metacognition use confidence while deliberating "to know if we should seek out more evidence or if we have enough to commit to a decision." "This indicates that the brain could be continuously looking at itself, monitoring and evaluating its processes in order to control its efficiency; a system of extreme micro-management."

Podcast by Andrew Huberman about ADHD and focus in general

Here's a fascinating podcast by neuroscientist Andrew Huberman about ADHD and focus in general and in which he addresses some of the topics we discussed last week. It's long (> 2 hrs) but well worth listening to. Some strategies from the podcast to increase focus and attention for ADHDers and non ADHDers:

  • Sitting quietly for 17 minutes while focusing on our interoception, just one time, can increase focus and attention on a long-term basis
  • Frequent smart phone use affects our attention and reduces our ability to do meaningful work
  • To increase focus and attention, restrict smart phone use: - for adolescents --< 60 min of smart phone use per day; - for adults --< 1 - 2 hrs per day.
  • Fidgeting is due to an over-active motor programme. Fidgeting or doodling, etc. will satisfy the motor programme and let you focus. 

Use stress as a tool rather than an obstacle

It's not true that stress is always bad and that we should focus on reducing it. You can use  stress as a tool for better performance and to build resilience, rather than as an obstacle. "The team found that in addition to reducing their anxiety ... “good stress” mindset reset helped the students score higher on tests, procrastinate less, stay enrolled in classes, and respond to academic challenges in a healthier way."

Some kinds of fluid intelligence improve, rather than decline, with age

"Older people are slower in general, as measured by their response time in the task (how fast they hit a button in response to something on the screen), at the rate of an average increase of 6.3 milliseconds per additional year of age. But there were differences in the components: alerting got worse with increasing age but orienting, and the ability to inhibit irrelevant information, got better. There are ways we get smarter with age, even in the domain of fluid intelligence."

Why you should calm down before making an important decision

In research with monkeys, researchers found that 1/6th of the neurons in brain regions involved in decision-making, specifically the orbitofrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, also monitor for fluctuations in heart rate.

When the researchers removed the amygdala, heart rates went up by 15 beats per minute. "In this higher arousal state, the faster the animals' hearts beat, the slower they were to choose a reward, [suggesting] that when the animals' arousal state was heightened, it actually hampered the decision-making process."

The heightened arousal state decreased "the number of neurons involved in the decision-making process. Moreover, in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the number of neurons that appeared to track internal states rose slightly. This altered the balance of information represented in this area, as if the neural signals for decision making were "hijacked" by arousal."

We can maintain only 150 quality relationships

Dunbar's number, the theory that humans can only maintain 150 quality relationships has stood the test of time for 30 years! "'Dunbar_number' yields nearly 1,400 papers on Google Scholar, and 26,500,000 hits on Google."

"The size of an individual’s social network correlates with the size of their default mode neural network!" The default mode network is a brain network that manages social relationships.

Feature image by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

Related posts:
Neuroscience Around the Web – Issue 28
Reading novels is good for the brain
Unleashing the Brain’s Potential through a Rich and Varied Lifestyle
The Power of Napping: Boosting Brain Health and Delaying Ageing
Psychedelic Psychotherapy for Mental Health
Five Ways That Emotions Shape Your Decisions

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