Neuroscience Around the Web – Issue 21

It's a new year. 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 six of the most interesting items from recent weeks to help you start your New Year off right:

A ten-minute run at moderate intensity can boost mood and executive function

Compared to a resting condition, running increased the participants' mood and executive functioning. And this was associated with greater pre-frontal activation in a number of brain areas bilaterally. What's especially significant about this study is that brain function and mental health can be increased with minimal effort.

Life-long learning protects brains from age-related decline

Older adults with an academic background showed a significantly lower increase in typical signs of brain degeneration and a lower decline in mental processing overall. This study points to the importance of life-long learning for maintaining brain and cognitive health.

How mindfulness can spike anxiety

It's estimated that "at least 25% of regular meditators have experienced adverse events from panic attacks and depression to an unsettling sense of 'dissociation.'" Some mindfulness techniques can increase activity in the insular cortex., turning up the intensity of all your emotions that could become overwhelming. 

Other mindfulness techniques can increase activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex which regulates the limbic system and the amygdala. "When that’s taken beyond optimal levels, it can blunt all emotions, both negative and positive, so that you no longer feel extreme joy or happiness."

Neuroscience Around the Web
S.M.A.R.T. New Year's goals may not be enough

That's because they're time bound: Once you achieve them, you relax. A better strategy is to combine longer-term, identity goals with shorter-term goals. Longer-term, identity goals are closer to our ideal selves, they are flexible, and they focus more on how you want to be in the world. Studies have shown that when people combine the longer-term, more meaningful goals with short-term goals, they are more invested in achieving them.

To enhance learning, watch videos at 2x speed, twice

Watching lecture videos at 2x normal speed twice increased test results for college students. The lectures used in this study were on real estate appraisals and the Roman Empire, so this strategy may not translate well to material that is more difficult, such as neuroscience.

Here's how social media can damage self-esteem

People share content on social media that puts them in the best light. The more time people spend on social media, the more they compare themselves to other. This constant social comparison damages self esteem and increases social anxiety.

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