Brain Bacteria: the Mind-Gut Connection

Studies are coming out every day that link the effects of imbalances in gut bacteria to a host of mental health conditions including: depression, anxiety, autism, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease. Although not yet entirely understood, scientists have discovered that signals go both from the brain to the gut AND from the gut to the brain.  Prompted by this realization,  they are beginning to triangulate the factors that bear on the bacterial balance and overall health of our…

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Can Pupil Size Predict IQ?

Could IQ--a famous standard of intelligence that has long eluded quantification--be as easy to measure as pupil size? Could the reason why establish a link between norepinephrine and fluid intelligence (and therefore, Mental Mojo consumption--See last paragraph)? Georgia psychologists Jason Tsukahara and colleagues hypothesize affirmatively in a paper they published two months ago. First a little background. Pupils have long been known to vary in size due to changes in emotional state and cognitive effort (i.e., brain strain). As Tsukahara writes: Starting in…

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The 20 Most Common Cognitive Biases

In laymen's terms, a cognitive bias is a shortcut taken by your brain that leads to illogical conclusions. Cognitive biases arose in the brains of our ancestors, whose environment placed a premium on quick decisions at the cost of accuracy. Today, these biases can still benefit us in certain contexts (e.g. athletic competitions or life and death situations), but can really hurt us in arenas governed by rationality (e.g., one's career or investment decisions). Luckily, 20% of cognitive biases are responsible…

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Why the Human Brain is Shrinking

Fact: our brains are 10% smaller than they were 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Anthropologists and psychologists across the world have advanced various explanations sharing the common threads discussed below. One driver of brain shrinkage they seem to agree on is domesticity. As this theory's lead proponent, Bruce Hood of the University of Bristol, explains: "We have been self-domesticating through the invention of culture and practices that ensure that we can live together." These anthropological shifts obviated the need to hunt for…

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Is Your Reality an Illusion?

Since the dawn of humankind, we've believed that we've been immersed in a continuous flow of consciousness. But that was merely an illusion our brains created according to cognitive neuroscientists at the Swiss National Science Foundation.  Their paper, published earlier this month, is titled "Time Slices," and theorizes that consciousness works much like a movie reel--we rapidly perceive myriad discrete images and our brains splice them together to create what we perceive as consciousness. Because visual processing takes only a few milliseconds,…

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Dumb and Grumpy: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

This blog often discusses cognitive enhancers, such as mental mojo, but one of the single most devastating cognitive detractors is sleep deprivation. Increasingly, neuroscientific studies are showing that sleep deprivation is cognitive kryptonite. For starters, it blunts the brain's ability to be positive. According to findings of two related studies published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, less sleep makes the brain more sensitive to negative stimuli, and less sensitive to positive ones. This is why, as many new parents will…

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The Five Best Brain-Boosting Rituals

Your brain is your engine of success. Research suggests that adopting the five following rituals will keep it finely tuned into your golden years. Savor the little victories: your brain doesn't know the difference between little ones and big ones, but perceived progress is an enormous driver of positive behaviors and neurochemistry. Consider a morning routine that ends with an accomplishment (working out, writing a blog entry, etc.) to get your victory in the bag at the…

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Brains or Brawn: What Does Your Workout Build?

Your brain is a muscle, but new studies are revealing that certain types of exercise build it better than others. A recent study funded by the Academy of Finland examined how different kinds of exercise affect production of a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is responsible for triggering neurogenesis (the production of new neurons throughout life, which in turn determines how gracefully our brains age from a functional standpoint). The study was performed on a group of rats…

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Are you an Optimal Human?

For centuries, humanity has struggled to identify optimal human functioning. Aristotle called the highest human good eudaimonia (i.e., happiness). Carl Rogers defined it as the "fully functioning person." Abraham Maslow concluded that optimal humans have achieved "self-actualization." For Erich Fromm, optimal humans valued personal growth and love over material possessions and status. But have these theories withstood the test of time and scientific experimentation? Psychologist Ken Sheldon aptly summarizes the findings in his book, Optimal Human Being, as…

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Confident to Creeper: How Much Eye Contact is too Much?

Most of us have been told the importance of eye contact more times than we can count--from job interviews to public speaking, it is one of the fundamental tactics cited for building rapport and conveying confidence. Inherently, most of us also know that there is a fine line between confidence and full-on "creeper mode." So just how much eye contact is too much? Researchers have found that the answer depends on two factors: (1) whether the person…

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