6 Easy Steps to Unlock Your Creative Genius

What we refer to as creativity is often referred to as "divergent thinking" by neuroscientists. Divergent thinking is a non-linear thought process that draws on many possible ideas to render an optimal solution (as opposed to convergent thinking, which follows a linear set of logical steps to arrive at one solution). If you want to solve an equation, then convergent thinking is the ticket, but if you want to paint the next Mona Lisa, ace an essay exam or even…

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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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Can Your Academic Major Predict Your Personality Type?

It is well-settled that there are five personality traits: (1) neuroticism; (2) conscientiousness; (3) agreeableness; (4) extraversion; and (5) openness to experience. Each of us has a certain mix of these traits, which determines our overall personality.  For instance, it's no surprise that those who skew towards conscientiousness have long dominated the curves at universities across the country, but depending on their levels of neuroticism, extraversion, etc., they may have had very few friends to tell about…

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Inside the Brain of a Math Wizard

There's no doubt that truly gifted mathematicians think differently than the rest of us. It's often observable during their everyday social interactions. But is there a neuroanatomical explanation for the difference, or is it merely the result of training? Cutting-edge fMRI studies suggest the former. You'll recall from last week's post a discussion of the revelations gleaned from the dissection of Einstein's brain: it was more connective, and had a smaller than average language center  (a.k.a., Broca's…

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The Nietzsche Hypothesis: How Failure Fuels Fulfillment

In 1887,  famed philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote as follows: To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures. At first…

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Neuroscience Reveals the Best Time to Take a Test

As you may have already surmised, the best time to take a test is in the morning. This revelation is courtesy of researchers at the Danish National Center for Social Research, who published an enlightening study in February of 2016. The study concludes that "for every hour later in the day, test performance decreases by .9%...however, a 20 to 30 minute break improves average test performance by 1.7%..." The researchers reason that this trend is driven by cognitive…

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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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Seneca’s Lesson of Living Fully

It's a pearl of wisdom as ignored as it is ubiquitous: seize the day. Alabama sang about it in the early nineties, and more recently, Tim McGraw extolled all of us to live like we are dying. But it is to the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca that we all owe the credit for this profound lesson. In his most famous work, On the Shortness of Time, Seneca urged us to live fully because time is our most valuable resource. He reasoned that…

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Grace Under Pressure: Avoiding Emotional Override

In the heat of battle with a friend or significant other, they suddenly throw a power punch. Heat prickles across your skin. Your heart rate increases. Your chest tightens. "Name one time..." they say. It was an easy question prior to the fight; now you're at a loss. Neuroscientists and psychologists call this experience "amygdala hijack" based upon the neurochemical mechanism underlying it. Most lay people call it the "fight or flight response." In a nutshell, we all have…

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