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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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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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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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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Binge-Watching = Brain Drain

Recent cognitive performance studies suggest that binge-watching TV on a regular basis is bad for your brain. Specifically, researchers at the University of California followed individuals with low exercise levels and high television consumption over 25 years to determine whether these behaviors would negatively effect their midlife cognitive performance. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found what they were looking for. Both the group of individuals who did not exercise and the group that watched more than three hours of daily TV over the…

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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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