Brain Related News and Information
Here are a few odds and ends of reports on recent research
into how our brains and minds work. There are also a few other
brain-related items and brainpower tips.
Why Did Our Brains Get So Big?
Richard Wrangham, a Harvard University biological anthropologist,
has hypothesized that cooking was the human innovation that lead
to our large brains. Man's ancestor, Homo erectus, appeared about
1.6 to 1.9 million years ago had a brain that was 50% larger
than its predecessor, Homo habilis. It also had a large drop
in tooth size. Cooking, Wrangham says, can account for both of
Cooking makes many food more easily digested. Studies of the
diet of modern chimpanzees suggests that the available nutrition
from plants and raw meats would not be enough to support the
larger brain (Our current brains use up to 20 of our total calorie
intake). Others theorize that a move toward more use of soft
animal products was enough to support the larger brain.
Source: Scientific American, January 2008 Issue
IQ and Longevity
Researchers from the University of Glasgow and other universities
in Scotland found that IQ level is related to longevity. They
published their findings a few years back (September 2003 issue
of Psychosomatic Medicine). It used data from a 1932 test of
87,498 Scottish school children born in 1921, as well as other
data, and they tracked their subjects' data over a 70-year period.
What they found was that when born in wealthier neighborhoods,
people's life spans were generally the same regardless of IQ
level, but when born in a poor area, a person had a definite
advantage in longevity if he or she had a higher IQ in childhood.
There are several speculations as to why this should be, ranging
from higher IQ leading to the adopting of better health habits
to being better able to cope with many adverse situations in
It makes sense that it would increase lifespan in a poor neighborhood
and not in a wealthier one. Not all brain scientists are big
believers in the value of a high IQ alone, without the "software"
or thinking habits that really make a difference. But having
better basic "hardware" certainly has to be of some
value. It could make it easier to find a way to live more like
the people in the wealthier areas, and so extend one's life (lifespan
differences between the poor and wealthy have been well documented).
Perhaps the more interesting finding was that having a lower
IQ made no negative difference in the longevity of those men
and women who lived in the wealthier neighborhoods. Once again,
this supports the idea that it is our habits (both physical and
mental) that are more important. Beyond a certain level of raw
intelligence that is necessary for modern day survival, it is
how we use it that matters most.
Almonds for Brainpower
Along with all of the other health benefits for our bodies,
almonds are particularly good for the brain. In research at the
University of Illinois-Chicago mice which had an Alzheimer's-like
disease were fed almonds. After several months they were tested
for memory, and did better than the mice given the usual food.
They also had fewer of the abnormal brain deposits thought to
underlie the disease.
According to researcher Neelima Chauhan, almonds have substances
which act like cholinesterase inhibitors and related drugs that
are commonly used to treat Alzheimer's disease. The amount given
the mice wasn't that large, either, the human equivalent of about
a small handful of almonds daily (15 to 20 nuts). Almonds also
contain calcium, magnesium, vitamin E and phytochemicals that
may be good for brain health. Other studies have shown almonds
to be good for heart health too, which means they might be good
for maintaining blood flow to the brain.
One thing not discussed in the scientific literature is whether
it makes a difference if they are roasted or raw. It seems likely
that the raw nuts have more health-promoting elements, but almonds
are commonly sold roasted as well. I suspect that there isn't
an important difference because the compounds that seem to be
the most useful in them are not vitamins, which are more likely
to be destroyed by heat.
Use That Reticular Cortex
The reticular cortex is a small organ in the brain, and a
part of the reticular activating system. It directs incoming
stimulus to our conscious or unconscious mind. In other words,
it decides what "catches" our attention. It is "programmed"
by what we focus on. This is why, for example, if you buy a certain
make of car, you start to see more of the same all over. Your
reticular cortex is making you more aware of them.
To use this to increase brainpower, focus on your thinking
successes. Note when you figure something out for the first time,
or when you have a particularly creative idea. This focus programs
your reticular cortex. Then when there are opportunities to practice
and improve your brainpower, you will be more aware of them.
This process will also make you more aware of when you are thinking
effectively, thus encouraging a belief in your own mental powers,
which is very motivating, and so encourages more improvement.