Random Brain-Related Research
The following is a collection of short reports on brain-related
research. The first report looks at the possible risks of being
bored. Then the advantages of self-discipline are considered.
Finally, there are studies that show a new benefit from meditation,
and how brain damage seems to cause spirituality.
As reported in the International Journal of Epidemiology,
University College, London, researchers, using data from 7524
civil servants, have discovered that those who are commonly bored
are more likely to die. They questioned the workers, ages 35
to 55, between 1985 and 1988, asking them about how bored they
typically are. Then in April of 2009 they looked at who was still
alive and who had died. The subjects which reported the highest
levels of boredom were 37% more likely to be dead.
The nature of the causal connection is speculation at this
point. Those who are bored may engage in more unhealthy behaviors,
such as heavy drinking or over-eating. That would decrease a
person's life expectancy. Whatever the chain of causation, though,
the lesson seems to be: Get interested in life if you want more
Self-Discipline and Brainpower
A study reported in the journal Psychological Science, addressed
the issue of IQ level, self-discipline, and academic performance.
Basically, the study found that while IQ level did correlate
with academic performance, there was a much stronger correlation
with self-discipline. Students with high self-discipline have
much better grades than high-IQ students. They also found that
there was no correlation between IQ and discipline. They are
traits that vary independently.
Studies in the 1980s found that the ability of young children
to delay gratification was positively correlated with academic
achievement a decade later. These studies involved offering children
a cookie now while giving them the choice to forgo the cookie
and instead have two cookies later. The ability to delay gratification
is obviously a component of self-discipline.
What does this have to do with brainpower? It demonstrates
my contention that brainpower is more like "brain-potential"
if it isn't used properly. One definition of power, after all,
is "The ability to act effectively." Raw computing
capacity doesn't make a computer or a human effective if there
aren't the other necessary components.
Research on Meditation
You know that I am a fan of meditation for increasing brainpower.
Well, the latest research shows that it not only makes your brain
perform better, but may actually reduce the amount of sleep you
need. This is good news for those of us who don't feel like we
have the time for meditation. Perhaps we can just take the time
from our sleep time if we want to.
A study at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, used the
established "psychomotor vigilance task," which is
used to quantify the effects of sleepiness on mental ability.
Participants look at a LCD screen and press a button when they
see an image pop up. Typical response time is under 300 milliseconds.
Sleep-deprived people consistently take longer, or just miss
the stimulus altogether.
Subjects had 40 minutes of sleep, meditation, reading, or
light conversation before and after testing. All subjects tried
all four pre-test activities in different tests. A 40 minute
nap had already been proven to improve performance, when subjects
are given an hour to get past the after-nap grogginess. The researchers
were surprised to find, though, that only meditation caused an
immediate improvement in performance. This was true even though
none of the volunteers were experienced meditators.
Interestingly, every single subject showed improvement. When
testing was done after a night without sleep, the improvement
was even more dramatic. What was not determined is why meditation
improves brain performance.
The Spiritual Brain?
As reported on New Scientist, a recent study done by neuroscientists
at the University of Udine in Italy, found that removing part
of the brain can induce more feelings of inner peace. This is
considered by some to be the best evidence so far that spiritual
thinking arises in, or is limited by, specific brain areas.
88 people with brain tumors were interviewed before and after
surgery. After removal of tumors in the parietal cortex, patients
reported a greater sense of self-transcendence - which was not
the case for patients with tumors removed from the frontal regions
of the brain. Questions asked of the patients (three to seven
days after surgery) addressed three components of spirituality
or self-transcendence: losing yourself in the moment, feeling
connected to other people and nature, and believing in a higher
Of course, an abstract concept like self-transcendence will
mean different things to different people, and patient self-reporting
is not always accurate. We will see what future studies show