Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist


 

by Art Markman
99u.com

Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

One thing that separates the great innovators from everyone else is that they seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics. They are expert generalists. Their wide knowledge base supports their creativity.

As it turns out, there are two personality traits that are key for expert generalists: Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition.

Openness to Experience is one of the Big Five personality characteristics identified by psychologists. The Big Five are the characteristics that reflect the biggest differences between people in the way they act. Openness to Experience is the degree to which a person is willing to consider new ideas and opportunities. Some people enjoy the prospect of doing something new and thinking about new things. Other people prefer to stick with familiar ideas and activities.

As you might expect, high levels of Openness to Experience can sometimes be related to creativity. After all, being creative requires doing something that has not been done before. If you are not willing to do something new, then it’s hard to be creative.

However, creativity also requires knowledge. In order to do something that has not been done before in some area, you have to know a lot about that discipline. Creative painters need to know a lot about art and painting. Creative scientists need to be skilled in their science.

If you are not willing to do something new, then it’s hard to be creative.

Study suggests early-childhood anesthesia exposure may affect the brain


Research published this week in Pediatrics takes a newly rigorous approach to investigating whether anesthesia exposure harms young children’s developing brains. The results suggest that even a single anesthesia exposure before age 3 could hurt kids’ language skills and abstract reasoning abilities.

Earlier studies, including those in animals, had suggested that anesthesia drugs harm young brains, but none had taken such a direct approach to the question as the new paper. In the latest study, Columbia University’s Caleb Ing, MD, and colleagues studied a group of 2,608 Australian children, 321 of whom received anesthesia at least once before age 3. At age 10, the children’s cognitive function was rigorously tested. Scores for skill in expressive language (the ability to form words and sentences) and receptive language (understanding what others say) were both lower in children who had been exposed to anesthesia than those never exposed, as were abstract-reasoning scores. Motor skills, behavior, and visual tracking and attention were not different between the groups. Leer más “Study suggests early-childhood anesthesia exposure may affect the brain”

To Boost Creativity, Study Abroad


Pacific Standard

New research confirms that spending a semester studying overseas enhances one’s ability to find innovative solutions.

Looking to hire someone who will make a creative contribution to your organization? Here’s a tip: When checking applicants’ college transcripts, don’t focus exclusively on their grades or honors.

Take note of whether they spent time studying abroad.

That’s the implication of newly published research, which provides the best evidence yet that studying overseas boosts one’s creativity. A semester spent in Spain or Senegal leads to higher creativity scores on two different tests, according to research conducted by Christine Lee, David Therriault, and Tracy Linderholm of the University of Florida, Gainesville.

“Cultural experiences from living abroad have wide-reaching benefits on students’ creativity, including the facilitation of complex cognitive processes that promote creative thinking,” the researchers write in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

The link between studying abroad and enhanced creativity was first made in a 2009 paper by William Maddux and Adam Galinsky, who found students who spent time overseas were more likely to come up with innovative insights. Like many studies, however, it didn’t quite establish causality. The authors couldn’t say for certain that the experience was transformative, admitting it is possible that people choose to study outside the country are more creative to begin with. Leer más “To Boost Creativity, Study Abroad”

Smoking May Lead to Faster Cognitive Decline in Men

Women, on the other hand, did not show any differences in cognitive scores over the same 10-year period. “The result among women was not particularly expected,” Sabia wrote in an email responding to questions about the study. But she says, it might easily be explained by the fact that there were fewer women in the study (2,137) than men (5,099), or because female smokers tended to smoke less than the men.

As far as the male smokers were concerned, the drop in cognitive functions, which included their scores on tests of memory, vocabulary, reasoning, verbal fluency and other executive skills, confirmed earlier studies that showed similar declines among those who lit up. But Sabia’s study is the first to find the effect in smokers as young as middle age. That suggests that tobacco can have an influence even on relatively young brains, and that its impact isn’t primarily due to the weaker neural networks of an already aging brain.

PHOTOS: Cigarette Warnings Around the World

But there was good news in the findings as well, especially for those who quit smoking. Men who had kicked the habit more than 10 years before the study began actually had better cognitive scores than men who had never smoked. Sabia credits this effect to the fact that people who quit smoking tend to become healthier overall, and may have adopted other lifestyle or diet changes that promoted better mental health.

That’s certainly encouraging, but Sabia cautions that the association between smoking and cognitive decline needs to be studied further. Because smokers tend to drop out of long-term studies of cognitive function due to disease, it’s possible that previous studies on the subject have underestimated the effect of lighting up on the brain. Sabia’s study is the first to use a statistical model to make up for this potential bias, but additional studies will need to confirm the relationship. If the research bears out, perhaps future public health messages about smoking will include warnings about cognitive harms as well as damage to the heart and lungs.


In a new study, middle-aged men who smoked did worse on tests of cognitive ability over time, but women who lit up didn’t show the same declines.
By ALICE PARK | @aliceparkny | http://healthland.time.com/Aleksandr Slyadnev / Getty Images

ALEKSANDR SLYADNEV / GETTY IMAGES

We know that smoking contributes to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, emphysema and lung cancer, among others. But now there’s  growing evidence that using cigarettes can also affect the brain: the latest study shows that smoking is associated with cognitive decline as early as age 45, and that male smokers may be more vulnerable to these mental effects than women.

For the study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers led by Severine Sabia, a research associate in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, gave cognitive tests to 7,236 middle aged men and women three times between 1997-99 and 2007-09, when they were 44-69 years old, 50-74 years old and 55-80 years old.

The researchers also collected the participants’ 20-year smoking history through regular self-reported questionnaires.

MORE: The Nicotine Patch May Improve Memory

And when they compared the cognitive scores to smoking status, they found that men who smoked showed faster decline than nonsmoking men over 10 years.The size of the effect associated with smoking was similar to that of 10 years of aging. Even after Sabia and her colleagues adjusted for the effects of heart disease, stroke and lung function on mental abilities, the effect of smoking remained strong… Leer más “Smoking May Lead to Faster Cognitive Decline in Men”

“On Second Thought” Takes a Second Look at Our Thinking Process

Regardless of industry, experience or pay-grade, all of our work ultimately consists of a long series of decisions. The thinking process behind them involves either careful, deliberate calculation or the use of instincts, impulses, and “following your gut.” In the workplace, terms like “Jack-of-all-trades,” “wearing many hats” and “thinking on your feet” bring to mind images of multitasking, prioritizing and decisive action.

Which leaves us with a dilemma: ideally, you would have unlimited time and energy to carefully ponder every daily decision. But, realistically speaking, you’ll never have the resources to approach every challenge this way. Would you honestly eliminate dozens of choices one-by-one to find the perfect pre-interview lunch? Can you imagine picking out the perfect business attire by weighing the pros and cons of each and every outfit in your wardrobe?

The truth is, we have neither the time nor the mental focus to ponder every decision with pros and cons or the process of elimination. To save brainpower, you might choose a “lucky lunch” that experience has shown always seems to get you a second interview or callback. Similarly, to pick your business attire, you might assemble an outfit much like one that impressed you at the last meeting. There’s no true calculation behind these decisions; they’re based on a tangled combination of instinct, experience, correlation, opinion and nuance.


Peter North | //workawesome.com

“On Second Thought” Takes a Second Look at Our Thinking Process

Regardless of industry, experience or pay-grade, all of our work ultimately consists of a long series of decisions. The thinking process behind them involves either careful, deliberate calculation or the use of instincts, impulses, and “following your gut.” In the workplace, terms like “Jack-of-all-trades,” “wearing many hats” and “thinking on your feet” bring to mind images of multitasking, prioritizing and decisive action.

Which leaves us with a dilemma: ideally, you would have unlimited time and energy to carefully ponder every daily decision. But, realistically speaking, you’ll never have the resources to approach every challenge this way. Would you honestly eliminate dozens of choices one-by-one to find the perfect pre-interview lunch? Can you imagine picking out the perfect business attire by weighing the pros and cons of each and every outfit in your wardrobe?

The truth is, we have neither the time nor the mental focus to ponder every decision with pros and cons or the process of elimination. To save brainpower, you might choose a “lucky lunch” that experience has shown always seems to get you a second interview or callback. Similarly, to pick your business attire, you might assemble an outfit much like one that impressed you at the last meeting. There’s no true calculation behind these decisions; they’re based on a tangled combination of instinct, experience, correlation, opinion and nuance. Leer más ““On Second Thought” Takes a Second Look at Our Thinking Process”

The Secret to Insight: Letting Go of the Mind

Mark Jung-Beeman is a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University, and he has studied what happens inside the brain when people have an insight. He was quoted in a recent New Yorker article, saying: “If you want to encourage insights, then you’ve got to also encourage people to relax.” The article notes that “Jung-Beeman’s latest paper investigates why people who are in a good mood are so much better at solving insight puzzles.”

What Jung-Beeman has discovered is that insight and creative solutions can be inhibited or blocked by being overly focused. Instead, what is often needed for insight is to focus on not focusing. The article continues, “As Jung-Beeman and Kounios [a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel University] see it, the insight process is an act of cognitive deliberation — the brain must be focused on the task at hand — transformed by accidental, serendipitous connections. We must concentrate, but we must concentrate on letting the mind wander.”


Mark Jung-Beeman is a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University, and he has studied what happens inside the brain when people have an insight. He was quoted in a recent New Yorker article, saying: “If you want to encourage insights, then you’ve got to also encourage people to relax.” The article notes that “Jung-Beeman’s latest paper investigates why people who are in a good mood are so much better at solving insight puzzles.”

What Jung-Beeman has discovered is that insight and creative solutions can be inhibited or blocked by being overly focused. Instead, what is often needed for insight is to focus on not focusing. The article continues, “As Jung-Beeman and Kounios [a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel University] see it, the insight process is an act of cognitive deliberation — the brain must be focused on the task at hand — transformed by accidental, serendipitous connections. We must concentrate, but we must concentrate on letting the mind wander.” Leer más “The Secret to Insight: Letting Go of the Mind”

How to have more insights

Mark Beeman is one of the eminent neuroscientists studying the ‘aha’ moment. As he said in a paper in the first NeuroLeadership Journal, “…variables that improve the ability to detect weak associations may improve insight solving.” In short, insights tend to involve connections between small numbers of neurons. An insight is often a long forgotten memory or a combination of memories. These memories don’t have a lot of neurons involved in holding them together. The trouble is, we only notice signals above whatever our base line of noise is. Everyday thought, like wondering what to have for lunch, might involve millions of neurons speaking to each other. An insight might involve only a few tens of thousands of neurons speaking to each other. Just as it’s hard to hear a quiet cell phone at a loud party, it’s hard to notice signals that have less energy than the general energy level already present in the brain. Hence, we tend to notice insights when our overall activity level in the brain is low. This happens when we’re not putting in a lot of mental effort, when we’re focusing on something repetitive, or just generally more relaxed like as we wake up. Insights require a quiet mind, because they themselves are quiet.


Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...
The human brain is an extraordinary information processing system. It is brilliant at executing certain tasks, particularly physical task that can be codified, like playing an instrument or driving a car. However our brains have some surprisingly big limitations when it comes to certain types of mental tasks. Take linear problem solving, which involves trying to logically work out a solution to a question, like doing math or calculating a time zone difference. Doing this kind of task sometimes uses what’s called ‘working memory‘: we hold information in our memory and manipulate it or work on it. We need working memory when we don’t have an obvious answer to a problem: it’s used for things like making decisions, remembering and other cognitive tasks.

Our working memory turns out to be much more limited than people generally acknowledge. What do you get when you add ten plus ten? That’s easy. Twenty. Yet you don’t really need working memory for that, the answer is stored in long term memory. What about adding 128 with 287? You can do it, but it takes working memory. Adding up just six digits is quite an effort. What about mutiplying 23 and 56, without paper or a calculator? For most people it’s too much. Your working memory maxes out.

Leer más “How to have more insights”

Reductionism in Web Design

In the field of design, the phrase “complexity is the enemy” speaks to how keeping things simple makes our work more functional.

With the modern crop of technologies that dole out increasing amounts of functionality, it’s important that we take the time to ensure a balanced level between oversimplification to the level that insults our visitor’s sense of competency and extreme complexity which endangers their experience.

In this article, I want to talk about the idea of reductionism — a process that improves the efficacy of our designs as well as the time we spend making and maintaining them.

Going “back to basics” and challenging the way we design, write code and produce content will de-clutter our interfaces, improve the readability of our web copy, speed up deployment, make things easier to use, and reduce our maintenance requirements.
Reductionism in Web Design

It’s important to define what reductionism is in the context of web design. While ideas towards reductionism vary depending on who you ask, a simple definition is that reductionist methods boil down complex things to simpler things, which might include modularizing the system into more digestible components; all of this while avoiding losses in value (fidelity) and usefulness.

Essentially, it means that if you have something that’s bloated, heavy or complex — removing some bulk will improve your work.


August 5th, 2010 by Alexander Dawson

Reductionism in Web Design

In the field of design, the phrase “complexity is the enemy” speaks to how keeping things simple makes our work more functional.

With the modern crop of technologies that dole out increasing amounts of functionality, it’s important that we take the time to ensure a balanced level between oversimplification to the level that insults our visitor’s sense of competency and extreme complexity which endangers their experience.

In this article, I want to talk about the idea of reductionism — a process that improves the efficacy of our designs as well as the time we spend making and maintaining them.

Going “back to basics” and challenging the way we design, write code and produce content will de-clutter our interfaces, improve the readability of our web copy, speed up deployment,  make things easier to use, and reduce our maintenance requirements.

Reductionism in Web Design

It’s important to define what reductionism is in the context of web design. While ideas towards reductionism vary depending on who you ask, a simple definition is that reductionist methods boil down complex things to simpler things, which might include modularizing the system into more digestible components; all of this while avoiding losses in value (fidelity) and usefulness.

Essentially, it means that if you have something that’s bloated, heavy or complex — removing some bulk will improve your work. Leer más “Reductionism in Web Design”

Frustrated at Work? Make a Case for Change

Have you ever sat at your desk, quietly cursing your boss for failing to understand your untapped creative gifts? Or maybe just biding your time until she intuits that life would be 1000% easier for you if the company had more interns? We are often guilty of waiting – particularly when it comes to innovating within our own job description or work culture. We expect our bosses and co-workers to intuit our needs. How could they NOT see that you are eminently qualified to helm the new project your company just landed? How could they NOT observe that your monitor is on the fritz and it’s killing your productivity? How could they NOT notice you’ve clearly outgrown your current position and are no longer challenged?



by Jocelyn K. Glei

Have you ever sat at your desk, quietly cursing your boss for failing to understand your untapped creative gifts? Or maybe just biding your time until she intuits that life would be 1000% easier for you if the company had more interns? We are often guilty of waiting – particularly when it comes to innovating within our own job description or work culture. We expect our bosses and co-workers to intuit our needs. How could they NOT see that you are eminently qualified to helm the new project your company just landed? How could they NOT observe that your monitor is on the fritz and it’s killing your productivity? How could they NOT notice you’ve clearly outgrown your current position and are no longer challenged? Leer más “Frustrated at Work? Make a Case for Change”

Even mice benefit from brain training! | Brain Health


mouse-maze

Working memory training has been shown to be effective in improving fluid intelligence in humans. Now, research out of Rutgers has shown a similar effect in mice. This finding in mice reinforces the idea that brain enhancement through neuroplasticity is generally possible among mammals, and it opens up exciting possibilities for future research.

Researchers trained mice on a task that exercised working memory and attention, and measured their ability to perform a range of mentally challenging tasks before and after training. The mice that received focused brain training improved on measures of generalized cognitive function compared to control mice with no training. The researchers, who recently published this work in the prestigious journal Current Biology, imply that you can think of these tests as IQ tests for mice. In other words, working memory training seems to have actually made these mice smarter!

For training, the mice needed to simultaneously remember two maze configurations, and be able to make their way through either one. The mice then completed several tests to measure the effect of the training on their intelligence and ability to learn. The training made the mice better at tests that didn’t involve mazes at all, like learning how to avoid an unpleasant stimulus.

So, as in brain training studies in humans, the mice didn’t just get better at what they were practicing – they also became generally more intelligent. This transfer of training is the gold standard in assessing the effectiveness of brain training. Transfer implies that underlying brain systems are fundamentally changed by the learning, and it’s not just that the subject learned how to take the test.

This kind of transfer has been shown many times in human studies — including transfer from speed of processing training to driving ability, auditory processing training to memory performance, and working memory training to fluid intelligence — but, this is the first such result demonstrated in a non-human animal. This is significant for a few reasons. First of all, it implies that improvement in general cognitive function with brain training is a fundamental capacity of the mammalian brain, not just a human trait. Also, this paradigm allows for research that is difficult to perform on humans. The environment of mice can be very carefully controlled, eliminating many of the confounding variables inherent in research on humans. Researchers can breed mice to have certain characteristics and even knock out certain genes and replace them with others. This opens up the possibility of testing the effects of brain training on conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease, for which there are mouse models. Many new avenues of research are opened by the demonstration of this effect in mice.

This result represents an important milestone in study of brain training! It reinforces what we already know — the brain is highly adaptable and can be improved with training, and it gives us new avenues to explore. We’re looking forward to seeing what this team comes up with next.

Joe Hardy, PhD

http://www.lumosity.com/blog/even-mice-benefit-from-brain-training/

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Targeted Cognitive Exercises Improve Mental Abilities


Training with cognitive exercises can improve targeted mental functions, conclude the authors of a review article published recently in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  The authors (Kathryn Papp and Stephen Walsh from the University of Connecticut and Peter Snyder from Brown University) reviewed ten randomized controlled trials involving cognitive training interventions in healthy adults published since 1992.  They find that specific abilities such as memory, reasoning, and speed of processing can be improved through targeted training programs.  This is an important conclusion, and it is consistent with the growing evidence in support of the effectiveness of cognitive training. Leer más “Targeted Cognitive Exercises Improve Mental Abilities”