Book recommendation to know and understand the brain and the phenomena and processes related to it

Book recommendation to know and understand the brain and the phenomena and processes related to it

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I need a book recommendation or, more properly, any source recommendation to know and understand more about the phenomena related to the brain, as far as we know how the brain works. I'm interested in the very structure the brain has and how it leads to what we experience. Due to the way biological processes happen, how the things we define for ourselves are related to each other. It would be cool if it adds more to the biophysics of those processes and the possible picture of their evolution, as well as the physical characteristics of those biological structures.

Book recommendation to know and understand the brain and the phenomena and processes related to it - Biology

Understanding the brain is of vital importance to psychologists because of its influence over behavior and mental states.

Learning Objectives

Trace the history of brain science in the field of psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes.
  • Neuroscience shows that activity in the brain is intimately intertwined with behavior and mental processes.
  • Dualism is the disputed idea that the mind and the body are separate entities it stands in opposition to the idea that consciousness can arise from purely physical processes.
  • Lesions and other brain abnormalities can be used to understand the functions of a healthy brain and their impact on behavior.

Key Terms

  • phrenology: A pseudoscience primarily focused on measurements of the human skull.
  • dualism: The idea that the mind and body are two separate entities which are made of separate substances but interact.
  • hard problem of consciousness: The question of how purely physical processes can give rise to the experience of consciousness.
  • lesion: Any abnormality in the tissue of an organism, usually caused by disease or trauma.

Psychology and the Brain

Psychology is commonly defined as the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. It has existed since the late 19 th century, with 1879 often being given as a starting date because that was when the first psychological research lab was founded. Many schools of thought within the field have come and gone since then some, like behaviorism, have persisted and evolved if they stood up to scientific study others, like phrenology, have faded as they have lost credibility.

One approach has only begun to gain ground over the 20th and 21st centuries as scientific research and technology have improved: the study of the brain. Neuroscience is a relatively new field, but the more research that is done, the more it appears that much of human behavior and mental processes—the key interests for psychological study—are intimately intertwined with activity in the brain. Understanding the brain is important no matter what type of psychology you will be involved with, because its effects permeate all human behavior.

Research Using Lesions

Brain lesions: Though brain damage is deeply unfortunate, it can help researchers to understand more about the function of different parts of the brain. This image shows the location of a brain lesion on the left hemisphere which caused the patient to experience partial paralysis on their right bicep.

Studying damaged brains is one of the most useful ways to increase our understanding of the links between the brain and behavior. A lesion is a general term for any abnormality in tissue, usually caused by disease or trauma. Lesions are important to the study of brain and behavior because if a psychologist sees a person with a partially damaged brain and then sees changes in that person’s behavior, those behavioral changes can often be attributed to the brain damage. For example, damage to a part of the brain called Broca’s area causes patients to lose the ability to speak knowing this, we can infer that that part of the brain is in some way related to language production. This gives us more information about neuroanatomy and also about the influence the brain has on behavior.

MRI of a brain lesion: Cancerous lesion (i.e., tumor) in the brain’s right cerebral hemisphere from lung cancer, shown on T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging with intravenous contrast.

Mind-Body Dualism

Dualism is the idea that the mind and the body are two separate entities. Since the body is a physical entity and the mind is not, for many centuries philosophers (and later, psychologists) usually operated under the assumption that the body and the mind were of different kinds of substance. Rene Descartes famously theorized that the mind and body were separate, since he could doubt that he had a body because he might be dreaming, but he could not doubt that he had a mind since something was doing the doubting. Thus, the central claim of what is called Cartesian dualism is that the mind and the body are two separate substances that interact.

There is an ongoing debate today over whether the mind and body are separate materials, or whether consciousness can arise from purely physiological processes. This is known in psychology, cognitive science, philosophy, and artificial intelligence as the hard problem of consciousness.

Consciousness Conundrums

Philosophers address the questions we care about for which there is no specialized – typically empirical – methodology, says Derk Pereboom, Susan Linn Sage Professor in Philosophy and Ethics and Stanford H. Taylor '50 Chair of the Sage School. In psychology, two of those questions philosophy addresses are, what’s the right model for cognition and how do we account for consciousness?

“Philosophy has an important role to play there, developing models to explain these questions,” says Pereboom.

The topic of consciousness has attracted considerable attention in recent years. It’s a familiar phenomenon, the most intimate thing we experience – that everything looks a certain way and feels a certain way to us. Yet ever since Sigmund Freud, it’s become common to believe that there’s a great deal of sub- or unconscious process going on beneath our awareness. As Pereboom notes, you might not be conscious of your anger toward your father but it’s still having an effect.

But non-Western philosophers have approached the question of consciousness in very different ways, notes Yosef Washington ’16. As he learned in the course he took with Lawrence McCrea, professor of Asian studies, “some figures in Indian philosophy have argued that the sense of self that we call consciousness is viewed more as a witness than an agent -- we’re more witnesses to conscious experience than actually agents who are causing things to happen.”

Pereboom’s last book, “Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life” explored this corollary question to the issue of consciousness, that of free will. “If our minds are just physical things, then our minds are governed by what our minds are made up of, which is determined by the rules of physics, so is there room for free choice?” Pereboom asks.

As he explains, if preceding events render succeeding events inevitable, then going back in time, the way the universe was before you were born fixes all your choices and actions. All of our actions would be causally determined. Would it then be right to blame and punish people for their bad choices, or would believing people are free and holding them morally responsible involve a mistake?

“If determinism is proved true tomorrow, then you’d know that the brain really does work like a computer, that it’s all just a system of inputs with specific, fixed outputs, and subsequently you’d have to accept that we have no free will at all,” explains Emma Logevall ’17, a student in Pereboom’s Topics in Philosophy of Mind: Free Will course this semester.

Why Do Psychologists Study the Brain and the Nervous System?

Psychologists study the brain and the nervous system because these parts of the body are essential to the way that people behave, think and feel. Psychology is the scientific study of people's behavior and their mind so studying the brain and nervous system is always going to be a crucial element for psychological study.

A 2013 study from the University of Virginia found that the human brain is wired to connect so strongly with other humans that it experiences what other humans are experiencing even though it is not going through the same experience. This was shown when participants underwent fMRI brain scans. The correlation between self and friend was strong in the study. This is a psychological phenomenon as it affects a person's mind and their behavior.

Studying the nervous system means studying its two major systems: the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord, and the cerebral cortex, which is involved in higher cognitive, emotional, sensory and motor functions. The peripheral nervous system is divided into two additional sub-systems. These sub systems are the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system has the primary function of regulating the actions of the skeletal muscles while the autonomic nervous system works to regulate involuntary activity, such as the heart rate or breathing.

So here are my selections for the best books on psychology:

Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche
by Robert Johnson

This 119-page book provides the best explanation of the personal shadow that you can find in print. The shadow represents all the parts of ourselves that we’re unknowingly cut off or divorced from. And these disowned parts are what drives most of our behavior outside of our awareness. Many of the ideas in Owning Your Own Shadow inspired my guide on getting on shadow work.

Man’s Search for Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl

I can’t imagine a list of the best psychology books not including Frankl’s classic. I first read Man’s Search for Meaning in my early 20s. But it didn’t mean anything to me until rereading it in my mid-30s. Frankl’s observations as a captive in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II are instructive for every human being. All readers will gain a new perspective on their lives and what drives them after reading this book.

Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis
by Eric Berne

Berne’s classic from the 60s is still highly relevant today. Transactional analysis examines human behavior through a social lens. Berne highlights that in social relationships, individuals embody one of three different expressions of the ego: the adult, the parent, and the child. The adult is rational, the parent is critical and nurturing, the child is dependent and intuitive. All three expressions are in each of us and different social situations trigger different ones and in specific combinations. Games People Play is a fascinating read if you’re interested in social dynamics and if you want to become more conscious of your behavior.

He: Understanding Masculine Psychology
by Robert Johnson

Every man should read He. In 82 pages, Johnson explains masculine psychology through the mythology of King Arthur and the Grail legend. I’m not sure I would have understood it in my 20s or early 30s. I’ve read this book at least six times in my 30s alone. I appreciate He more and more as I get older. Every woman who wants to understand the masculine psyche will benefit from this book too.

She: Understanding Feminine Psychology
by Robert Johnson

In this concise 80-page book, Johnson breaks down feminine psychology through the myths of Psyche, Eros and Aphrodite. Reading She with He illuminates how the psyche of men and women are fundamentally different. A handy guide.

We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love
by Robert Johnson

How can you even attempt to be in a relationship without reading We? We are all so programmed with ideas about romantic love from stories, films, and the media, that human relating is barely possible. Johnson deconstructs romantic love through the myth of Tristan and Iseult. Johnson’s We is a must-read book for anyone attempting to have a conscious relationship or marriage. Incredibly sobering and instructive.

King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine
by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette

Wow! If you want to understand human behavior, read this book (commonly referred to as KWML). KWML a wild ride into the psyche. You’ll meet the full cast of characters, but the real story isn’t about the Big Four mentioned in the title, but their bipolar shadow counterparts. It’s in getting to know and understand these darker archetypes that we begin to appreciate the forces that rule most of human behavior. For anyone interested in psychology and human behavior, put KWML on your list.

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living
by Pema Chodren

As far as Western psychology has come in the last 120 years or so, Eastern psychology is thousands of years older. Start Where You Are is based on what’s called Lojong that’s at least 300 years old. This mind training practice is based on 59 slogans or aphorism that demonstrate the brilliance of Buddhist psychology. And Chodren, a Western Buddhist teacher, does a beautiful job explaining the meaning behind these aphorisms.

Self-Therapy: A Step-By-Step Guide to Creating Wholeness and Healing Your Inner Child Using IFS
by Jay Earley

We have voices, parts, or subpersonalities within our psyche.

When we deny this fact, these parts rule us. When we accept this, we can learn to understand and harmonize the characters within our psyche. Self-Therapy is based on a more modern integrative therapy called Internal Family Systems (or IFS). It guides you step-by-step through a process of working with your parts. My guide on the psychology of archetypes provides a basis for using this manual.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types
by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

In two decades of personal coaching, I’ve explored most, if not all, the psychological assessments on the market (Myers-Briggs, DISC, etc.). From my perspective, the Enneagram is the most robust and functional personality model. And of the many books I’ve read on this psychological system, The Wisdom of the Enneagram this one is the most practical and accessible.

Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection
by Robert Johnson

I based my guide on psychological projection on this little book about how we tend to project the best parts of ourselves onto others. This process occurs unconsciously, so we need to become aware of what we’re doing first before we can take back our projections and own our true power. Inner Gold will show you the way.

How to Study for the MCAT in 2 Months

Creating your MCAT study guide can be one of the most important but challenging aspects of preparing for the MCAT. According to the AAMC, the average pre-med student should spend about 240 hours preparing for the MCAT over three months. As the official MCAT prep of the AMSA, Kaplan recommends that you spend 300-350 hours studying so you can be above average. If you’re planning on taking the MCAT in two months, you’ll need to put aside a significant amount of study time each week for in order to be able to score competitively.
[ RELATED: 1-Month MCAT Study Guide ]
Before you get started, you’ll need to gather together your study materials. Here is our recommended list:

Get your own copy of Kaplan’s 2-Month Study Plan for the MCAT >

MCAT Study Essentials

AAMC’s MCAT Essentials Guide

You’re required to review the official MCAT info in the Essentials Guide before you register for the MCAT. It’s full of information about the test, including logistics, content, and timing. The Essentials Guide is a great place to get started on your MCAT prep.

AAMC Full Length Tests

Four full-length online practice tests are available for purchase on the MCAT website.

AAMC Sample Questions and Sections

Two different packages of practice questions are available through the AAMC web site. The Official MCAT Section Bank has 300 practice questions in three section packs (natural sciences, behavioral sciences, and social sciences). The Official MCAT Question Packs have passages and questions from retired MCAT tests covering Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS).

MCAT Practice Questions

Kaplan’s MCAT QBank saves you time with targeted questions. With in-depth explanations, you’ll learn from your mistakes and raise your score.

Kaplan’s MCAT Complete 7-Book Subject Review + Online Resources

With Kaplan’s MCAT books, you not only get the printed resources that cover the subject matter from all the test sections but also access to three full-length practice tests online and additional science videos. The book set is worthwhile for these tests alone, since they provide realistic practice that includes scaled scores and percentiles for each section as well as detailed explanations for every question. Additionally, Kaplan’s MCAT 528 Advanced Prep Book and Online Resources will give you more preparation.

Online Calendar

Creating an online study calendar is helpful for keeping track of your personal study plan from almost anywhere. And, if you share your calendar with others, they can help keep you accountable so you stay on track with your studies.

Flashcards (including Online App)

Flashcards are perfect for helping you get study time in when you only have a few minutes. Kaplan provides both a downloadable Flashcard App and a boxed set of applicable flashcards for the current MCAT.

Take a class

If you’re daunted by the idea of studying completely on your own, as well as the challenge of making a complete study schedule, consider taking a class such as Kaplan’s MCAT Prep. Both live online and self-paced classes are offered to help you cover the skill and strategies you’ll need to earn a competitive score on the MCAT, and the course’s study plan will help you determine what you should study, when you should take practice tests, and how to pull it all together for Test Day.

Week 1

  • Begin your MCAT prep by taking a practice test or question set that covers all the topics on the MCAT. This will help you familiarize yourself with the test structure and content and establish your baseline performance. The MCAT Sample Test is a great resource for this. Kaplan also has free online practice tests and 3 Full-Length tests included with the Kaplan MCAT Books .
  • Once you’ve taken your first practice test and have a diagnostic score, use your results to determine which MCAT content areas you need to work on the most. Your test score should be used to modify the below study plan to meet your needs. For example, if you did well on all endocrine system and immunology questions, you might only study those topics briefly and focus more of your energy on Biology subjects you didn’t do as well with, such as cell biology and genetics.
  • Build a personalized weekly study schedule. Proactively fill in your calendar with study blocks, planning on studying at least three hours per day, six days per week. Put specific topics to study into each block so you use your time well and ensure that you have enough prep time set aside. Give yourself a day off of studying every week so you have time to recharge.
  • Set up a rotating schedule that works through these topics:
    • Biochemistry
    • Biology
    • General Chemistry
    • Organic Chemistry
    • Physics/Math
    • Behavioral Sciences

    Begin with the basics of each subject area, and focus on a different topic each day. In order to really focus, you’ll want to spend at least an hour to an hour and a half on each study topic. Here’s a sample calendar of what your first week of study might look like:

    Full Length TestTest Review and Study PlanningBiology, Biochemistry, CARSGeneral Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, CARSPhysics, Psychology and Sociology, CARSRevisit problem areas and modify Study PlanDay Off
    • Biology: Cell Biology
    • Biochemistry: Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins
    • General Chemistry: Atomic Structure and the Periodic Table
    • Organic Chemistry: Nomenclature
    • Physics: Dimensional Analysis, Basic Math and Statistics
    • Psychology and Sociology: Biological Basis of Behavior
    • CARS: Reading to Find the Most Important Information

    Weeks 2-5

    • Devote blocks of study time on a rotating basis to Biochemistry, Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, and Behavioral Sciences.
    • Use the AAMC Sample Questions and Sections and choose passages based on the content areas you have reviewed for realistic test practice.
    • In addition, continue studying for the Critical Analysis and Reasoning (CARS) section on a daily basis. Use the AAMC Sample Questions and Sections to read passages and work on passage-related questions.

    Because you likely have already-existing commitments, you’ll need to organize your study blocks carefully and deliberately. Some days you may have time to study more than one topic on other days, you might only have time to study one subject. Remember to make CARS a daily priority. An example week might look something like this:

    How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition (2000)

    The pace at which science proceeds sometimes seems alarmingly slow, and impatience and hopes both run high when discussions turn to issues of learning and education. In the field of learning, the past quarter century has been a period of major research advances. Because of the many new developments, the studies that resulted in this volume were conducted to appraise the scientific knowledge base on human learning and its application to education. We evaluated the best and most current scientific data on learning, teaching, and learning environments. The objective of the analysis was to ascertain what is required for learners to reach deep understanding, to determine what leads to effective teaching, and to evaluate the conditions that lead to supportive environments for teaching and learning.

    A scientific understanding of learning includes understanding about learning processes, learning environments, teaching, sociocultural processes, and the many other factors that contribute to learning. Research on all of these topics, both in the field and in laboratories, provides the fundamental knowledge base for understanding and implementing changes in education.

    This volume discusses research in six areas that are relevant to a deeper understanding of students&rsquo learning processes: the role of prior knowledge in learning, plasticity and related issues of early experience upon brain development, learning as an active process, learning for understanding, adaptive expertise, and learning as a time-consuming endeavor. It reviews research in five additional areas that are relevant to teaching and environments that support effective learning: the importance of social and cultural contexts, transfer and the conditions for wide application of learning, subject matter uniqueness, assessment to support learning, and the new educational technologies.


    Development and Learning Competencies

    Children are born with certain biological capacities for learning. They can recognize human sounds can distinguish animate from inanimate objects and have an inherent sense of space, motion, number, and causality. These raw capacities of the human infant are actualized by the environment surrounding a newborn. The environment supplies information, and equally important, provides structure to the information, as when parents draw an infant&rsquos attention to the sounds of her or his native language.

    Thus, developmental processes involve interactions between children&rsquos early competencies and their environmental and interpersonal supports. These supports serve to strengthen the capacities that are relevant to a child&rsquos surroundings and to prune those that are not. Learning is promoted and regulated by the children&rsquos biology and their environments. The brain of a developing child is a product, at the molecular level, of interactions between biological and ecological factors. Mind is created in this process.

    The term &ldquodevelopment&rdquo is critical to understanding the changes in children&rsquos conceptual growth. Cognitive changes do not result from mere accretion of information, but are due to processes involved in conceptual reorganization. Research from many fields has supplied the key findings about how early cognitive abilities relate to learning. These include the following:

    &ldquoPrivileged domains:&rdquo Young children actively engage in making sense of their worlds. In some domains, most obviously language, but also for biological and physical causality and number, they seem predisposed to learn.

    Children are ignorant but not stupid: Young children lack knowledge, but they do have abilities to reason with the knowledge they understand.

    Children are problem solvers and, through curiosity, generate questions and problems: Children attempt to solve problems presented to them, and they also seek novel challenges. They persist because success and understanding are motivating in their own right.

    Children develop knowledge of their own learning capacities&mdash metacognition&mdashvery early. This metacognitive capacity gives them the ability to plan and monitor their success and to correct errors when necessary.

    Children&rsquo natural capabilities require assistance for learning: Children&rsquos early capacities are dependent on catalysts and mediation. Adults play a critical role in promoting children&rsquos curiosity and persistence by directing children&rsquos attention, structuring their experiences, supporting their

    learning attempts, and regulating the complexity and difficulty of levels of information for them.

    Neurocognitive research has contributed evidence that both the developing and the mature brain are structurally altered during learning. For example, the weight and thickness of the cerebral cortex of rats is altered when they have direct contact with a stimulating physical environment and an interactive social group. The structure of the nerve cells themselves is correspondingly altered: under some conditions, both the cells that provide support to the neurons and the capillaries that supply blood to the nerve cells may be altered as well. Learning specific tasks appears to alter the specific regions of the brain appropriate to the task. In humans, for example, brain reorganization has been demonstrated in the language functions of deaf individuals, in rehabilitated stroke patients, and in the visual cortex of people who are blind from birth. These findings suggest that the brain is a dynamic organ, shaped to a great extent by experience and by what a living being does.

    Transfer of Learning

    A major goal of schooling is to prepare students for flexible adaptation to new problems and settings. Students&rsquo abilities to transfer what they have learned to new situations provides an important index of adaptive, flexible learning seeing how well they do this can help educators evaluate and improve their instruction. Many approaches to instruction look equivalent when the only measure of learning is memory for facts that were specifically presented. Instructional differences become more apparent when evaluated from the perspective of how well the learning transfers to new problems and settings. Transfer can be explored at a variety of levels, including transfer from one set of concepts to another, one school subject to another, one year of school to another, and across school and everyday, nonschool activities.

    People&rsquos abilitiy to transfer what they have learned depends upon a number of factors:

    People must achieve a threshold of initial learning that is sufficient to support transfer. This obvious point is often overlooked and can lead to erroneous conclusions about the effectiveness of various instructional approaches. It takes time to learn complex subject matter, and assessments of transfer must take into account the degree to which original learning with understanding was accomplished.

    Spending a lot of time (&ldquotime on task&rdquo) in and of itself is not sufficient to ensure effective learning. Practice and getting familiar with subject matter take time, but most important is how people use their time while

    learning. Concepts such as &ldquodeliberate practice&rdquo emphasize the importance of helping students monitor their learning so that they seek feedback and actively evaluate their strategies and current levels of understanding. Such activities are very different from simply reading and rereading a text.

    Learning with understanding is more likely to promote transfer than simply memorizing information from a text or a lecture. Many classroom activities stress the importance of memorization over learning with understanding. Many, as well, focus on facts and details rather than larger themes of causes and consequences of events. The shortfalls of these approaches are not apparent if the only test of learning involves tests of memory, but when the transfer of learning is measured, the advantages of learning with understanding are likely to be revealed.

    Knowledge that is taught in a variety of contexts is more likely to support flexible transfer than knowledge that is taught in a single context. Information can become &ldquocontext-bound&rdquo when taught with context-specific examples. When material is taught in multiple contexts, people are more likely to extract the relevant features of the concepts and develop a more flexible representation of knowledge that can be used more generally.

    Students develop flexible understanding of when, where, why, and how to use their knowledge to solve new problems if they learn how to extract underlying themes and principles from their learning exercises. Understanding how and when to put knowledge to use&mdashknown as conditions of applicability&mdashis an important characteristic of expertise. Learning in multiple contexts most likely affects this aspect of transfer.

    Transfer of learning is an active process. Learning and transfer should not be evaluated by &ldquoone-shot&rdquo tests of transfer. An alternative assessment approach is to consider how learning affects subsequent learning, such as increased speed of learning in a new domain. Often, evidence for positive transfer does not appear until people have had a chance to learn about the new domain&mdashand then transfer occurs and is evident in the learner&rsquos ability to grasp the new information more quickly.

    All learning involves transfer from previous experiences. Even initial learning involves transfer that is based on previous experiences and prior knowledge. Transfer is not simply something that may or may not appear after initial learning has occurred. For example, knowledge relevant to a particular task may not automatically be activated by learners and may not serve as a source of positive transfer for learning new information. Effective teachers attempt to support positive transfer by actively identifying the strengths that students bring to a learning situation and building on them, thereby building bridges between students&rsquo knowledge and the learning objectives set out by the teacher.

    Sometimes the knowledge that people bring to a new situation impedes subsequent learning because it guides thinking in wrong directions.

    For example, young children&rsquos knowledge of everyday counting-based arithmetic can make it difficult for them to deal with rational numbers (a larger number in the numerator of a fraction does not mean the same thing as a larger number in the denominator) assumptions based on everyday physical experiences can make it difficult for students to understand physics concepts (they think a rock falls faster than a leaf because everyday experiences include other variables, such as resistance, that are not present in the vacuum conditions that physicists study), and so forth. In these kinds of situations, teachers must help students change their original conceptions rather than simply use the misconceptions as a basis for further understanding or leaving new material unconnected to current understanding.

    Competent and Expert Performance

    Cognitive science research has helped us understand how learners develop a knowledge base as they learn. An individual moves from being a novice in a subject area toward developing competency in that area through a series of learning processes. An understanding of the structure of knowledge provides guidelines for ways to assist learners acquire a knowledge base effectively and efficiently. Eight factors affect the development of expertise and competent performance:

    Relevant knowledge helps people organize information in ways that support their abilities to remember.

    Learners do not always relate the knowledge they possess to new tasks, despite its potential relevance. This &ldquodisconnect&rdquo has important implications for understanding differences between usable knowledge (which is the kind of knowledge that experts have developed) and less-organized knowledge, which tends to remain &ldquoinert.&rdquo

    Relevant knowledge helps people to go beyond the information given and to think in problem representations, to engage in the mental work of making inferences, and to relate various kinds of information for the purpose of drawing conclusions.

    An important way that knowledge affects performances is through its influences on people&rsquos representations of problems and situations. Different representations of the same problem can make it easy, difficult, or impossible to solve.

    The sophisticated problem representations of experts are the result of well-organized knowledge structures. Experts know the conditions of applicability of their knowledge, and they are able to access the relevant knowledge with considerable ease.

    Different domains of knowledge, such as science, mathematics, and history, have different organizing properties. It follows, therefore, that to

    have an in-depth grasp of an area requires knowledge about both the content of the subject and the broader structural organization of the subject.

    Competent learners and problem solvers monitor and regulate their own processing and change their strategies as necessary. They are able to make estimates and &ldquoeducated guesses.&rdquo

    The study of ordinary people under everyday cognition provides valuable information about competent cognitive performances in routine settings. Like the work of experts, everyday competencies are supported by sets of tools and social norms that allow people to perform tasks in specific contexts that they often cannot perform elsewhere.


    Everyone has understanding, resources, and interests on which to build. Learning a topic does not begin from knowing nothing to learning that is based on entirely new information. Many kinds of learning require transforming existing understanding, especially when one&rsquos understanding needs to be applied in new situations. Teachers have a critical role in assisting learners to engage their understanding, building on learners&rsquo understandings, correcting misconceptions, and observing and engaging with learners during the processes of learning.

    This view of the interactions of learners with one another and with teachers derives from generalizations about learning mechanisms and the conditions that promote understanding. It begins with the obvious: learning is embedded in many contexts. The most effective learning occurs when learners transport what they have learned to various and diverse new situations. This view of learning also includes the not so obvious: young learners arrive at school with prior knowledge that can facilitate or impede learning. The implications for schooling are many, not the least of which is that teachers must address the multiple levels of knowledge and perspectives of children&rsquos prior knowledge, with all of its inaccuracies and misconceptions.

    Effective comprehension and thinking require a coherent understanding of the organizing principles in any subject matter understanding the essential features of the problems of various school subjects will lead to better reasoning and problem solving early competencies are foundational to later complex learning self-regulatory processes enable self-monitoring and control of learning processes by learners themselves.

    Transfer and wide application of learning are most likely to occur when learners achieve an organized and coherent understanding of the material when the situations for transfer share the structure of the original

    learning when the subject matter has been mastered and practiced when subject domains overlap and share cognitive elements when instruction includes specific attention to underlying principles and when instruction explicitly and directly emphasizes transfer.

    Learning and understanding can be facilitated in learners by emphasizing organized, coherent bodies of knowledge (in which specific facts and details are embedded), by helping learners learn how to transfer their learning, and by helping them use what they learn.

    In-depth understanding requires detailed knowledge of the facts within a domain. The key attribute of expertise is a detailed and organized understanding of the important facts within a specific domain. Education needs to provide children with sufficient mastery of the details of particular subject matters so that they have a foundation for further exploration within those domains.

    Expertise can be promoted in learners. The predominant indicator of expert status is the amount of time spent learning and working in a subject area to gain mastery of the content. Secondarily, the more one knows about a subject, the easier it is to learn additional knowledge.


    The portrait we have sketched of human learning and cognition emphasizes learning for in-depth comprehension. The major ideas that have transformed understanding of learning also have implications for teaching.

    Teaching for In-Depth Learning

    Traditional education has tended to emphasize memorization and mastery of text. Research on the development of expertise, however, indicates that more than a set of general problem-solving skills or memory for an array of facts is necessary to achieve deep understanding. Expertise requires well-organized knowledge of concepts, principles, and procedures of inquiry. Various subject disciplines are organized differently and require an array of approaches to inquiry. We presented a discussion of the three subject areas of history, mathematics, and science learning to illustrate how the structure of the knowledge domain guides both learning and teaching.

    Proponents of the new approaches to teaching engage students in a variety of different activities for constructing a knowledge base in the subject domain. Such approaches involve both a set of facts and clearly defined principles. The teacher&rsquos goal is to develop students&rsquo understanding of a given topic, as well as to help them develop into independent and thoughtful problem solvers. One way to do this is by showing students that they already have relevant knowledge. As students work through different prob-

    lems that a teacher presents, they develop their understanding into principles that govern the topic.

    In mathematics for younger (first- and second-grade) students, for example, cognitively guided instruction uses a variety of classroom activities to bring number and counting principles into students&rsquo awareness, including snack-time sharing for fractions, lunch count for number, and attendance for part-whole relationships. Through these activities, a teacher has many opportunities to observe what students know and how they approach solutions to problems, to introduce common misconceptions to challenge students&rsquo thinking, and to present more advanced discussions when the students are ready.

    For older students, model-based reasoning in mathematics is an effective approach. Beginning with the building of physical models, this approach develops abstract symbol system-based models, such as algebraic equations or geometry-based solutions. Model-based approaches entail selecting and exploring the properties of a model and then applying the model to answer a question that interests the student. This important approach emphasizes understanding over routine memorization and provides students with a learning tool that enables them to figure out new solutions as old ones become obsolete.

    These new approaches to mathematics operate from knowledge that learning involves extending understanding to new situations, a guiding principle of transfer (Chapter 3) that young children come to school with early mathematics concepts (Chapter 4) that learners cannot always identify and call up relevant knowledge (Chapters 2, 3, and 4) and that learning is promoted by encouraging children to try out the ideas and strategies they bring with them to school-based learning (Chapter 6). Students in classes that use the new approaches do not begin learning mathematics by sitting at desks and only doing computational problems. Rather, they are encouraged to explore their own knowledge and to invent strategies for solving problems and to discuss with others why their strategies work or do not work.

    A key aspect of the new ways of teaching science is to focus on helping students overcome deeply rooted misconceptions that interfere with learning. Especially in people&rsquos knowledge of the physical, it is clear that prior knowledge, constructed out of personal experiences and observations&mdash such as the conception that heavy objects fall faster than light objects&mdashcan conflict with new learning. Casual observations are useful for explaining why a rock falls faster than a leaf, but they can lead to misconceptions that are difficult to overcome. Misconceptions, however, are also the starting point for new approaches to teaching scientific thinking. By probing students&rsquo beliefs and helping them develop ways to resolve conflicting views, teachers can guide students to construct coherent and broad understandings of scientific concepts. This and other new approaches are major break-

    throughs in teaching science. Students can often answer fact-based questions on tests that imply understanding, but misconceptions will surface as the students are questioned about scientific concepts.

    Chèche Konnen (&ldquosearch for knowledge&rdquo in Haitian Creole) was presented as an example of new approaches to science learning for grade school children. The approach focuses upon students&rsquo personal knowledge as the foundations of sense-making. Further, the approach emphasizes the role of the specialized functions of language, including the students&rsquo own language for communication when it is other than English the role of language in developing skills of how to &ldquoargue&rdquo the scientific &ldquoevidence&rdquo they arrive at the role of dialogue in sharing information and learning from others and finally, how the specialized, scientific language of the subject matter, including technical terms and definitions, promote deep understanding of the concepts.

    Teaching history for depth of understanding has generated new approaches that recognize that students need to learn about the assumptions any historian makes for connecting events and schemes into a narrative. The process involves learning that any historical account is a history and not the history. A core concept guiding history learning is how to determine, from all of the events possible to enumerate, the ones to single out as significant. The &ldquorules for determining historical significance&rdquo become a lightening rod for class discussions in one innovative approach to teaching history. Through this process, students learn to understand the interpretative nature of history and to understand history as an evidentiary form of knowledge. Such an approach runs counter to the image of history as clusters of fixed names and dates that students need to memorize. As with the Chèche Konnen example of science learning, mastering the concepts of historical analysis, developing an evidentiary base, and debating the evidence all become tools in the history toolbox that students carry with them to analyze and solve new problems.

    Expert Teachers

    Expert teachers know the structure of the knowledge in their disciplines. This knowledge provides them with cognitive roadmaps to guide the assignments they give students, the assessments they use to gauge student progress, and the questions they ask in the give-and-take of classroom life. Expert teachers are sensitive to the aspects of the subject matter that are especially difficult and easy for students to grasp: they know the conceptual barriers that are likely to hinder learning, so they watch for these tell-tale signs of students&rsquo misconceptions. In this way, both students&rsquo prior knowledge and teachers&rsquo knowledge of subject content become critical components of learners&rsquo growth.


    It has often been said that the brain studies itself. This means that humans are uniquely capable of using our most sophisticated organ to understand our most sophisticated organ. Breakthroughs in the study of the brain and nervous system are among the most exciting discoveries in all of psychology. In the future, research linking neural activity to complex, real world attitudes and behavior will help us to understand human psychology and better intervene in it to help people.

    I n the recent Cerebrum article, “Equal ≠ The Same: Sex Differences in the Human Brain,” author Larry Cahill offers his perspective on the nature of sex differences in brain and behavior, and what he considers to be a “counter-reaction” to such research by “anti-sex difference” investigators operating from the “deeply ingrained, implicit, false assumption that if men and women are equal, then men and women must be the same.” [ 1 ] We welcome this opportunity to correct some of the misapprehensions and mischaracterizations in this account, and present a more nuanced view of the relations among sex, brain, and gender.

    Like Cahill and many others, we welcome more active research on females in basic animal neuroscience. We strongly believe that this is necessary to ensure that basic research is relevant to all humans. We are concerned, though, that one mistake, treating males as the norm, will be replaced with another namely, treating males and females as two distinct entities. Relatedly, we all believe, like Cahill, that sex matters that is, that genetic and gonadal sex can influence brain development and function at every level, that useful information may arise from investigating such processes, and that this may be especially critical in understanding pathological development. Indeed, numerous explicit statements to this effect can be found in our work. [ 2 , 3-5 ]

    Moreover, Joel’s lab empirically investigates such phenomena, [ 6 ] and Rippon, Jordan-Young, Kaiser and Fine [ 7 ] recently made extensive recommendations in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience as to best practice methods, analysis, and interpretation in sex/gender neuroscience. We were therefore surprised to find ourselves characterized as “anti-sex difference” researchers. We are neither “for” nor “against” sex differences (or sex similarities, for that matter) focusing only on similarities or differences is misleading. We need to develop a new framework for thinking of the relation between sex, brain, and gender that better fits current knowledge, and that takes into account distributions, changes, overlap, variance, and most of all, context.

    Thus, a critical point that is absent in Cahill’s article is that the effects of sex on the brain can be opposite under different conditions. T hat is, what is typical in one sex under some conditions may be typical in the other sex under other conditions. Moreover, the specific interactions between sex and other factors (environmental, developmental, genetic) are different for different brain regions, and are not necessarily stable over time. As a result, the brains of women and men each comprise a unique, ever-changing ‘mosaic’ of features, some of which may be more typical in males and some of which may be more typical in females. 8 Thus brains, in contrast to genitals, do not come in distinct, fixed male or female forms.

    In contrast, the metaphor Cahill uses reflects a common assumption [ 9 ] that the average differences between women and men in the brain as well as in traits, attitudes, interests, roles, skills, cognitive, and emotional abilities and personality characteristics add up to create two distinct systems:

    “claiming that there are no reliable sex differences on the basis of analyzing isolated functions is rather like concluding, upon careful examination of the glass, tires, pistons, brakes, and so forth, that there are few meaningful differences between a Volvo and a Corvette.”

    But sex differences in brain and gender are very different from differences between car brands and between female and male genitals. A car with Corvette tires will almost certainly also have Corvette pistons, brakes, and glass (but not Volvo pistons or brakes), just like a person with a womb will almost certainly also have a vagina, clitoris, and labia (but no penis or scrotum). By contrast, knowing that a person has a ‘masculine’ mental rotation score, say, tells you very little about whether they will be masculine or feminine in other aspects of gender, because each person has a unique array of gender characteristics. Would we classify cars into Volvos and Corvettes if each car had a unique combination of glass, tires, pistons, brakes, and so on from both the Volvo and the Corvette factories?

    Moreover, would we classify glass, tires, pistons, brakes, etc. as being of Volvo or Corvette origin if engines of Volvos changed form to become powerfully Corvette-like under some conditions, and trunks of Corvettes changed to become more spacious, depending on the specific social context in which the car found itself? Or if, in some social contexts and countries, the pistons of Volvos differed quite significantly from those of Corvettes, but in other circumstances or countries they were the same? This clearly never happens with car parts or genitals, but has been repeatedly demonstrated for gendered behaviors [ 10 ] and brain structure. [ 11 ]

    Carothers and Reis’s taxonomic analysis of gender, which Cahill cites, demonstrated exactly this distinction. [ 12 ] Thus, they did indeed find categorical differences between the sexes for highly sex-stereotyped activities (like playing golf and wearing make-up). Yet, these were specifically selected to demonstrate the validity of their taxonomic methods. [1] To be precise, heterosexual, midwestern American undergraduates were asked to identify things that women versus men “typically enjoyed during their free time.” Validity testing in a second similar group winnowed the list of 129 items down to 28. In the larger sample—again heterosexual, Midwestern U.S. college students—10 of these 28 showed large sex differences (d>1), confirming that taxometric procedures could effectively detect taxa in gender-related constructs. [12] What Cahill fails to mention, however, is that for virtually all of the other gendered characteristics analyzed (covering such domains as sexual attitudes and behaviors, care orientation, science inclination, and Big Five personality traits), the researchers drew precisely the opposite conclusion. “[A]lthough there are average differences between men and women, these differences do not support the idea that ‘men are like this, women are like that.’ ” Rather:

    [T]hese sex differences are better understood as individual differences that vary in magnitude from one attribute to another rather than as a suite of common differences that follow from a person’s sex.” [ 13 ]

    So human brains and behaviors do not come in two distinct forms? What about the relations between the two? Can we relate behavioral differences to structural differences, as Ingalhalikarand colleagues [ 14 ] did in the PNAS paper Cahill cites ? This study reported average sex differences in brain connectivity and speculated that these connectivity differences were related to average differences found in another study on the same participants in several behavioral measures (e.g., executive control, memory, reasoning, spatial processing, sensorimotor skills, and social cognition). Yet the researchers did not use their data to directly test their hypothesis that sex differences in brain connectivity were related to behavioral sex differences. An alternative possibility is that the observed connectivity differences have no functional implications, perhaps, for example, serving to offset average brain size differences between the sexes. [ 15 ] Indeed, this alternative hypothesis arises directly from de Vries’ claim, cited by Cahill, that sex differences in the brain sometimes serve to compensate for other differences (rather than to create further differences), thus making the two sexes more similar. [ 16 ]

    It matters that women and men are not like Volvos and Corvettes. It matters scientifically, with respect to research models, methods, analysis, and interpretation. The elucidation of these issues has been a primary goal of our work: for example, in relation to functional neuroimaging, [ 4 , 7 , 17-19 ] brain structure, [ 11 ] prenatal hormonal influences on the brain, [ 2 ] and sex differences in psychopathology. [ 5 , 20 ] But it is also a matter of importance to the general public that women and men are not like Volvos and Corvettes. There is growing evidence that thinking about the brains and behavior of males and females in this inappropriately categorical way has psychosocial effects that serve to sustain the gender status quo [ for review see 21 , see also 22 for an analysis of media and social media commentary arising from Ingalhalikar et al.’s PNAS article and press release ] . People look to Volvos for a safe car for the family, and to Corvettes for status and power. Categorical thinking about gender reinforces the idea that similar divisions in social roles for women and men are appropriate, fixed, natural, and inevitable. We are therefore grateful for this opportunity to indicate just how misleading this is as a metaphor.

    We appreciate fears on the part of neuroscientists that blanket antipathy towards the investigation of sex influences on the brain could stifle research opportunities. As we hope is now clear, we are all for investigating sex, gender, and their interlacements. However, the research models neuroscientists (and others) use should be appropriate to the phenomena in question.

    Author affiliations

    • Cordelia Fine: Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Melbourne Business School & Centre for Ethical Leadership, University of Melbourne
    • Daphna Joel: School of Psychological Sciences & Sagol School of Neuroscience, Tel-Aviv University
    • Rebecca Jordan-Young: Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Barnard College, Columbia University in the City of New York
    • Anelis Kaiser: Department of Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience, Institute of Psychology, University of Bern
    • Gina Rippon: Aston Brain Centre, School of Life & Health Sciences (Psychology), Aston University

    T he article is the response I had been waiting for, from the group I was expecting it from. I am glad to know they value my opinion enough to have read my article. Nothing in their response undermines anything I wrote, so I stand by my article completely. I encourage the reader to read and critically evaluate both articles, and form their own opinions.

    In my view the most important point for the reader to be aware of regarding the sex difference issue is that, since the time of my Cerebrum article, the National Institutes of Health has—for the first time—announced that all research they support will soon be required to carefully address potential sex differences. 1 This is a remarkable development for research and medicine, and one that I, and everyone who appreciates the importance of sex influences, have been working toward for years. I hope Fine et al appreciate this development as well, especially as women, who will be the ones to disproportionately benefit from it.


    1. Cahill, L. Equal ≠ the same: Sex differences in the human brain. Cerebrum, 2014.

    2. Jordan-Young, R., Brain storm: The flaws in the science of sex differences2010, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    3. Fine, C., Delusions of gender: How our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference2010, New York: WW Norton.

    4. Fine, C., Is there neurosexism in functional neuroimaging investigations of sex differences? Neuroethics, 2013. 6(2): p. 369-409.

    5. Joel, D. and R. Yankelevitch‐Yahav, Reconceptualizing sex, brain and psychopathology: Interaction, interaction, interaction. British journal of pharmacology, 2014.

    6. Flaisher-Grinberg, S., et al., Ovarian hormones modulate compulsive’lever-pressing in female rats. Hormones and Behavior, 2009. 55(2): p. 356-365.

    7. Rippon, G., et al., Recommendations for sex/gender neuroimaging research: key principles and implications for research design, analysis, and interpretation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2014. 8: p. 650.

    8. Blackless, M., et al., How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of Human Biology, 2000. 12(2): p. 151-166.

    9. Haslam, N., L. Rothschild, and D. Ernst, Essentialist beliefs about social categories. British Journal of Social Psychology, 2000. 39: p. 113-127.

    10. Hyde, J.S., Gender Similarities and Differences. Annual Review of Psychology, 2014. 65(1): p. 373-398.

    11. Joel, D., Male or female? Brains are intersex. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 2011. 5(Article 57).

    12. Carothers, B.J. and H.T. Reis, Men and women are from Earth: Examining the latent structure of gender. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013. 104(2): p. 385-407.

    13. Reis, H.T. and B.J. Carothers, Black and White or Shades of Gray: Are Gender Differences Categorical or Dimensional? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2014. 23(1): p. 19-26.

    14. Ingalhalikar, M., et al., Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014. 111(2): p. 823-828.

    15. Jäncke, L., et al., Brain size, sex, and the aging brain. Human Brain Mapping, 2014.

    16. de Vries, G.J. and P. Sodersten, Sex differences in the brain: The relation between structure and function. Hormones and Behavior, 2009. 55(5): p. 589-596.

    17. Fine, C., From scanner to sound bite: Issues in interpreting and reporting sex differences in the brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2010. 19(5): p. 280-283.

    18. Fine, C., Neurosexism in functional neuroimaging: From scanner to pseudo-science to psyche, in The Sage Handbook of Gender and Psychology, M. Ryan and N. Branscombe, Editors. 2013, Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA. p. 45-60.

    19. Kaiser, A., et al., On sex/gender related similarities and differences in fMRI language research. Brain Research Reviews, 2009. 61(2): p. 49-59.

    20. Cheslack-Postava, K. and R.M. Jordan-Young, Autism spectrum disorders: Toward a gendered embodiment model. Social Science & Medicine, 2012. 74(11): p. 1667-1674.

    21. Fine, C., Explaining, or sustaining, the status quo? The potentially self-fulfilling effects of ‘hardwired’ accounts of sex differences. Neuroethics, 2012. 5(3): p. 285-294.

    22. O’Connor, C. and H. Joffe, Gender on the Brain: A Case Study of Science Communication in the New Media Environment. PLoS One, 2014. 9(10): p. e110830.

    to Cahill response

    1. Clayton, J and Collins, F (2014) NIH to balance sex in cell and animal studies. Nature, 509: 283.

    The Control Network: How to Create Achievable Goals

    Although we can execute many everyday activities on autopilot, we also have a remarkable capacity to override our habits and impulses. We can decide to sit in a different spot at the 1,001st staff meeting even after sitting in the same place for 1,000 meetings prior. If we believe it will help us get a promotion, we can choose to work in a remote and dreary corner of the world away from loved ones. Whereas other animals react to only immediate needs, we can pursue loftier goals—like capturing a larger share of the Latin American market and flying to the moon—even when they conflict with our immediate needs or contradict our past behavior patterns.

    The control network is responsible for this flexibility. It aligns our brain activity and our behavior with our goals. Much as a CEO might reallocate a firm’s resources from a failing market to a growth market, the control network shifts blood flow away from brain regions emitting competing or inappropriate signals and toward regions that help us achieve our objectives. CEOs may review and reshuffle resources each budget cycle the control network does this constantly as our circumstances change and our needs and aspirations evolve.

    We’ve purposely arranged this article with the default network first and the control network last, as bookends. Research has shown that they’re essentially countervailing forces: The more engaged the control network is in distributing resources to achieve goals rooted in the real world, the less engaged the default network is in detaching from the real world and imagining alternative realities, and vice versa.

    In a sense the control network is tasked with policing all the brain’s other networks. By suppressing the default network, the control network ensures that our minds can anchor themselves in the present moment and won’t wander all the time. By restraining the reward network, it helps us resist the lure of costly indulgences and check the impulse to act on immediate needs ($5 today) at the expense of more-important, long-term objectives ($10 a week from now). By regulating the affect network, it reins in our emotional reactions and ensures that our actions are not dictated solely by fleeting feelings or hunches.

    The control network also helps us deal with our many competing goals. In a world of pinging e-mail, buzzing phones, and people bidding for our time, we need the ability to prioritize the most important tasks and shut out all the other distractions.

    Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Complete absorption in a current task is as fraught a state of mind as complete daydreaming or impulsiveness. It can prevent us from detecting environmental changes that could help us. The soccer player so intent on getting off a winning shot may not notice a wide-open teammate who could score more easily if he were passed the ball. The player may also fail to realize that time is running out—ignoring an entirely separate and more critical priority because he’s so focused on shooting. It’s a tricky attention-management challenge the control network deals with. On one hand, it needs to prevent distractions from every shiny object thrown in front of us. On the other hand, it needs to let us respond when one of those shiny objects is an opportunity or an important demand.

    To pursue these twin objectives concurrently, the control network hedges. It biases the brain to notice and respond to information related to both our current task and other outstanding goals. (Not just any stimuli, only those related to goals.) To keep us agile, the control network aims for the sweet spot: It tilts the scales in favor of actions compatible with our goals but not to such an extent that our resources are overcommitted. This safeguards our flexibility in unpredictable environments, but it also predisposes us to distraction. Not every player sprinting across the field is open for a pass and better positioned for a shot, and we shouldn’t have to look at the clock every few seconds to make sure we have time to shoot.

    Recent discoveries about the control network reinforce what the best leaders say about outexecuting the competition through focus: Companies should limit the number of strategic initiatives they undertake to a manageable few. Asking people to pursue numerous goals fragments their attention and makes engaging in any mindful work difficult. With too many objectives to maintain and monitor, the control network spreads its limited resources thin, and we struggle to give enough attention to any of our responsibilities.

    Some people believe that juggling multiple projects improves their mental agility, but emerging evidence casts doubt on such assumptions. One recent study by Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony Wagner revealed that the control networks of individuals who chronically multitasked failed to allocate resources in a way that matched their priorities and showed that these people struggled to filter out irrelevant information. They struggled to not think about the tasks they were not doing. What good is thinking about the call you owe a client or the e-mails and tweets pinging on your phone while you’re discussing corporate strategy with the CFO? Not only are those goals unconnected to your conversation, but the current moment is completely void of opportunities to further their pursuit.

    Attesting to the ease with which tasks that we’re not doing hijack our attention, an overwhelming majority of 40 senior executives we recently queried reported that their “off task” moments almost always involve thoughts of unfinished business. We’re blessed with brains that can prioritize unfulfilled goals. But we’re also cursed with them.

    E-mails, meetings, texts, tweets, phone calls, news—the unstructured, continuous, fractured nature of modern work is a tremendous burden on the control network and consumes a huge amount of the brain’s energy. The resulting mental fatigue takes its toll in the form of mistakes, shallow thinking, and impaired self-regulation. When overwhelmed, the control network loses the proverbial reins, and our behavior is driven by immediate, situational cues instead of shaped with our priorities in mind. We go on autopilot, and our brains fall back to simply responding to whatever is in front of us, regardless of its importance.

    Success as a leader requires, first and foremost, creating just a few clear priorities and gathering the courage to eliminate or outsource less important tasks and goals. Executives must also reset their expectations for what constitutes a viable workload, basing them on a realistic understanding of what their brains can handle. It’s less than what most of us try to accomplish.

    An understanding of the control network also should guide our thinking about lean operations. Taking a “lean” approach should not mean saddling too few employees with too many tasks. The more leaders ask their workers to focus on, the worse those employees will perform. Though in the short term it’s cost-effective to keep staffs thin, brain science suggests many modern workers have already been pushed far beyond the point where their goals and tasks are manageable. Their work is already suffering. After an explosion of articles on neuroimaging research in top journals in the early 2000s (what some scholars have termed neuroscience’s “Wild West”), critics were quick to dub the field “the new phrenology,” a reference to Franz Joseph Gall’s 18th-century pseudoscience, which mapped psychological faculties onto different brain regions. As neuroscience becomes more sophisticated, however, it promises to become a scientifically valid version of phrenology, albeit one with far more complexity and nuance.

    Caution in interpretation is required if we’re to overcome the sins of the past decade. Still, there has never been a more exciting time for neuroscience, and many insights for business are forthcoming. For instance, a new method called hyperscanning—which allows scientists to see the brains of two people who are interacting—is shedding light on the keys to effective collaboration and communication. Innovative research on “brain genomics” is linking brain function to genetics, illuminating people’s predisposition to traits ranging from intelligence to impulsivity. Finally, neuroscientists are trying to understand how functions such as decision making, social skill, cognitive control, and emotion change across a life span. These advances set the stage for a hugely productive dialogue between science and business, which an informed population of consumers will make even more effective.

    Watch the video: Steven Pinker: Linguistics as a Window to Understanding the Brain. Big Think (September 2022).


  1. Stevenson

    I would say about the monumentality, grandeur of some plots. And I would call it - unfiltered real. In my opinion, beauty is still something else: the best, the purest, the chosen one, which makes you tremble and be amazed. You can find beauty in everything, but everything in a crowd is not beauty. IMHO.

  2. Usk-Water

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  4. Blakeley

    I have never seen a better article.

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  6. Bowen

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