Creativity and the “right brain myth”

For years the self-help gurus have been telling us “tap into the right side of your brain to stimulate creativity.” But is it really true?

A new study suggests it’s not necessarily which side of the brain is dominant – it’s how well the two brain hemispheres communicate that sets highly creative people apart.

The study is part of a decade-old field, connectomics, which uses network science to understand the brain. Instead of focusing on specific brain regions in isolation, connectomics researchers use advanced brain imaging techniques to identify and map the rich, dense web of links between them.

The study focused on the network of white matter connections of both sides of the brain. The brain’s white matter lies underneath the outer grey matter. It is composed of bundles of wires, or axons, which connect billions of neurons and carry electrical signals between them.

Researchers used an MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging, which allowed them to peer through the skull of a living person and trace the paths of all the axons by following the movement of water along them. Computers then comb through each of the 1-gigabyte scans and convert them to three-dimensional maps — wiring diagrams of the brain.

The team used a combination of tests to assess creativity. The subjects were measured on a type of problem-solving called ‘divergent thinking’ or the ability to come up with many answers to a question. The participants also filled out a questionnaire about their achievements in ten areas, including the visual arts, music, creative writing, dance, cooking and science.

The responses were used to calculate a composite creativity score for each person.

They found no statistical differences in connectivity between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. But when they compared people who scored in the top 15 percent on the creativity tests with those in the bottom 15 percent, high-scoring people had significantly more connections between the right and left hemispheres.

This new method – studying the patterns of interconnections in the brain rather than the regions of the brain is a promising development that is being used in other areas of neuroscience. Researchers are now using these statistical methods to uncover early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, to better understand dementia, epilepsy, schizophrenia and other neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injury or coma and to find out whether brain connectivity varies with I.Q.

Can’t get that song out of your brain?

Whether you are rocking out to Led Zeppelin in your car or reading with Bach in your bedroom, music has a special ability to pump us up or calm us down.  Scientists are still trying to figure out what’s going on in our brain when we listen to music and how it produces such potent effects on the psyche.

Much research has been done using music to help us better understand brain function in general.  Recent studies explored how the brain responds to music. The quest to dissect exactly what chemical processes occur when we put our headphones on is far from over, but scientists have come across some clues.

Listening to music feels good, but can that translate into physiological benefit?

YES!   In one study, researchers studied patients who were about to undergo surgery. Participants were randomly assigned to either listen to music or take anti-anxiety drugs. Scientists tracked patient’s ratings of their own anxiety, as well as the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The results: The patients who listened to music had less anxiety and lower cortisol than people who took drugs.  This points toward a powerful medicinal use for music.  Music is arguably less expensive than drugs, and it’s easier on the body and it doesn’t have side effects.  There is also evidence that music is associated with immunoglobin A, an antibody linked to immunity, as well as higher counts of cells that fight germs and bacteria.

So music is good for us, but how do we judge what music is pleasurable?

A study published in the journal Science suggests that patterns of brain activity can indicate whether a person likes what he or she is hearing.  Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, researchers led a study in which participants listened to 60 excerpts of music they had never heard before.  The participants were asked to indicate how much money they would spend on a given song when listening to the excerpts, while also allowing researchers to analyze patterns of brain activity through the fMRI.  Results noted increased activity in the brain area called the nucleus accumbens, which is involved in forming expectations and a key structure of our brain’s reward network. The more activity in the nucleus accumbens, the more money people said they were willing to spend on any particular song. This was an indicator that some sort of reward-related expectations were met or surpassed.

An area of the brain called the superior temporal gyrus is intimately involved in the experience of music, and its connection to the nucleus accumbens is important, she said. The genres of music that a person listens to over a lifetime impact how the superior temporal gyrus is formed.

The superior temporal gyrus alone doesn’t predict whether a person likes a given piece of music, but it’s involved in storing templates from what you’ve heard before. For instance, a person who has heard a lot of jazz before is more likely to appreciate a given piece of jazz music than someone with a lot less experience.

Have you ever met someone who just wasn’t into music?

They may have a condition called specific musical anhedonia, which affects three-to-five per cent of the population. Researchers have discovered that people with this condition showed reduced functional connectivity between cortical regions responsible for processing sound and subcortical regions related to reward.

This means that when we experience music, a lot of other things are going on beyond merely processing sound. By using music as a window into the function of a healthy brain, researchers may gain insights into a slew of neurological and psychiatric problems.  Knowing better how the brain is organized, how it functions, what chemical/electrical  synapses  are occurring and how they’re working will allow us to formulate treatments for people with brain injury, or to combat diseases or disorders as well as psychiatric problems.

Scientific proof that simple lifestyle changes can keep that brain working longer!

None of us want to have troubles with memory or thinking as we age. Mandy Oaklander wrote a fantastic article called Untangling Alzheimer’s in Time Magazine.  It covers the current Alzheimer’s disease scientific landscape and quickly pivots to  why lifestyle changes can be the best way to protect our brain as we age.

Experts still don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s.  Back in 1992 one idea, called the amyloid cascade hypothesis, took hold. It suggested that the excessive buildup of a protein on the brain – amyloid, which clumps together into plaques- is the main driver of Alzheimer’s.  The buildup causes another protein, tau, to twist into tangles and cut off the supply of nutrients to brain cells, ultimately killing them. This hypothesis propelled the search for a pill that could stop these plaques and tangles from forming, or undo them once they’re there.

More recently, scientific studies have found that plaques and tangles are sometimes found in people who don’t have symptoms of dementia.  Other research has suggested that amyloid isn’t enough to explain all- even possibly most- Alzheimer’s cases.  A 2015 article published in the journal Nature Neuroscience made the case for rejecting the entire amyloid hypothesis.

Emerging research finds that other factors such as heart health, sleep quality and physical activity – are emerging as potential ways to help prevent dementia in some people.

In a 2014 article published by The Lancet Neurology, researchers projected that almost a third of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide – 9.6 million of them- could be prevented by things that are within most people’s power to change: hypertension in middle age, diabetes, obesity, physical activity, depression, smoking and low education were all found to play a role.  Of these factors, heart health seems to be the most important.  According to an estimate published in the journal Hypertension, if every middle-aged American with high blood pressure got properly treated for it, about 25% of dementia would be wiped out.

The link between the heart and the brain is logical when you think about it.  The brain is a sea of blood vessels- and because neutrons require a lot of oxygen to fire properly, the brain uses 20% of the blood pumped to the heart. For that reason, anything that affects the blood flow affects the brain.

By taking factors like these more seriously, scientists are forming a whole new Alzheimer’s attack plan: improve the health of the heart and you’ll have a big impact on the brain. Lifestyle changes won’t ever completely eradicate the disease, but they may be the best prevention we know of right now.

These simple lifestyle changes may help protect your brain as you age:

  1. SHORE UP YOUR HEART – Of all the things you could do, reducing the risk of heart disease has the strongest evidence of benefits for the brain. That means treating hypertension, high lipids, cholesterol, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
  2. EMPHASIZE EXERCISE – Physical activity reduces the risk and severity of cognitive decline. Aerobic exercise has been shown to grow the volume of certain brain regions that tend to shrink during aging.
  3. LEARN NEW THINGS – Engaging intellectually with the world across a lifetime through activities like writing letters and reading has been linked in brain autopsies to better cognitive health in old age.
  4. BE SOCIAL – Richer lives are associated with higher levels of cognition. Loneliness, conversely, is connected with poorer brain health.
  5. TREAT DEPRESSION – Depression in middle age – which is when its most prevalent – is linked to twice the risk of cognitive decline, though it’s not clear if that’s a cause or an effect.
  6. SLEEP WELL – Studies have found a relationship between poor sleep and risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Improving poor sleep appears to reduce these risks.

3 Steps to Rewire your Brain to be Happy

happyHas nature hardwired us to hold onto negative experiences over positive ones?

Our brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.   Why?   This built-in negativity bias helps keep us safe.  This means that we readily notice and internalize anything negative that happens to us during the course of a day, while glossing over anything positive because we’re busy solving problems or scanning for something to worry about.

So, if by nature our brain defaults to negative, is it possible to  reshape our brain to hardwire all the positive experiences to ‘take in the good’ that happens in our everyday life?  We can make this happen by consciously turning a positive event into a positive experience.

Take 10, 20 or 30 seconds to savor the positive moment.  There are many of them during the course of a day, but we just don’t notice them.  These brief seconds of paying attention to what has happened and relishing it makes the positive experience sink in so it can develop into a neural structure.  The more we do this, the better we become at balancing our hardwired negativity bias with an ability to take in the good.

To build inner strength into our brain, we need to meet three core needs: safety, satisfaction and connection.  Learning which positive experiences can satisfy these core needs every day goes a long way toward helping us cultivate positive emotions and hardwiring contentment and peace so we can focus on a successful life.

The following three tactics, which help fulfill your core needs, can help you concentrate on the positive.

Practice Being Calm

You can boost your sense of safety by regularly focusing on experiences that make you feel calm.  Calm is an attitude of composure that lets us function at our best in stressful, harried or charged situations.  This means moving away from a crisis-driven mindset.

We often miss opportunities to practice calmness because we’re used to being “on” all the time.  For example, calmness isn’t rushing from one airport gate to another when there’s ample time for making our connecting flight.  It’s taking a real break from your business during the day to have an uninterrupted meal.  It’s waking up an hour earlier so you don’t have to rush through traffic.  It’s giving your child an extra 10 minutes of peaceful attention in the morning.

Create such moments during your day to experience calmness, and intentionally focus on the experience for a few seconds to relish how it feels.  Repeatedly internalizing experiences that bring a sense of calm to your life helps you build that emotional muscle so you’re better able to face situations in your business or personal life without feeling pressured or rattled by them.

Raise Your Satisfaction Awareness

When you’re feeling satisfied, you’re more likely to experience such feelings as gratitude, gladness, accomplishment and contentment.  These are powerful antidotes to the negativity bias in our brain, so it’s important to become more aware of what satisfaction means for you, and then take the time to savor the experience when it happens.

For instance, it may be closing a sale or completing a project ahead of time.  Or it may be as simple as learning something new every day.  You need to be clear about whatever it is that brings you satisfaction so you can create more of these opportunities but, more important, so you can savor them when they do happen.

Value The People In Your Life

You can strengthen your sense of feeling connected by regularly focusing on experiences during the day in which you feel cared about or valued.  You can also focus on experiences that make you feel like a good person, such as when you feel compassion or when you’re doing something kind for others.

As psychologist William James once said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”  Don’t let the daily preoccupations with your life or your business cause you to miss the appreciation you receive from those closest to you.

What motivates bullying behavior?

bullybrainAggressive behavior is associated with a number of psychiatric disorders and is thought to partly result from inappropriate activation of brain reward systems in response to aggressive or violent social stimuli. Previous research has identified the basal forebrain as a potentially important brain reward region for aggression-related behaviors, but there had been limited evidence that the basal forebrain directly controls the rewarding aspects of aggression.

A recent Mount Sinai study focused on how different regions of the brain work to create a motivational or rewarding component for aggressive behavior using a mouse model.

The study is the first to demonstrate that bullying behavior activates a primary brain reward circuit that makes it pleasurable to a subset of individuals. It also showed that manipulating activity in this circuit alters the activity of brain cells and ultimately, aggression behavior.

To study differences in aggressive behavior, researchers exposed adult males to a younger subordinate mouse for three minutes each day for three consecutive days, and found that 70 percent of mice exhibited aggressive behavior (AGGs) while 30 percent of mice show no aggression at all (NONs). They found that AGGs mice bullied/attacked the subordinate mouse and developed a preference for this behavior, suggesting that the aggressive mice found the ability to ‘bully’ another mouse rewarding. Conversely, NONs mice did not bully/attack the intruder mouse and subsequently developed an aversion to aggressive behavior. When exposed to the opportunity to bully another individual, AGGs mice exhibit increased activity of the basal forebrain. Conversely, they found NONs exhibit reduced basal forebrain activation and an increase in lateral habenula neuronal firing, which makes the aggression stimuli aversive.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are released between nerve cells and transports signals to receptors in neighboring cells, which can change the properties of the neighboring cells. Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), commonly found throughout the brain and produced by neurons is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that binds to GABA receptors, making the neighboring neuron less excitable

Researchers manipulated the activity of GABA between the basal forebrain and the lateral habenula. The habenula is an area of the brain that would normally encode an aversion to aggressive stimuli.

They artificially induced the rapid GABA neuron activation between the basal forebrain and lateral habenula and watched in real time as the aggressive mice became docile and no longer showed bullying behavior. The study is unique in that researchers took information about the basal forebrain and lateral habenula projections and then went back and manipulated these connections within animals to conclusively show that the circuits bi-directionally control aggression behavior.

These findings raise the question, how can neurofeedback be utilized as a treatment modality for aggression related behavior?   Research shows that teaching the brain self regulation  balances the interactions between the inhibitory and the excitatory synaptic potentials allowing for appropriate activation within the different brain reward systems.

Couch Potatoes May Have Smaller Brains Later in Life

couchHere’s something to jolt you off the couch and get you exercising: a study published Feb. 10, 2016, in Neurology links poor fitness levels in middle age to brain shrinkage 20 years later.

“We found a direct correlation in our study between poor fitness and brain volume decades later, which indicates accelerated brain aging,” said study author Nicole Spartano, PhD, with Boston University School of Medicine in Boston.

The researchers, including some from Harvard Medical School, looked at the cardiovascular fitness of about 1,100 people, average age of 40, who were free of dementia and heart disease. The participants had taken treadmill tests to determine their cardiovascular fitness levels based on how much oxygen their bodies used during exercise. About 20 years later, participants took another treadmill test and underwent neuropsychological testing and MRI brain scans. The scans showed that people who were unfit in middle age had smaller brains in older age, compared with people who were fit in middle age. This doesn’t prove that inactivity in midlife causes brain shrinkage. But previous studies have shown that regular, moderate-intensity exercise may be associated with slower brain aging.

Here’s the good news – It’s never too late to start!

According to another  recent  study, even people who hold off on regular aerobic activity until later in life may still be able to gain from exercise in their senior years. As people get older, it is natural for some regions of the brain to begin to shrink. For instance, studies show the hippocampus shrinks one to two percent annually in people without dementia — a loss that is associated with an increased risk for developing cognitive difficulties. A recent study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recruited a group of healthy, sedentary adults from ages 55 to 80 to participate in a yearlong exercise program.

These adults were divided into two teams — one spent their time walking for 40 minutes three days per week while the other performed a variety of strength and balance exercises during this time. At the start, middle, and completion of the study, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the volume of the hippocampus. The size of the hippocampus increased by 2 percent on average in the adults that completed the walking regimen and memory improved. In contrast, the participants who completed a yearlong balance and strength training program experienced a 1 percent decrease in the volume of the hippocampus.

These findings suggest that brain and cognitive health can benefit from very modest increases in exercise and physical activity. So, to all you couch potatoes – get up off that couch!  It’s never too late to reap the benefits of exercise!

Here’s more good news – It’s never to early to start!

If genetically your brain is wired in a dys regulated manner it can become more dys regulated as you age.  You can take a preventative approach to brain health –by  teaching your brain how to operate in a regulated manner.  Neurofeedback is scientifically proven approach that teaches the brain to wire and fire in a more regulated state and can create change in your thoughts and actions.

Sleep is Crucial for Brain Health

sleeping-1353562_640We’ve all heard those people who brag about only needed 4 to 5 hours of sleep each night. They think that they’re somehow invincible; believing they require less sleep than other people do. Others are acutely aware of how badly they feel overall from lack of sleep. The reality is that you need a minimum of 7 hours of sleep each night to sustain the optimal functioning of your brain, overall health, well-being and daytime performance.

Here’s the facts:

Lack of sleep or waking up several times during the night may be bad for the brain and may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, several new studies suggest. While a sound night’s sleep has long been advised for a sound body, the new research adds to a growing body of evidence linking sleep to brain health.

The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Douglas Moul said Sleep is a time for brain maintenance and repair,” he said. “Studies have demonstrated that brain maintenance and repair time is more prominent during sleep.”

Studies have shown how the brain cleans itself while we sleep. The 2013 science study funded by The National Institute of Health revealed that the glymphatic system is highly active during sleep, clearing away toxins responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurological disorders.

Sleep loss dumbs you down. Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep hurts these cognitive processes in many ways. First, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently.

Sleeplessness can lead to depression. Over time, lack of sleep and sleep disorders can contribute to the symptoms of depression. In a 2005 Sleep in America poll, people who were diagnosed with depression or anxiety were more likely to sleep less than six hours at night.

Sleep-focused interventions can improve treatment outcomes for veterans with PTSD and TBI. Sleep difficulty is a primary symptom of both PTSD and TBI and has been found to affect the severity of both conditions. TBI patients can suffer from permanent sleep problems regardless of the severity of their initial injury. Approximately 40 to 65 percent of individuals have insomnia after mild TBI, while patients with sleep difficulties are at a higher risk of developing PTSD.

Sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can affect one’s overall health scoreAccording to WebMD, sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and more.

As the old Irish proverb says: A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.
At the Brain Performance Center we take a more direct approach to getting a good night sleep.  We use cognitive behavioral therapy  to overcome the underlying cause of the sleep problem.

Train the Motivation Center in the Brain

mWhat biofeedback was to the 1970’s, neurofeedback could be to the 2020’s. Neurofeedback is a diverse and fascinating area of research that combines neuroscience and technology to monitor and modulate brain activity in real time.

Recently, Adcock Lab at Duke University studied to see if people could train themselves to increase brain activity in a tiny region of the brain called the VTA. The VTA is thought to be involved in motivation—the desire to get something that you want. For example, if you believed that by buying a lottery ticket you would be guaranteed to win $1,000,000, you would probably be very motivated to buy the ticket and would have a spike in brain activity in this region of your brain. But while studies have shown that motivation for external rewards (like money) activate the VTA, until now, we didn’t know whether people could internally generate a motivational state that would activate this brain region.

To see if people could self-activate their  VTA,  the study used neurofeedback, which provides information on a person’s brain activity milliseconds to seconds after it happens. Neurofeedback can use either an EEG machine, which records the electrical activity of the brain and is very fast, but not very specific, or it can use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which records changes in blood flow in the brain and can better target specific brain regions, but is slower. Studies on rtfMRI (the rt stands for “real-time”), have found that giving people feedback on their brain activity might be able to help them to control that activity.

The study’s purpose was to use the technology to better understand the functioning of the VTA and its relationship with internally generated motivation, with potential for clinical applications down the road. The premise is – if people could learn to activate their VTAs deliberately, it could have important clinical applications, like helping someone stick to a diet, helping with psychological disorders or chronic pain.

Participants were placed in one of four groups. All four groups started out by getting in the scanner and trying to activate their brains using their own motivation strategies (for example, winning a race) , but first without receiving any feedback. After doing this for several minutes, people in the first group  would try again, but this time would see a thermometer on the computer screen in front of them. When activity in the VTA went up, the bar on the thermometer would rise. When activity in the VTA went down, the thermometer would drop. The other groups either got feedback from a different brain region, got fake feedback, or were shown a visual distraction. These groups were used as comparisons to ensure that it really was the signal from the VTA that was being registered in the neurofeedback group.

The results were published recently in the journal Neuron. It turns out that the strategies people tried initially did not activate their VTAs very much.  In other words, what people thought of as motivating did not match up with activity in what we consider to be the “motivation center” of the brain. How could that be? One possible explanation is that it can be difficult to get a sense of just how motivated we are to do something. Consider times when you might have thought you were highly motivated (“I know I am going to stick to my diet/exercise regimen this year”), and didn’t follow through. Another interpretation is that while we might have some sense of how motivated we are in a given moment, our subjective perceptions might not translate to VTA activation. That’s where the feedback (the rising/falling thermometer visual) came in.

The study did find that people were better able to activate their VTAs, on average, once they got neurofeedback compared to people who got false feedback or no feedback. And the learning stuck—once people knew the strategies that worked for them, they were effective even once the feedback was taken away. Overall, different strategies worked for different people and some people in the control groups were still able to activate their VTAs even without the neurofeedback. The take-home message is that there is still a lot to learn.

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question is: What could result from an ability to better activate one’s VTA? One possibility is that internally generated VTA activation could allow people to have the extra oomph to better meet their goals. So maybe when you need to do errands, but are really not in the mood, you  might think about winning a race and it will give you the drive to go to the grocery store. For others, enhanced VTA activation might be able to help with studying. After all, studies have found VTA activation associated with better memory performance. And given other studies showing VTA signaling being related to eating and mood, it’s possible that it could help people with eating disorders or depression. Time will tell whether this method will be useful clinically, it can be a lot of fun getting to know your brain—and it seems that having fun is one of the keys to activating your VTA.

Teach the Brain to Calm the Mind

Now that we have made our list of resolutions for the new year, it seems appropriate to re-visit the concept of ‘Mindfulness.’ We’ve discussed the practice of mindfulness meditation – the act of observing your thoughts, feelings and sensations, moment by moment without judgment. By training yourself to observe these things without judgment, you can break the destructive associations that typically arise from them. The practice of mindfulness meditation is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that has a unique regulating effect on your mind. It increases the activity in the parts of your brain that are underactive and it decreases the parts that are overactive. When you develop a mindfulness practice, you’ll notice a difference in the way you respond to others. You’ll develop an inner strength and more compassion in your response to others. It’s kind of like a smart drug, but without the drug.

Research published in Psychiatry Research, Neuroimaging gathered people who were brand new to meditation and tracked them through an 8-week mindfulness course. Participants reported spending just under 30 minutes per day on their practice. At the end of the eight weeks, the researchers scanned their brains and found an increase in the thickness of grey matter in the regions of the brain involved in learning, memory and emotion regulation.

Again – less than 30 minutes a day and you’ve got structural changes for the better in your brain!

The best thing about a daily mindfulness practice is that it can be done anywhere, anytime and doesn’t cost a dime.

Not sure how to start?

Begin with 10 minutes a day. It will take your mind 5 minutes to calm down and to focus, to settle into stillness. It’s a settling-in period and it can take a bit to calm the monkey mind. Once you get through those five minutes, you’re really practicing mindfulness. Start with 10 minutes throughout your day. Then, as it works for your schedule, you can work up to 20 and 30 minutes per day.

There are 2 types of mindfulness practices: formal and informal. To begin, start with informal. With informal practice, you can pick any activity that you do on a daily basis and you can turn it into mindfulness training. Things like brushing your teeth, shaving, taking a shower, putting on makeup, getting dressed in the morning, dishwashing, ironing, raking the leaves, shoveling the driveway, walking the dog—any activity where your mind is off and wandering—part of that 47% that we learned about earlier where we’re on autopilot.

Start with brushing teeth. Brushing teeth is something we do every day, multiple times a day, without fail. You might pick up your toothbrush, begin brushing and then start moving about the house getting ready for work, looking for keys, getting the kids out of the bed, picking up clothes off the floor. You know the drill. We never seem to just stand still while brushing our teeth.

When you brush your teeth mindfully, you begin by bringing awareness to the body, and in particular the soles of your feet as they’re planted on the ground. If you’re barefoot, pay attention to the sensation of the floor. Is it a cold floor? Is it wet? Are you on a bathmat? Are you on a rug? Is it a warm floor? Really feel the pressure on the floor on the feet. Next, take notice of the texture of the toothpaste. What does it feel like on the tongue? Then notice the smell and how you respond to that smell. Next, notice the taste and also be aware of your arm as it moves up and down and around as you brush. Listen to the sound of the toothbrush on your teeth. If you have a battery operated toothbrush, you may listen to that buzzing sound. Also, just note your reaction to it. Carefully tune in to each tooth as you brush. Be sure to notice the sensations in your gums.

This all sounds pretty simple and basic, but what this does is train your brain to be completely focused on the task at hand. It’s attention training. It takes part of that 47%—that auto-pilot time—when we’re playing scenes from the past, arguments from the past, failures from the past, things we’ve done wrong in the past, things we could have done better or worrying about the future – and it brings the mind out of that into a time that is as simple as brushing the teeth.

The neurobiological basis of intelligence

Neuroimaging provides evidence that human intelligence is tied to several structural and functional brain properties. The concept of “neural efficiency” plays a central role in understanding intellectual performance and capability.

So, what exactly is ‘neural efficiency’? Think of it this way: Consider a very complex computer with thousands of components and perhaps 1 million or more interconnections between them. We all have experienced the failure of our computers to carry out a command sometimes leading to an unexpected output or a complete freeze. Very complex systems such as those used by the military and NASA often have built-in systems so that if one part fails others come into play so that commands can be completed accurately. Our brain consists of between 80 and 100 billion neurons and perhaps anywhere from many trillion to almost a quadrillion connections. In addition to structural connectivity there is the functional connectivity and the direction of flow within circuits.

When one is trying to comprehend a very complex concept it requires screening out extraneous stimuli and the ability to focus on those aspects of the problem which can lead to a successful solution. This may require the interaction of specific networks such as the salience network and the dorsal, ventral, attention networks and other brain systems such as those associated with output – both skeletal motor, and autonomic. In a system as complex as the human brain perhaps there are failures in those portions of the circuits that are necessary to fully comprehend and make decisions based on many types of information that must be integrated. Perhaps for an individual with more limited intellectual capacity more of these “circuit failures” occur than for individuals with superior intellect.

We are only beginning to develop measures that might help us understand how these circuits operate. A recently posted paper “multimodal description of whole brain connectivity” by Pilar Graces et al. examines the interrelationship for structural connectivity and functional connectivity using diffusion weighted imaging, FMRI, MEG\EEG. This information, particularly when cast in a graph format where we can look at the relationship between nodes and their hubs and the vertices or links between them, may begin to give us some idea of how to measure “neural efficiency” in individuals with different intellectual capacities under different task conditions. This may be particularly useful in being able to understand special abilities such as superior mathematical ability, artistic ability, musical, or advanced writing skills.

It is predicted that within the next decade, especially considering that articles are appearing at the rate of more than one per day dealing with the complexity of brain organization, we may be able to really understand at a very detailed level the basis for different intellectual capabilities and perhaps with neurofeedback and/or stimulation techniques develop ways to enhance people with deficient intellectual capacity as well as those who are normal or even have superior capacities that they would like to enhance further.