The new issue of * Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience* includes an article: “Investigating the impact of mindfulness meditation training on working memory: A mathematical modeling approach.” The authors are van Vugt, Marieke K.; & Jha, Amishi P.

“We investigated whether mindfulness training (MT) influences information processing in a working memory task with complex visual stimuli. ”

Mindfulness training did improve memory, apparently becuase the information input was better in people who had a month of mindfulness training.

Presumably this is becuase when we are mindful, we are actually deliberately paying attention, rather than just being grabbed by this or that shiny or loud stimulus. It is possible to train ourselves physically and mentally to perform to our potential, and mindfulness – paying attention – is one way that has payoffs – in this case, better recall.

Now, where did I put my keys??? Guess I was distracted when I came in…

The National Down Syndrome Society released the following list of “Myths
& Truths About Down Syndrome”:

Myth: Down syndrome is a rare genetic disorder.

Truth: Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring genetic condition.
One in every 733 live births is a child with Down syndrome, representing
approximately 5,000 births per year in the United States alone. Today,
more than 400,000 people in the United States have Down syndrome.

Myth: People with Down syndrome have a short life span.

Professor of Psychology Richard J. Davidson is Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience,
Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging & Behavior, and
Director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Mind .

Here is an announcement from the U of Wisconsin about a study from his
group that appeared in *Journal of Neuroscience*:

A new study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that people
can train their minds to stay focused.

The study, led by UW-Madison scientist Antoine Lutz, involved subjects
interested in meditation in an effort to see whether voluntary mental
training can affect attention.

Results suggest that attention stability is not a fixed capacity, and
that it can be improved by directed mental training, such as meditation.


Ginkgo Biloba May Be an Effective Tool in Treating ADHD

Although psychostimulants have been proven effective in treating certain core symptoms of ADHD, some patients find their side effects intolerable while still others continue to struggle with distractibility, restlessness and irritability.

With a growing literature supporting the effectiveness of herbal products to treat neuropsychiatric illnesses, Dr. Helmut Niederhofer conducted one of the first systematic, open label trials of ginkgo biloba in patients with ADD (aged 17 to 19; N=6). Gingko biloba extract (80 mg dose containing 9.6 mg Ginkgoflavonglycosides) was administered orally three times a day for four weeks. Patients were evaluated at baseline and one month following treatment using the 60-item Wender Utah Rating Scale.

Overall, ginkgo biloba was well tolerated. Two participants reported headache and stomachaches during the first two weeks; symptoms later disappeared for one patient and consisted of mild episodes for the other. Only minimal sedation was reported.

The study found large reductions in Wender scores for fidgeting, disruptive sounds, rigidity and anxiety. The ginkgo appeared to reduce hyperactivity; enhance frustration tolerance and affect modulation; and facilitate voluntary selective processes essential to wilful cognition and discriminant attention.

Based on these promising findings, the researcher believes ginkgo biloba could be an effective alternative and/or a helpful adjunct to psychopharmaceuticals in the treatment of ADHD.

from Psychiatric Times 28 May 09


Note: very small sample, but then again the effects were quite large. BG.

North Carolina State University issued the following news release:

Think Memory Worsens With Age? Then Yours Probably Will

Thinking your memory will get worse as you get older may actually be a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Researchers at North Carolina State University
have found that senior citizens who think older people should perform
poorly on tests of memory actually score much worse than seniors who do
not buy in to negative stereotypes about aging and memory loss.

In a study published earlier this month, psychology professor Dr. Tom
Hess and a team of researchers from NC State show that older adults’
ability to remember suffers when negative stereotypes are “activated” in
a given situation. “For example, older adults will perform more poorly
on a memory test if they are told that older folks do poorly on that
particular type of memory test,” Hess says.

Memory also suffers if senior citizens believe they are being
“stigmatized,” meaning that others are looking down on them because of
their age.

“Such situations may be a part of older adults’ everyday experience,”
Hess says, “such as being concerned about what others think of them at
work having a negative effect on their performance – and thus
potentially reinforcing the negative stereotypes.” However, Hess adds,
“The positive flip side of this is that those who do not feel
stigmatized, or those in situations where more positive views of aging
are activated, exhibit significantly higher levels of memory
performance.” In other words, if you are confident that aging will not
ravage your memory, you are more likely to perform well on memory-
related tasks.

The study also found a couple of factors that influenced the extent to
which negative stereotypes influence older adults. For example, the
researchers found that adults between the ages of 60 and 70 suffered
more when these negative stereotypes were activated than seniors who
were between the ages of 71 and 82. However, the 71-82 age group
performed worse when they felt stigmatized.

Finally, the study found that negative effects were strongest for those
older adults with the highest levels of education. “We interpret this as
being consistent with the idea that those who value their ability to
remember things most are the most likely to be sensitive to the negative
implications of stereotypes, and thus are most likely to exhibit the
problems associated with the stereotype.”

“The take-home message,” Hess says, “is that social factors may have a
negative effect on older adults’ memory performance.”

[end news release]

Here’s a link to the abstract of the study:

Courtesy of Ken Pope

What we know without knowing how

Psychologists are working to understand our split-second, unconscious judgments and deductions.

Monitor Staff

In just six seconds, people can often glean significant information about a stranger’s teaching skills or personality–particularly the stranger’s level of extraversion.

So finds social psychologist Nalini Ambady, PhD, when she shows people six-second video clips of strangers in her research.

On the other hand, employers and medical school admissions officers often think that in-person interviews are a good way to learn what they need to know about applicants. But research by psychologist Robyn Dawes, PhD, has demonstrated that factors like education and test scores predict future performance much better than in-person interviews.


There’s no one definition of intuition, so Webster’s Dictionary is as good a place as any to start: “The act or process of coming to direct knowledge or certainty without reasoning or inferring.”


Over the past several decades, researchers have begun to investigate the science behind intuition, bringing the tools of rationality to investigate a type of cognition that mostly lacks rational thought.


Overall, those researchers are finding that unconscious thought processes powerfully determine many aspects of our life, from how we perceive and react to other people

“I’ve always been struck by how we go out of our way to help people make good rational decisions,” says Robin Hogarth, PhD, a cognitive psychologist at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, who recently published the book “Educating Intuition” (University of Chicago Press, 2001). “Yet most of the decisions we make are small ones, based on these rapid cognitions.”

Research old and new


In the 1970s, University of Massachusetts psychologist Seymour Epstein, PhD, developed his “cognitive experiential self theory.” In it, he points out that human beings process information through two systems: Just as we learn things consciously all the time–the cognitive part of the theory–we also learn things experientially, without realizing we’ve learned them.

“Intuition is just the things we’ve learned without realizing we’ve learned them. And sometimes they’re useful. Sometimes they’re maladaptive,” Epstein says.

For example, he says, a person who’s learned through past experiences to like and trust other people might have very different social intuitions than someone who’s learned to fear and distrust others.

So intuition can be useful in the right circumstances, many researchers say. Useful intuitions, like some of those Ambady studies, might allow us to accurately navigate the social world.


But intuition can also lead us astray: For example, as Dawes demonstrated, interviewers generally think they can better predict a candidate’s future job performance through a meeting than through evaluating test scores and grades–but research has shown reliance on intuition can backfire in this situation. And people’s implicit and automatic associations about groups–like racial or ethnic groups–can lead to biases that feel like “intuitions” about individual members of the group.


And people outside of psychology are beginning to take notice of this research. A conference last July at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., for example, focused on “intuitive policing”–both the positive and negative aspects of security personnel relying on intuition in their line of work.

Practical applications

So now that we know intuition can both help and hinder, what do we do? Hogarth advises us to “educate” our intuitions–make sure that the feedback we receive when we make decisions is good.

For example, he’s found that emergency room physicians–whose job is to provide immediate care for patients and then send those patients home or pass them on to another doctor–receive very little feedback about the patients’ eventual fate. Their on-the-job intuition might be improved, he says, if a hospital set up a system to report back to these physicians the outcome of at least some of their cases.

Alternatively, or in addition, we could change our environment to suit what we know about how our intuition works, says Gladwell. The key is to recognize when our rapid cognitions and unconscious biases are likely to be in control of our behavior, and then make the necessary changes in our environment to deal with that. For example, he says, orchestra directors used to be able to see musicians play when the musicians were auditioning–and the directors chose mostly male musicians. When they began holding blind auditions, with a screen between the judges and the judged, then the number of women chosen began to rise.


APA Monitor Volume 36, No. 3 March 2005

The full article can be seen at

*Scientific American* has placed an article on its web site: “Rapid
Thinking Makes People Happy; Accelerated thoughts may trigger the
brain’s novelty-loving reward system” by Siri Carpenter.

Here’s an excerpt:

[begin excerpt]

Lousy day? Don’t try to think happy thoughts–just think fast. A new
study shows that accelerated thinking can improve your mood. In six
experiments, researchers at Princeton and Harvard universities made
research participants think quickly by having them generate as many
problem-solving ideas (even bad ones) as possible in 10 minutes, read a
series of ideas on a computer screen at a brisk pace or watch an I Love
Lucy video clip on fast-forward. Other participants performed similar
tasks at a relaxed speed.

Results suggested that thinking fast made participants feel more elated,
creative and, to a lesser degree, energetic and powerful. Activities
that promote fast thinking, then, such as whip-ping through an easy
crossword puzzle or brain-storming quickly about an idea, can boost
energy and mood, says psychologist Emily Pronin, the study’s lead author.

Pronin notes that rapid-fire thinking can sometimes have negative
consequences. For people with bipolar disorder, thoughts can race so
quickly that the manic feeling becomes aversive. And based on their own
and others’ research, Pronin and a colleague propose in another recent
article that although fast and varied thinking causes elation, fast but
repetitive thoughts can instead trigger anxiety. (They further suggest
that slow, varied thinking leads to the kind of calm, peaceful happiness
associated with mindfulness meditation, whereas slow, repetitive
thinking tends to sap energy and spur depressive thoughts.)

[end excerpt]

The article is online at:

BBC News released an article: “Long hours link to dementia risk.”

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Long working hours may raise the risk of mental decline and possibly
dementia, research suggests.

The Finnish-led study was based on analysis of 2,214 middle-aged British
civil servants.

It found that those working more than 55 hours a week had poorer mental
skills than those who worked a standard working week.

The American Journal of Epidemiology study found hard workers had
problems with short-term memory and word recall.


However, the researchers say key factors could include increased
sleeping problems, depression, an unhealthy lifestyle and a raised risk
of cardiovascular disease, possibly linked to stress.

The civil servants who took part in the study took five different tests
of their mental function, once between 1997 and 1999, and again between
2002 and 2004.


The effects were cumulative, the longer the working week was the worse
the test results were.


Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in workplace stress at the University
of Lancaster, said it had been long established that consistently
working long hours was bad for general health, and now this study
suggested it was also bad for mental functioning.


Harriet Millward, deputy chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research
Trust, said: “This study should give pause for thought to workaholics.

“We already know that dementia risk can be reduced by maintaining a
balanced diet, regular social interactions and exercising both our
bodies and minds. Perhaps work-life balance should be accounted for too.”

[end excerpts]

The article is online at:

Courtesy of Ken Pope

Engaging in a hobby like reading a book, making a patchwork quilt or even playing computer games can delay the onset of dementia, a US study suggests.

Watching TV however does not count – and indeed spending significant periods of time in front of the box may speed up memory loss, researchers found.

Nearly 200 people aged 70 to 89 with mild memory problems were compared with a group who had no impairment.

The findings are to be presented to an American Academy of Neurology meeting.

The researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota asked the volunteers about their daily activities within the past year and how mentally active they had been between the age of 50 to 65.
One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years so there is a desperate need to find ways to prevent dementia
Alzheimer’s Society

Those who had during middle age been busy reading, playing games or engaging in craft hobbies like patchworking or knitting were found to have a 40% reduced risk of memory impairment.

In later life, those same activities reduced the risk by between 30 and 50%.

Those who watched TV for less than 7 hours a day were also 50% less likely to develop memory loss than those who spent longer than that staring at the screen.

“This study is exciting because it demonstrates that ageing does not need to be a passive process,” said study author and neuroscientist Dr Yonas Geda.

“By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss. Of course, the challenge with this type of research is that we are relying on past memories of the participants, therefore we need to confirm these findings with additional research.”

Sarah Day, head of public health at the Alzheimer’s Society said: “One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years so there is a desperate need to find ways to prevent dementia.

“Exercising and challenging your brain – by learning new skills, doing puzzles such as crosswords, and even learning a new language – can be fun.

“However, more research, where people are followed up over time, is needed to understand whether these sorts of activities can reduce the risk of dementia.”

10/24/2006 *New York Times* includes an article: “Performance:
Researchers Test Meditation’s Impact on Alertness” by Eric Nagourney.

Here’s the article:

Meditation is often credited with helping people feel more focused and
energetic, but are the benefits measurable?

A new study suggests that they are. When researchers tested the
alertness of volunteers, they found that the practice proved more
effective than naps, exercise or caffeine. The results were presented at
a recent conference of the Society for Neuroscience.