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Posts Tagged ‘neuroscience’

Remember when I wrote this?

This next year, my wife’s going to bring home the bacon. And I’m going to bring up the baby. And do the dishes. And fold the laundry. And take out the garbage. And clean the cat box. And shop for groceries. And have supper ready. And assemble the crib. And paint the nursery. And rock a screaming baby to sleep at 3 o’clock in the morning. And, on certain nights, stare up in to the city-bleached sky and wonder if this is part of the journey or the destination itself. Or both.

Well, that all still stands. I’m still ready to do those things. I just had no idea that I would be doing them all at once.

And yet that’s what every body keeps telling me about parenting – i.e. that it’s a Herculean feat of multitasking. Brian Chen had a post on Wired last Monday about what multitasking technology is doing to our ability to concentrate. In it, he talks to Vaughan Bell, a neuropsychologist and clinician at the Universidad de Antioquia, who compares our waning focus to parenting:

“If you think Twitter is an attention magnet, try living with an infant,” Bell said. “Kids are the most distracting thing there is, and when you have three or even four in the house it is both impossible to focus on one thing — and stressful, because the consequences of not keeping an eye on your kids can be frightening even to think about.”

(Kids are indeed distracting: A British study found that for drivers, the distraction of squabbling kids can slow down break-reaction times by 13 percent — as much as alcohol.)

And here I was thinking that having a kid might be a good occasion to get sober.

But, seriously, I wonder if this generation of parents is prepared to multitask in a way their parents were not. As we speak, I am writing this post . . . while texting my wife . . . while watching the preview for Monday Night Football . . . while answering incoming emails . . . while boiling eggs for my wife’s breakfast tomorrow. And somehow, I feel like I’ve got everything under control.

So, thank you, the internets. And email. And smart phones. And social networking. And, even, 24 hours news networks that have “Breaking News” whenever someone farts. You’ve all ruined my ability to perform long-duration analytical thinking, but you may have made me a high-functioning parent in the process.

Also, the extra arms I’ve grown help.

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Hopefully you enjoyed the wifey’s post yesterday about our “almost normal” pregnancy. She’s been a real trooper through this, and you may see more posts from her in the future . . . if only to scare away all the internet groupies who keep flooding my gmail. Please note, I do not open attachments.

In other news, I think I’m going to have to add Wired’s John Lehrer to my blogroll. He’s got another good entry today about the effect of television on kids’ brains. You know how this generation has devolved into a bunch of knuckle-dragging mouth breathers? Well, you may want to consider the shows they’re watching (or not watching) as children:

Numerous studies have found that regularly watching “Sesame Street” is associated with a wide assortment of positive outcomes, including improved performance on measures of school readiness, expressive language capabilities, numeracy skills and vocabulary size. (Similar effects have also been observed from “Blue’s Clues,” “Dora the Explorer,” and “Clifford the Big Red Dog”.) While most of these studies are correlational, and thus vulnerable to all sorts of confounding variables, a recent study tested the effects of “Sesame Street” using a randomized, controlled paradigm. The positive effects remained: After ten weeks of exposure to Big Bird, young children demonstrated increased literacy skills.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that every TV show makes us smarter. While “Sesame Street” accelerates early education, recent research demonstrates that other shows, such as “Teletubbies,” seem to slow it down. Worst of all are those videos designed for infants, such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby. According to a 2007 paper, each hour of daily viewing between the ages of 8 and 16 months led to a significant decrease in the pace of language development. While daily reading with a parent was associated with a 7 point increase in the language skills of 2 year olds, each hour of baby DVD viewing was associated with a whopping 17 point decrease. If you want a baby Einstein, don’t watch Baby Einstein.

Got that? If you want your kid to wear saggy pants and sell speedballs behind the mall, just alternate him between Baby Einstein and Bones. (That’s right. I just ripped on Bones.)

As for why this discrepancy exists, here’s what the researcher has to say:

In the case of promoting early literacy, the use of child-directed speech, elicitation of responses, object labeling, and/or a coherent storybook-like framework throughout the show appears positively related to vocabulary acquisition and better language expression. Thus, to be effective, early intervention programs need not only engage the young viewer, but they must also elicit direct participation from the child, provide a strong language model, avoid overloading the child with distracting stimulation, and include a well-articulated narrative structure. In addition, effective educational shows also exemplify how to resolve social conflicts and productively manage disagreements and frustration. This social teaching may be as important to child development as academic content, because antisocial behavior has been linked to poor academic outcomes

As for video games . . .

A burgeoning literature indicates that playing action video games is associated with a number of enhancements in vision, attention, cognition, and motor control. For instance, action video game experience heightens the ability to view small details in cluttered scenes and to perceive dim signals, such as would be present when driving in fog (Green and Bavelier, 2007; Li et al., 2009). Avid players display enhanced top-down control of attention and choose among different options more rapidly (Hubert-Wallander et al., 2010; Dye et al., 2009a). They also exhibit better visual short-term memory (Boot et al., 2008; Green and Bavelier, 2006), and can more flexibility switch from one task to another (Boot et al., 2008; Colzato et al., 2010; Karle et al., 2010).

Thank you, boys. Because that’s now my excuse to get our baby a pacifier, a teddy bear, and one of these:

Just hit the B button.

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So my brain’s about to get a make-over:

Since there’s no clear physical connection between a father and his child — at least not like the one seen with mom and baby — researchers are starting to look deep in the brain for better clues to understand the power of this relationship. A recent wave of studies are starting to bear fruit: We are now learning that in the first few days after birth, changes occur in the brains of both the dad and the baby, depending on whether the father is around or not. Perhaps neuroscientists have finally cornered the elusive father-child bond, and found the biological hook that makes sure a father sticks around after birth.

Brains are not static, and neurons constantly rewire themselves throughout life. Not only do brain cells alter their connections, but additional neurons can also spontaneously form, a process called neurogenesis. While the mechanism of neurogenesis is not fully understood, extra brain cell growth is strongly correlated to learning new things.

A recent study has shown that neurogenesis took place in male mice in the days following the birth of their pups. But the extra boost of brain cells only occurred if the mouse father stayed in the nest. In other words, if he was removed on the day of their birth, nothing happened. One new set of brain cells formed in the olfactory bulb, and were specifically tuned to the smells of his pups. Another set of neurons grew in the hippocampus, a crucial memory center in the brain, which helped to consolidate the smell of his pups into a long-term memory.

This means I’m going to get smarter, right? Awesome. In about two months this blog will actually be readable.

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