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Professor Ian Robertson - Your brain and you.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Professor Ian Roberts is giving a work shop on the 18th of March in the National Concert Hall "Your Brain and You" about learning how to re-train and tune up your brain to maximise output. Professor Robertson will donate his proceeds to Headway, charity for Acquired Brain Injury.

Ian Robertson is Professor of Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin

He is a leading neuroscientist with a worldwide reputation for research into methods for improving brain function.

He has written Mind Sculpture; The Mind's Eye and Stay Sharp with the Mind Doctor.

How can we reverse our mental aging?

There are seven secrets of staying mentally young:

1. Aerobic (physical) fitness - Keeping physically fit keeps the mind sharper.
2. Mental stimulation (e.g. playing bridge, work, music, games) - learning, challenge and change helps to grow your brain.
3. New Learning (e.g. foreign language, musical instrument) - The more you learn, the more you CAN learn.
4. Reduce stress - Moderate levels of stress can be energizing and stimulating but if you are living a very stressful life it will have negative effects on your memory.
5. Good diet - The right food have a protective nourishing effect on brain cells. Eat dark vegetables e.g. spinach, cabbage; fish e.g. tuna, salmon, and minimize the amount of animal and saturated fat in your diet i.e. less red meat and less crisps, cakes.
6. Friends and social interaction - Evidence shows that people who maintain social interactions maintain their mental sharpness for a lot longer.
7. Thinking young - Since 1950's life expectancy has risen by 8 to 10 years. If you think yourself old at 60 you will behave as though you're old.

How do we retrain/tune up our brains?

Challenge (doing things you don't find easy), Change (doing different things, going to different places) and New strategies (new 'software' for the brain).

Nearly everyone finds that their memory lets them down from time to time. Tests show that people reach their memory peak in their early twenties and then this slowly declines. Almost everyone in their forties and fifties, for instance, will complain that their memories are worse than before.

How do you feel your memory is now compared to when you were younger?

The good news is that you can boost your memory by tuning your mind with simple methods and practice. When you tune your memory to remember better, you are 'switching on' tens of millions of brain cells and when this happens a key principle of your brain comes into play, namely: brain cells that fire together, wire together.

This builds a better connected brain and better connected brains keep their youthful power much better and longer than brains that have not been connected up by mental exercise and mind tuning. For people of any age, the phrase: 'USE IT OR LOSE IT' is therefore as true for the brain as it is for the muscles of your body.

Here are some exercise's that we can do to help with our brain power:

Do you sometimes find you read something but that it doesn't 'stick'?

Maybe you get lost in the middle of a book or article, losing track of the gist, of the characters or of some critical facts? Perhaps you have got lost trying to follow the instructions for using a new piece of equipment, because you forgot what the first part of the instructions said?

Let's start with a simple memory exercise.

Read this list of words, deciding whether each word begins with a vowel or a consonant. Read only once, close your eyes, and see how many you can remember.

Wall, ostrich, field, bell, slug, soldier, soil, acre, girl, tree.

How many did you get right? - If you got them all after just one reading, that is pretty good indeed. Probably you only remembered some of them.

Now read this second list of words, this time deciding whether each words is living or non-living. Again, read just once and try to memorise them.

Floor, sky, turkey, tower, pilot, worm, grass, man, mile, flower.

How many did you get right this time?

You probably remembered more of the second list than the first. This is because making the judgment 'living versus non-living' forced you to ACTIVELY READ the first list more than the first list, where you had to make the superficial judgments as to whether the words began with vowels or consonants.

By forcing your brain to penetrate into the meanings of these words to be learned, it automatically made a stronger memory trace for each word, than when you didn't have to consider the meaning of each word in the first list.

This is an example of active reading, and the same principles can apply to active listening. We remember what we do better than what we are told, and active reading/listening is an example of mental 'doing'.

Tear up your Shopping list

If you are going to the shop to buy 4 or 5 items, do you write them down? You don't have to if you learn this method

The ancient Romans had a whole host of memory-boosting exercises - they named them mnemonics - and they used them to impress friends and Senators by giving long and convincing speeches without reference to any notes.

One method that the Romans really liked was called the method of loci. Try this ancient memory method yourself now.

Try this

Pick some path or route that you know well - from your house to the nearest shop, for instance, or from a car park or station to your work. OR pick a room such as your living room or kitchen.

Now take a mental walk along on the route or round the room, visualising the places you know well. E.g., in your living room - the sofa, television, lamp, door, coffee table.

Make sure you can visualise these 5 places well.

Now take this shopping list: potatoes, lettuce, soap powder, chicken, apples

Take each of these items and visualise each at a different place on the route or in the room.

Now remember your shopping list by mentally walking back the same route and mentally picking up the objects.

If you practice using this route, you will never need to write down short shopping lists again. And you can gradually increase the length of the list.

Make mental pictures of what you want to learn.
Here's another tip for how to improve how much you remember from what you read.

Read the following list of words twice, and try to remember them. When you have read them, close the page and see how many you can remember - write them down on a scrap of paper and then compare them with the list below.


Now read this second list. This time, try to picture the object in your mind as you read each word. Read the list just once, but make sure you have created an image of the object in your mind's eye of each object. As with the first list, see how many you can remember -- write them down on a scrap of paper and then compare them with the list below.


You should have found that it was easier to remember the second list, though there can be exceptions and some people find it hard to create visual images and so don't benefit from this. In general, however, we are more likely to remember 'dog' if we see it as a picture, than if we see or hear it as a word.