“There is something wrong with you! You have no sense of urgency about time!” I was recently admonished while sitting in my chair reflecting upon Patricia Hampfl’s delightful book of essays entitled The Art of the Wasted Day. Don’t retire, accelerate advises Bracken Darrell, Head of Logitech, in a recent LinkedIn blog piece.
Here are some of my previous thoughts about time:
A canceled meeting! How best to make use of that unexpected 50 minutes—that gift of time. Maybe catch up on Profhacker blog pieces sitting on my RSS feed? Here are five of them:
Exploring “gamification“: I’m still somewhat chary of moving in this direction, but intrigued by the creative writing/ gaming applications of English Professor Colleague BJ Best.
TIME was the campus -wide theme for Carroll University (Waukesha, WI, USA) during the 2014-2015 academic year. Across my years of teaching, I have enjoyed creating special courses (‘Why War?” “Happiness” “Pioneering Web 2.0 Technology Tools”) when I have been allowed time and total control over the course. Had I offered a course on this theme of time, I would have include the following as required reading and videos:
I have spent quite a bit of time the past few years thinking about aging and more specifically about brain health and brain fitness training. Two books written by geriatric psychiatrist Marc E. Agronin have very much shaped my recent thinking this summer about these topics. I shared some of my reactions to his latest book (The End of Old Age) in an earlier blog piece. NPR a few years ago provided a useful summary of Agronin’s earlier book How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Hear of Growing Old.
In this earlier book Agronin acknowledges the known biology of the cellular aging process (e.g. the Hayflick Limit) and the successive shortening of telomeres with cellular divisions. However, heavily influenced by the thinking of the late geriatric psychiatrist Gene Cohen, Agronin persuasively and eloquently argues in this earlier book that aging is not and should not be thought of as a disease. Reading this earlier book which is enriched with detailed case studies of his patients was enlightening about my own myopic, age-centric views.
So much unfinished business forfore putting the semester to bed. I see that I have 100 drafts of unfinished blog posts. Some of the drafts ooks like their ideas are still worth developing. Other drafts I have no recall of having even of having written! Clearly it is time either to delete them or to bring the ideas to fruition. My modus operandi has always been to have a plethora of unfinished tasks.
In November 2009 I wrote this draft about the Zeigarnik effect:
“I was first introduced to the Zeigarnik effect (people typically recalling interrupted tasks better than their recalling completed ones) by my first Oberlin College Introductory Psychology professor, Celeste McCollough. My participation in her visual perception studies of the “McCollough effect” formally introduced me to the science of psychology. I remember being both amused and fascinated by Professor McCullough’s sharing an anecdote where she intentionally used the Zeigarnik phenomenon as a motivator for her to resume working on manuscripts that she was writing for publication. I find it curious how a phenomenon such as the Zeigarnik effect can be discovered, experimentally investigated, popularized, misrepresented, forgotten, and rediscovered.”
I was able to use that anecdote in a review I completed of Bob Cialdini’s newest book Pre-suasion. Equally important, I was able to use that Zeigarnik tension to motivate me to complete the revisions suggested by my editor and to successfully have the review accepted for publication.
One common theme among my unfinished work is the tensions I feel between rigorous, experimental psychological science and well-intentioned attempts to popularize psychological findings. How can one avoid avoiding overstatement and misrepresentation? Why is there such a disconnect between what is popularized (or advertised) and what empirical evidence actually shows? Across the past fifty years I’ve seen oversimplification and misrepresentation of research investigating learning styles, mindfulness, subliminal perception, and most recently brain fitness training.
Based upon my thinking about the links above, I’m convinced that I don’t want a perfect memory—nor do I want technological tools for remembering everything. Still, as I grow older I am increasingly sensitive to issues of memory loss. I am haunted by the descriptions of dementia so graphically and accurately described in Walter Mosley’s novel The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. Here is an interview with the author.
There is so much hype interest today in using technology to improve one’s brain power, health and well-being. Try, for example, doing an online search on “brain fitness.” You’ll be overwhelmed with the results though (hopefully) be underwhelmed by the validity of the claims. The challenge is to know how to decide which claims are “snake oil,” which represent vaporware, and which are truly science-based. Consider these Internet “tools” (none of which I am endorsing but each of which I am considering investigating with my students) … and their promises and claims of success at improving one’s life
Which (if any) is based upon valid psychological science? Which is merely entertainment? Which make false or unverifiable claims? Which is patently wrong? Do brain training programs really work?
A very thoughtful and thorough scholarly review was recently completed which provides some useful caveats and preliminary answers. A shortened summary of that report can be found here and the complete article is here. A relatively recent citizen science project, the game “Stall Catchers” (found here) provides an interesting crowdsourcing avenue for conducting Alzheimer’s research.
I hope to share my answers to these questions in the near future. Hopefully these thoughts won’t merely end up in my draft pile!
As I continue my investigations and writing about brain health and brain training, I am interested in “vetting” resources that I think are best evidence-based, rich in fact, and readable. Here are ten current favorite resource links. Click them for details.
I’ve never claimed to have eidetic memory. Clearly I don’t. I committed a memory faux pas last week by sending a message on my LinkedIn account indicating my delight at seeing a former student (whom I hadn’t seen in 40 years) at our new Carroll University President’s inauguration. Alas, the 15 seconds of reunion with the former student and the intervening hours before I took the time to look him up on LinkedIn (hmm, he looks so different from whom I talked with) resulted in this subsequent electronic exchange.
David Simpson sent the following message at 8:35 PM
Thanks for saying hello today!
Doug Cumming sent the following message at 2:57 AM
Professor – unfortunately that wasn’t me that said hello yesterday. I am with my family, on my way home from Rome and a little vacation. Hope you are welland thanks for the note!- Doug Cumming CC ’85
David Simpson sent the following messages at 8:19 PM
Less you think that I am completely losing it, what happened is as I was emerged from the ceremonial march, someone called out “Hello, Professor Simpson. Do you remember me, Doug C_____. He then asked about Ralph Parsons. Ordinarily I have access to all my files of all students since 1977 (hard copy) but they are in storage while Rankin Hall is refurbished. Though he did not look like you, he had indicated that we had been in touch on LinkedIn. Oops. Must be nice visiting Rome! Take Care Doug—and thanks for the correction. I may have to blog about this! DS
Maybe Doug Cushing…another class of 85 Pio?!?
David Simpson sent the following messages at 8:28 PM
You may be correct although I thought he said 1978. I can check eventually because I am compulsive.
Other times my memory for former students is so rich that there is no need to consult (inaccessible paper files. Such was the case for a Soul food Reunion Dinner
with Carl Meredith.
Do keep those letters, emails, and visits coming. I enjoy your shared memories—some of which are new to me such as the one below shared with me in 2014.
The letter was posted out of state on April 29, 2014. It appeared in my campus mail box a few days later. I glanced at the hand-written envelope (too) quickly, guessed that it might be a (sigh, yet another) solicitation for a letter of recommendation, and didn’t have a chance to open it until the following Saturday while I was proctoring my first final exam.
I hope that this letter finds you in good health and spirit. I’m not sure if you’ll remember me, but you did something for me that I’ve never forgotten.
[Alas, he’s right that I am not as good at remembering students as I once was. I suspect that some of that memory failure is age-related; some is caused, I think, by how Carroll has changed. Some by the sheer number of students I have taught in the past 40 years. And though I had no immediate recollection of the particular event he shared, nonetheless I recalled him in some detail even without going to my filing cabinet and pulling out his advisee folder.]
In 2004 ,,, I called the College to inquire about online classes. The adviser I spoke with told me that you changed one of my grades allowing me to graduate. You gave me my life and I can never begin to thank you enough. … I never contacted you because I was embarrassed, but always so thankful for it….[B]ecause of what you did I have been able to get my Masters… and have the current job I hold. I am about to leave for Afghanistan … And just want you to know that I have never forgotten what you did for me and have always tried to earn it and will continue to. Thank you so much. Respectfully,
I have only a vague recollection of the particular circumstance alluded to (but I verified its occurrence).
A student, about to graduate fails a final exam in one of my courses. Were there personal circumstances affecting their performance? Is this part of a pattern? Is there justified reason to give them an additional chance — say, an oral exam?
A student is just a few points away from the next higher grade needed to graduate. This is easier for me to resolve, because of my extensive training in statistics and measurement error I am aware of and sensitive to the imprecision of measurement. I am quite comfortable in this situation under certain circumstances allowing some subjective (human, humane?) factors to enter into my final judgment of the student’s demonstrated abilities and likelihood of future success.
I most assuredly would change a grade if I myself had made a clerical error in assigning a grade. My vague recollection is that the latter was the case in this instance. Sometimes memory failure (or fuzziness) is a blessing!
Simple acts of kindness, even when unintentional, can have long-lasting effects. This I believe. I was overjoyed to hear from him and communicated my thankfulness for his letter and best wishes for safety while serving our country.
As I continue my investigations and writing about brain health and brain training, I am interested in “vetting” resources that I think are best evidence-based, rich in fact, and readable. Here are five current favorite resource links.
At Christmas time one of my nephews gave me some brain challenging puzzles. For a few minutes I was able to fool him (and myself!) by being able to solve two of them in a few minutes. Then my beloved, intellectually curious grand nieces and nephews (ages 5 through 8) proceeded to provide a context for my achievements by taking apart the remaining two puzzles which I had recognized as too difficult for me! Alas, they then lost interest and I still haven’t figured out how to put the puzzles back together!
Later I was invited by one to play a board game “Brain Games for Kids.” My mind was indeed blown away as he outperformed me very quickly. My solace was that he probably had memorized all questions and answers. Also, he had earlier shown me (on “his” computer which he had “built”) a school project he had on his Google-drive account.
Are these additional signs of effects on my aging brain? I must confess I find more of my research time focused on the topics of brain health and aging.
In an earlier blog piece I summarized five preliminary conclusions I had reached as a result of my immersing myself with my research students investigating the claims of brain fitness training companies. I hope to continue that research in the Fall and to build upon what I learned at a Brain Health Virtual Summit.
“Brain Training” and brain health products is a huge, lucrative and growing industry with very expensive market research reports! Alas, I did not have the $7,150 to purchase such a report. Click this link to read the abstract.
There exist excellent scholarly reviews of the efficacy (and validity of claims made) of “brain fitness” programs. The best such review is by Daniel J. Simons et al. which can be found here: (Click this link to see it in full).
Among the authors’ important conclusions and advice most germane to this blog piece (and the next series i am contemplating writing) are the following:
“Consumers should also consider the comparative costs and benefits of engaging in a brain-training regimen. Time spent using brain-training software could be allocated to other activities or even other forms of “brain training” (e.g., physical exercise) that might have broader benefits for health and well-being. That time might also be spent on learning things that are likely to improve your performance at school (e.g., reading; developing knowledge and skills in math, science, or the arts), on the job (e.g., updating your knowledge of content and standards in your profession), or in activities that are otherwise enjoyable. If an intervention has minimal benefits, using it means you have lost the opportunity to do something else. If you find using brain-training software enjoyable, you should factor that enjoyment into your decision to use it, but you should weigh it against other things you might do instead that would also be enjoyable, beneficial, and/or less expensive.
When evaluating the marketing claims of brain-training companies or media reports of brain-training studies, consider whether they are supported by peer-reviewed, scientific evidence from studies conducted by researchers independent of the company. As we have seen, many brain-training companies cite a large number of papers, but not all of those directly tested the effectiveness of a brain-training program against an appropriate control condition. Moreover, many of the studies tested groups of people who might not be like you. It is not clear that results from studies of people with schizophrenia will generalize to people without schizophrenia, or that benefits found in studies of college students will generalize to older adults. Finally, just because an advertisement appears in a trusted medium (e.g., National Public Radio) or is promoted by a trusted organization (e.g., AARP) does not mean that its claims are justified. Consumers should view such advertising claims with skepticism.”
5. Many helpful insights into memory loss can be gleaned from literature such as Lisa Genova’sStill Alice and from individuals sharing first-hand experiences such as in the beautiful bogging in Sally Remembers.
Over the next few months I plan to focus my writing on expanding upon these points by examining recent claims. I shall take a look at products such as that pictured below that claim their products are backed by “clinical trials.” I actually still have the energy, motivation and developed cognitive skills to find, to read, to reflect upon and to evaluate such claims.
Can you train your brain to drive longer into your golden years? Such was the headline that appeared in my LinkedIn feed today that caught my interest. So I hunted down the original article (rather than trust that which was summarized) AND I contacted the author of the article asking her what she thought of the claims being made for her study.
I’m looking forward later today to (virtually) participating in the 2017 SharpBrains Virtual Summit. As I await its starting, I am flooded by emails from brain fitness companies. Lumosity claims to have “…adapted age-old-techniques of Mindfulness training into a series of easy-to-learn courses and activities.” I’ll learn more about that on Thursday from a Summit presentation. BrainHQ from Posit Science shares with me their latest claims. A new blog piece is published by Smartbrainaging.
I now am a subscriber to a number of very science-based brain health resources coming from Harvard Medical School and UC Berkeley, I also now monitor National Institute of Aging clinical trial research. There are some intriguing ongoing randomized trials investigating cognitive, dietary and behavioral interventions (such as exercise programs) for mild cognitive impairment such as these.
I am looking forward to opportunities to interact at the summit with some of these CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and fellow investigators and to continue those relationships over the next few years.
My student research team has now spend a semester investigating brain fitness research claims. We are in the process of reflecting on what we have learned. Here are a few preliminary thoughts which will be expanded into a book.
“Brain Training” is a huge and growing industry with very expensive market research reports! Like this one:
There exist a number of excellent, current, science-based guides to maintaining cognitive fitness and brain health (e.g. this one).
There exist excellent scholarly reviews of the efficacy of “brain fitness” programs (e.g. this one).
Many cognitive training studies and brain training companies overpromise results, cite the same methodologically faulty studies, ignore best practice experimental designs (see point 2 above), and fail to take into consideration placebo effects (See this study.)
Many helpful insights into memory loss can be gleaned from literature such as Lisa Genova’sStill Alice and other like works (Such as these).
Time to log into the summit. To paraphrase the proverb, all work and no play makes David a dull boy.
I have very few spare minutes today. With aging comes an increased awareness of the fact that I no longer can successfully delude myself about my ability to multi task (see this link). Fortunately I can count upon my trustworthy student research team and student research assistants to get things done in an excellent and timely fashion. They make me look better than I am. As I learned today, I also can learn so much from my former students. As I have shared several times in articles on LinkedIn, there are a multitude of under recognized learning opportunities and resources within one’s workplace (see my thoughts by clicking this link). We all have pieces of a solution to puzzling problems.
My research team is sharpening their learning tools – and their minds— on the purported efficacy of “brain-training” programs (click here for more). Do they work? What are appropriate indices for assessing improvements? What claims do companies make for products related to brain training? How good are the studies cited? Are there differences in effectiveness as a function of age, expectations, or health of the customer?
During our first week together we have focused on team-building, assessing current critical reading skill abilities, and identifying what technology learning skills are most likely to advance our success. My research team created a Facebook group to facilitate communication among us. I would have chosen differently based upon my familiarity with the visionary work the past decade of Jane Hart identifying Top Learning Tools (click here for more about this). But I have already learned much about the strengths and weaknesses of this Facebook as a group communication tool.Nonetheless, I can learn much from those like my talented students whom I mentor .
Having identified several individuals knowledgable about brain-training interventions and aging (all Carroll graduates!), we soon will be drawing upon their expertise (and their generosity) via Skype interactions. (Thank you in advance, John and Michelle). Though I have used Skype in the past to communicate with educators in Lithuania and Turkey, with former students and friends in Nicaragua and England, and with a nephew and his beautiful family in Switzerland, I am well aware that Skype is an evolving tool. My learning never ends. Also, there are numerous alternative tools which can accomplish the same communication goal (click here for some examples). Also, I have Skyped across a number of machines (Mac, iPad, PC, and phone) and Skype ids! Hence, I posted on Facebook a request for help from individuals who might be willing to help me practice Skype. That you, members of my extended Carroll Facebook community.
Yesterday I practiced Skyping within my office suite with one of my research assistants (who playfully morphed into a space alien) –and I learned how to morph into a frog. Thank you, Tia! Now if I can only figure out how to turn off those camera effects:)
It dawned upon me at 5:30 this morning that there probably are excellent Skype tutorials available to me on the dramatically improved LinkedIn Premium account I have invested in (Thank you, CEO of LinkedIn Jeff W.). I was correct. However, as I was about to invest an hour of my precious time going through an excellent tutorial there, a former student—Luis (now in Virginia) reached out to me via Skype with an invitation to join him in a Skype session. We systematically reviewed and discovered capabilities of Skype I need to know. Thank you, Luis, for providing me with just in time learning.
Today I met with a very precocious first year student whom I first met when I interviewed her two years ago. Her mother and Aunt are both Carroll alumni. She taught me a lot even in my first sustained interaction. Thank you Deborah and Meredith for sending her my way.
Learning never ends. Don’t overlook the tremendous learning resources available to you by your reaching out to your employees, former students, and colleagues. Think outside your title and and outside your role.