What is surprising is the discovery a number of years ago that mentally dexterous people with greater working memory capacity seem to be particularly susceptible to “brain freeze” or choking under pressure.
For a new study in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, researchers at the University of Chicago and Michigan State University attempted to find out more about why this happens. Their results suggest that actually it’s only a subgroup of high working memory people who have this problem and it’s because of their high distractibility. These high ability chokers or brain freeze victims are “typically reliant on their higher working memory resources for advanced problem solving” but their poor attentional control renders them easily distracted by anxiety, causing their usual mental deftness to break down when the pressure is on.
Jason Sattizahn and his colleagues recruited 83 participants aged 18-35, including 35 men, from areas near universities. First they tested the participants’ attention control abilities using the well-established Flanker Task: participants had to identify as quickly as possible the direction of central arrows that were either surrounded by congruent flankers (<<<<<) or incongruent flankers (<<><<). It’s a test of attention control because it takes mental concentration to ignore the flankers, especially on incongruent trials.
Next, the researchers tested the participants’ on some tricky mental arithmetic questions, both without any pressure and then under high pressure conditions in which there was a monetary incentive, peer pressure (poor performance would adversely affect another participant) and risk of public shaming (they were told their performance would be shared with professors and others).
Finally, the participants completed two tests of their working memory capacity: they had to solve a sequence of basic mathematical operations or sentence comprehension questions, with each one interspersed with presentation of a single letter on screen. At the end of each run of between three and seven trials, the participants had to try to recall the letters in the correct order.
The results were clear: high stakes pressure adversely affected the math performance of participants with high working memory capacity, but did not affect the performance of participants with lower working memory capacity (replicating a phenomenon first identified in a paper published in 2005**). What’s new here is the additional measure of attentional control. This showed that only high working memory participants with poor attentional control showed evidence of this mental performance choking under pressure.
10 Things You Should Know about ABLE Accounts
1. What is an ABLE account?
ABLE Accounts, which are tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families, will be created as a result of the passage of the Stephen Beck Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 or better known as the ABLE Act.
The beneficiary of the account is the account owner, and income earned by the accounts will not be taxed. Contributions to the account made by any person (the account beneficiary, family and friends) will be made using post-taxed dollars and will not be tax deductible, although some states may allow for state income tax deductions for contribution made to an ABLE account.
2. Why the need for ABLE accounts?
Millions of individuals with disabilities and their families depend on a wide variety of public benefits for income, health care and food and housing assistance. Eligibility for these public benefits (SSI, SNAP, Medicaid) require meeting a means or resource test that limits eligibility to individuals to report more than $2,000 in cash savings, retirement funds and other items of significant value. To remain eligible for these public benefits, an individual must remain poor. For the first time in public policy, the ABLE Act recognizes the extra and significant costs of living with a disability. These include costs, related to raising a child with significant disabilities or a working age adult with disabilities, for accessible housing and transportation, personal assistance services, assistive technology and health care not covered by insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. For the first time, eligible individuals and their families will be allowed to establish ABLE savings accounts that will not affect their eligibility for SSI, Medicaid and other public benefits. The legislation explains further that an ABLE account will, with private savings, “secure funding for disability-related expenses on behalf of designated beneficiaries with disabilities that will supplement, but not supplant, benefits provided through private insurance, Medicaid, SSI, the beneficiary’s employment and other sources.”
3. Am I eligible for an ABLE account?
The ABLE Act limits eligibility to individuals with significant disabilities with an age of onset of disability before turning 26 years of age. If you meet this age criteria and are also receiving benefits already under SSI and/or SSDI, you are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account. If you are not a recipient of SSI and/or SSDI, but still meet the age of onset disability requirement, you could still be eligible to open an ABLE account if you meet Social Security’s definition and criteria regarding significant functional limitations and receive a letter of certification from a licensed physician. You need not be under the age of 26 to be eligible for an ABLE account. You could be over the age of 26, but must have had an age of onset before the individual’s 26 birthday.
As smartphones and tablets blur lines between work, home and social lives, parents are grappling to balance it all, a new small study suggests. Parents' use of mobile technology around young children may be causing internal tension, conflicts and negative interactions with their kids, suggests the qualitative study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. It's a challenge both parents and health care providers should tune in to.
"Parents are constantly feeling like they are in more than one place at once while parenting. They're still 'at work.' They're keeping up socially. All while trying to cook dinner and attend to their kids," says lead author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital who conducted the study with colleagues from Boston Medical Center.
"It's much harder to toggle between mom or dad brain and other aspects of life because the boundaries have all blurred together. We wanted to understand how this was affecting parents emotionally. We found that parents are struggling to balance family time and the desire to be present at home with technology-based expectations like responding to work and other demands."
The study involved in-depth interviews with 35 caregivers, which included moms, dads and grandmothers.
Participants consistently expressed an internal struggle between multitasking mobile technology use, work and children, information overload and emotional tensions around disrupting family routines, such as meal time. As one mom in a focus group described it, "the whole world is in your lap."
Source: Social Media
Whether you're living with ADHD or just have trouble focusing from time to time, today's world is full of concentration killers. Psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD offers a few tips to manage distractions, starting with social media. It's easy to connect with friends -- and disconnect from work -- many times an hour. Every status update zaps your train of thought, forcing you to backtrack when you resume work.
Social Media Suggestion
Avoid logging in to social media sites while you're working. If you feel compelled to check in every now and then, do it during breaks, when the steady stream of posts won't interrupt your concentration. If you can't resist logging in more frequently, take your laptop someplace where you won't have Internet access for a few hours.
Source: Email Overload
There's something about an email -- it shoots into your inbox and itches to be answered immediately. Although many emails are work-related, they still count as distractions from your current project. You won't make much progress if you constantly stop what you're doing to reply to every message.
Email Overload Suggestion
Instead of checking email continuously, set aside specific times for that purpose. During the rest of the day, you can actually shut down your email program. This allows you to carve out blocks of time when you can work uninterrupted.
Source: Your Cell Phone
Perhaps even more disruptive than the ping of an email is the ringtone on your cell phone. It's a sound few of us can ignore. But taking a call not only costs you the time you spend talking -- it can also cut off your momentum on the task at hand.
Cell Phone Suggestion
Put caller ID to good use. If you suspect the call is not urgent, let it go to voicemail. If you're working on a particularly intense project, consider silencing your phone so you're not tempted to answer. Choose specific times to check voicemail. Listening to all your messages at once can be less disruptive than taking every call as it comes in.
Caffeine no longer improves alertness or mental performance after a few nights of sleep restriction!
"The data from this study suggests that the same effective daily dose of caffeine is not sufficient to prevent performance decline over multiple days of restricted sleep," Dr. Doty said in an American Academy of Sleep Medicine news release.
The study included 48 healthy volunteers whose sleep was limited to five hours a night for five nights. The participants took either 200 milligrams of caffeine or an inactive placebo twice a day. (An average cup of coffee has 95 milligrams.) In addition, the volunteers were given mental skills tests every hour while awake.
For the first few days, those who took caffeine had better test results than those who took the placebo. But that was not the case over the last few days of sleep restriction, the researchers found.
"We were particularly surprised that the performance advantage conferred by two daily 200-milligram doses of caffeine was lost after three nights of sleep restriction," Dr. Doty said.
Adults should sleep seven to eight hours each night, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings, published online in the journal Sleep.
The study, published in the Journal of Child Neurology, is the first of its kind to link nighttime instant messaging habits of American teenagers to sleep health and school performance.
"We need to be aware that teenagers are using electronic devices excessively and have a unique physiology," says study author Xue Ming, professor of neuroscience and neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. "They tend to go to sleep late and get up late. When we go against that natural rhythm, students become less efficient."
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that media use among children of all ages is increasing exponentially; studies have found that children ages 8 to 18 use electronic devices approximately seven-and-a-half hours daily.
Ming's research is part of a small but growing body of evidence on the negative effects of electronics on sleep and school performance. But few studies, Ming says, have focused specifically on instant messaging.
"During the last few years I have noticed an increased use of smartphones by my patients with sleep problems," Ming says. "I wanted to isolate how messaging alone - especially after the lights are out - contributes to sleep-related problems and academic performance."
To conduct her study, Ming distributed surveys to three New Jersey high schools - a suburban and an urban public school and a private school - and evaluated the 1,537 responses contrasting grades, sexes, messaging duration and whether the texting occurred before or after lights out.
She found that students who turned off their devices or who messaged for less than 30 minutes after lights out performed significantly better in school than those who messaged for more than 30 minutes after lights out.
Did you receive affection, play freely and feel supported in childhood? Childhood experiences like these appear to have a lot to do with well-being and moral capacities in adulthood. University of Notre Dame professor of psychology Darcia Narvaez and colleagues Lijuan Wang and Ying Cheng, associate professors of psychology, show that childhood experiences that match with evolved needs lead to better outcomes in adulthood.
According to Narvaez, one of the reasons that the well-being of children in the United States lags behind that of children in other advanced nations is because "we have forgotten that we are social mammals with specific evolved needs from birth."
Narvaez emphasizes six components: Soothing, naturalistic perinatal experiences; responsiveness to a baby's needs including sensitivity to the signals of the baby before the baby cries; constant physical presence with plenty of affectionate touch; extensive breastfeeding; playful interactions with caregivers and friends; and a community of affectionate, mindful caregivers.
Adults who report receiving more of such parenting practices in their childhoods display less depression and anxiety, greater ability to take the perspective of others and an orientation toward compassion. Adults who report less of these parenting practices in their childhood have poorer mental health, more distress in social situations and are less able to take another's point of view.
Our brains weren't built to multitask.
Our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time, and bombarding them with information only slows them down. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller notes that our brains are "not wired to multitask well... when people think they're multitasking, they're actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there's a cognitive cost." This constant task-switching encourages bad brain habits. When we complete a tiny task (sending an email, answering a text message, posting a tweet), we are hit with a dollop of dopamine, our reward hormone. Our brains love that dopamine, and so we're encouraged to keep switching between small mini-tasks that give us instant gratification. This creates a dangerous feedback loop that makes us feel like we're accomplishing a ton, when we're really not doing much at all (or at least nothing requiring much critical thinking).
Multitasking lowers your work quality and efficiency.
Multitasking makes it more difficult to organize thoughts and filter out irrelevant information and it reduces the efficiency and quality of our work. A study at the University Of London showed that multitasking has also been found to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Having our brain constantly shift gears pumps up stress and tires us out, leaving us feeling mentally exhausted (even when the work day has barely begun).
One of the biggest instigators of multitasking mayhem? Our inboxes. The constant thrill of a new bolded email in our inbox keeps us ever-distracted. A McKinsey Global Institute Study found that employees spend 28 percent of their workweek checking emails. Email is problematic, but texting is even worse, demanding even more immediacy than email, having us check it more adamantly as a result. Protect yourself from the multitasking mental massacre by establishing an e-mail checking schedule. Commit yourself to checking emails only three times a day, (maybe when you get into work in the morning, at lunch time, and before leaving work at the end of the day). Turn off texting notifications and choose specific times to check your phone as well.
The lesson? Multitasking is not a skill to add to the resume, but rather a bad habit to put a stop to.
Just one energy drink can cause potentially harmful spikes in both stress hormone levels and blood pressure in young, healthy adults, a new study shows.
After drinking a 16-ounce can of "Rockstar Punched," young adults had a 74 percent increase in blood levels of the "fight-or-flight" hormone norepinephrine, said lead researcher Dr. Anna Svatikova, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. That's more than double an average 30 percent increase in norepinephrine the same participants experienced when they consumed a fake energy drink, Svatikova said. Blood pressure also spiked due to energy drinks. For example, mean blood pressure increased by 6.4 percent after energy drink consumption, compared with a 1 percent increase when the young adults downed the fake drink, the study found.The sham energy drink contained the same amount of sugar and nearly the same calories, but did not include natural stimulants found in the Rockstar drink, she said. The stimulants in the real energy drink include caffeine, taurine, guarana, ginseng and milk thistle extract.
These findings were presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Orlando, and the results will be published simultaneously in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Energy drinks can contain up to five times more caffeine than a typical cup of coffee, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Emergency room visits involving energy drinks doubled between 2007 and 2011, rising from about 10,000 to nearly 21,000, SAMHSA said.
SOURCES: Anna Svatikova, M.D., cardiologist, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., professor, preventive medicine and nutrition, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, spokeswoman, American Heart Association; Nov. 8, 2015, presentation, American Heart Association annual meeting, Orlando, Fla.; Nov. 8, 2015.
Zackery doesn’t want others to end up like him. At 22, he walks with a looping gait, leaning heavily on a metal cane. He peers through thick glasses, specially designed to help his peripheral (side) vision. It takes him a moment to gather his thoughts before he speaks in a strained, thick voice. He struggles to remember his schedule day to day, and often relies on his mother to be his short-term memory schedule.
Zack’s daily challenges stem from a traumatic brain injury he received while playing football when he was 13. In 2006, Zack nearly died after he got two concussions in a single football game, something called second impact syndrome.
Although it’s not easy for him to get around, he’s spent the last 9 years speaking to lawmakers, coaches, athletic directors, trainers, health care workers, and parents about the dangers of concussions and what happens when they aren’t given time to heal.
That’s why it was especially painful for Zack to watch the news about Kenney; the 17-year-old high school football player from Seattle who died earlier this month, 3 days after he received a head injury during a game.
After his death, school officials revealed that Kenny, a wide receiver and defensive back, had suffered a concussion in September and had been cleared to play by health care professionals following the CDC’s guidelines.
Had Zack sat out the rest of the game on Oct. 12, 2006, he most likely would be doing normal 22-year-old activities, like “out driving picking up chicks,” as he likes to joke.
On that day, Zack suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the game when he made a tackle and hit the ground hard. He sat out for a while, but returned to the game in the second half. Zack took more hits but finished the game. As he walked off the field with his father, he collapsed and started to convulse. He was flown to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center and came within an hour of dying from a catastrophic brain injury, says Richard G. Ellenbogen, MD, the hospital’s chief of neurological surgery.
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