I loved the Brain Rules book. The original discussed why the brain works the way it does (including the studies) and gave specific activities one can do to boost the efficacy. An example: the brain is a major consumer of oxygen, so scientists have found that intense exercise improves function by getting more oxygenated blood to the brain.
I need to re-read it as it has been a decade. I recently got the baby one.
Having a first child is like swallowing an intoxicating drink made of equal parts joy and terror, chased with a bucketful of transitions nobody ever tells you about.
This is 1,000% true.
As a scientist, I was very aware that watching a baby’s brain develop feels as if you have a front row seat to a biological Big Bang. The brain starts out as a single cell in the womb, quiet as a secret. Within a few weeks, it is pumping out nerve cells at an astonishing rate of 8,000 per second. Within a few months, it is on it’s way to becoming the world’s finest thinking machine.
Some notes I took.
- Perception begins at weeks for most senses. And memory persists after birth, but stimulation too early is harmful and later not going to make a genius.
- Everything is a balancing act. During pregnancy especially weight, nutrition, stress, exercise.
- Chronic or acute stress passes those hormones through the placenta and children seeing it stunt brain growth observing it. Husbands need to keep their wife not stressed. Happy is the ideal, but at least not stressed. This can be 8 IQ points.
- Exercise can reduce pushing time and reduce the time baby is without oxygen and reduce stunted brain development.
- Kinds of intelligence:
- Record information, aka crystallized intelligence.
- Desire to explore
- Verbal communication
- Decoding nonverbal communication
- Ingredients for happy kids:
- a demanding but warm parenting style ( responsiveness & demandingness)
- comfort with your own emotions
- tracking your child’s emotions (don’t ignore & don’t helicopter)
- verbalizing emotions (describe emotions)
- running toward emotions (emotions are reflexive; behavior is a choice; be consistent with rules on behavior; turn intense feelings into teachable moments)
- two tons of empathy
- Behavior modification basic principles.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. The thing I liked the most about the original was he named a rule and went on about why it is important and the research justifying it. This book lacked that simplistic and novel model, which put me off.
Why is is that children’s screams affect us so much? Crying is one thing. But, a scream gets adrenaline revved up and someone is going to die. These researchers looked at why.
They define how the physical properties of a scream differ from other similar sounds. It fits in 30–150 Hz, is loud, and has fast repetitive flicker like effects. These combine to capture attention due to the unpleasantness.
They used iEEG electrodes to measure brain activity. They looked at a small number of patients.
One of the areas that lit up is used in processing language and emotional context. While the superior temporal gyrus is in a part of the brain associated with sound, when analyzing facial expressions, we also leverage this area to understand emotions.
Arnal, LH, Kleinschmidt, A, et al. “The rough sound of salience enhances aversion through neural synchronisation” Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 3671 (2019)
Turns out, kindness is complicated. We’re born with the wiring for both kindness and cruelty, so altruism is not inevitable. It’s a skill and a habit that we have the power — and responsibility — to foster, one good deed at a time.
I love the concept of mirror neurons. When watching someone else do something, the parts of our brain for doing that activity light up as though we are doing it. One of the reasons why I enjoy watching sports that I have played, especially the players of positions, is because I feel it when they make a play. They also have a dark side, in that when others experience pain, our brain experiences it as well.
My first experience with seeing early empathetic distress was in helping my aunt babysit twins. When one would cry, the other hearing the cry would also start to cry. Nothing was wrong. At the time, we chalked it up to attention seeking, but I bet really it was empathetic distress. Hearing the the cry bad made the other feel bad and crying was the way to express it.
Kindness is not just about feeling bad about another’s distress, but doing something to resolve it. Fleur likes to take my glasses. Unfortunately, I have turned it into a kind of game. Lately, I have had to shift my reaction to expressing sadness about it. She is much faster about giving them back when I do. Wonder if that would work for the throwing food thing?
I’ve written before about singing to Fleur to get her attention and how music is good for the brain. If this fMRI data on human brains compared to macaque monkey ones holds up, then there might be a developmental difference in brains that allows us to be more attuned to musical tones.
“When the researchers looked more closely at the data, they found evidence suggesting the human brain was highly sensitive to tones. The human auditory cortex was much more responsive than the monkey cortex when they looked at the relative activity between tones and equivalent noisy sounds.”
The researchers wondered what kind of auditory experience our ancestors had that caused this difference. The same structure also responds to speech, which might explain some of our qualities of speech. Music and talking are intertwined. So, child development being responsive to music makes sense in that they are wired to learn and we adults are doing so with both music and speech.
Highlights from an Inc article on the benefits of music on the brain caught my attention:
- Musical training reorganizes neuron structures in the brain, specifically the corpus callosum which integrates the two sides plus areas involving verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy.
- It improves long-term memory, in part because it teaches the hippocampus how to store memories and recall them on demand.
- It improves executive function, things like processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, making decisions, and problem solving
- Musicians tend to be more mentally alert with faster reaction times.
- They tend to have better statistical use of multisensory information, so they are better able to integrate inputs from the various senses.
- The earlier a musician starts, the more drastic the changes.
- Music reduces stress and improves happiness.*
- Increases blood flow in the brain.
* Wonder if all this singing we do with Fleur plus Galahad’s piano practice is part of why she is a happy child? After all, we’ve been leveraging singing as a way to distract Miss Wriggly.