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)
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.
The Ninja Brain: Humans Can Prioritise Meaningful Sounds Even While Asleep:
We often think of sleep as a chance to switch off from the outside world, leaving us blissfully ignorant of anything going on around us. But neuroscience research has shown this is a fantasy – we still monitor the environment and respond to particular sounds while we’re sleeping (at least in some stages of sleep) – a fact that will be unsurprising to anyone who has woken up after hearing someone say their name.
A better example is anyone who has woken up after hearing their infant moving around. Part of the sensitivity is making sure the kiddo is okay. She is snoring? Good. Cannot hear anything at all? Is she breathing? This assessment that everything is fine occurs while still sleep-addled, which to me is amazing. Most likely the movement means in about 10 minutes she is going to wake up.
Probably this was good for keeping us alive on the savannah. Lions are nocturnal (night awake) where we are diurnal (day awake). It would be good for us to be able to sense the noises of a predator possibly coming to hunt us.
Fleur has gleeful look when adults make weird sounds before doing something funny. Nose boops, tickles, and the like. She loves the stuff from people she likes. And doing it well, is a good way into her favorite people list.
Dopamine is thought of as the reward neurotransmitter. But, it is more complicated. It is what we get anticipating a reward. Say, you are playing a video game, dopamine surges to ensure you focus and persevere to achieve the level or match.
The noise right before tells her it is coming. Classical conditioning pairs a neutral stimulus with a desired one. The prior one is neutral the first time, but after she has paired it with the desired stimulus and anticipates the desired one. It seems like she enjoys the anticipation almost as much.
In getting mobile and manipulating objects, she is learning to use operant conditioning as well. She exerts her will on the world around her. This takes the form of doing the same thing over and over both using the same technique to confirm it works and adjusting to see what might work better. The other day she was trying to get into my tablet and tapping different spots to see how it reacted. You could see the Scientific Method in action: hypothesis, design test, execute test, evaluate result, new hypothesis.
Something I never thought about in university psychology classes was the impressive nature of linking things into causal chains. If this, then that. Over and over. Both forms of conditioning require understanding causation. The sponge that is Fleur’s brain seems to seek out understanding causation. And happiness to me is creating an environment for her try things and figure out how they work.
Vox has a good article on the effects of smartphones on the brains of teenagers:
Is there anything that tells us there’s a causal link? That our media use behavior is actually altering our cognition and underlying neurological function or neurobiological processes? The answer is we have no idea. There’s no data.
The article talks about what data we have, the limitations, why the limitations matter, and what would fix it. Science is hard. Medicine and parents are in a tricky place as they have to make recommendations with imperfect data. The news is sensationalist.
Galahad wants to discount all science on this, of course. He might be an addict. (Take his phone away from him and he goes through the typical behaviors of an addict.) The non-causal link does say there is something going on with smartphones and kids, so limiting usage probably leads to better outcomes. Enough so, that it is worth at least trying.