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Comment: Re:Right... (Score 1) 435

Actually the book was from 1988, and uses a huge set of research.

Also, rote memorization was the research topic as such because it seeks to push your brain's memory functions directly, rather than train techniques. That's why research showing improvement has gone on to discover subjects which improved had developed memory systems, not made their brains stronger by flexing them repeatedly.

Finally, let's excerpt from your paper:

Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 groups: 10-session group training for memory (verbal episodic memory; n=711), or reasoning (ability to solve problems that follow a serial pattern; n=705), or speed of processing (visual search and identification; n=712); or a no-contact control group (n=704). For the 3 treatment groups, 4-session booster training was offered to a 60% random sample 11 months later.

So far, so good.

Memory training focused on verbal episodic memory. Participants were taught mnemonic strategies for remembering word lists and sequences of items, text material, and main ideas and details of stories. Participants received instruction in a strategy or mnemonic rule, exercises, individual and group feedback on performance, and a practice test. For example, participants were instructed how to organize word lists into meaningful categories and to form visual images and mental associations to recall words and texts. The exercises involved laboratory like memory tasks (eg, recalling a list of nouns, recalling a paragraph), as well as memory tasks related to cognitive activities of everyday life (eg, recalling a shopping list, recalling the details of a prescription label).

The memory training participants were taught new techniques. This is skill, not brute force. If you did push-ups exactly the same way, you'd get bigger muscles; but this is teaching people to do those push-ups by moving their hands to a correct position which requires less effort and more efficiently lifts the body.

Reasoning training focused on the ability to solve problems that follow a serial pattern. Such problems involve identifying the pattern in a letter or number series or understanding the pattern in an everyday activity such as prescription drug dosing or travel schedules. Participants were taught strategies to identify a pattern and were given an opportunity to practice the strategies in both individual and group exercises. The exercises involved abstract reasoning tasks (eg, letter series) as well as reasoning problems related to activities of daily living.

Reasoning training was based on teaching techniques to analyze and approach problems. Again, technique. This is like learning about Kepner-Tregoe problem analysis.

Speed-of-processing training focused on visual search skills and the ability to identify and locate visual information quickly in a divided-attention format. Participants practiced increasingly complex speed tasks on a computer. Task difficulty was manipulated by decreasing the duration of the stimuli, adding either visual or auditory distraction, increasing the number of tasks to be performed concurrently, or presenting targets over a wider spatial expanse. Difficulty was increased each time a participant achieved criterion performance on a particular task.

K. Anders Ericsson explains something called the "OK Plateau". Most people learn initially by cognitive effort, and then internalize that into autonomous task: it moves from activating the prefrontal cortex to activating the basal ganglia. At a point, people subconsciously decide they're doing good enough, and cease improving.

Ericsson outlines three strategies experts use. Deliberate focus brings the task into cognitive recognition; goal-oriented behavior demands improvement; and immediate feedback points out current performance so the experts can analyze and adjust for their shortcomings.

Having trained myself in speed-reading, I can relate to the speed-of-processing study. I've had to deliberately focus on the RSVP, analyzing my own cognitive process. Initially, my mind would mill over words, return back to words I'd read, and stop focusing on what I was reading. This can be done between words in free time to rebuild and reanalyze, but not for extended blocks of 1-2 seconds when RSVPing at 450-800 words per minute. My mind also tends to wander to other related thoughts--which I had to stop.

By increasing speed, the researchers demanded additional focus. By adding distractions, the researchers demanded improved filtering of distractions specifically (rather than just internal thought). These changes largely demand the subject improve focus, accept a certain error rate, and employ strategies to maximize recognition of the most information in the least time. When multiple cognitive tasks are present, the subject must recognize the recognizable information so as to attend to it first, and move to the less-recognizable once the delay in processing won't cost so much (diminishing returns); when multiple, time-sensitive tasks are presented, rapid prioritization becomes important.

This particular part of the research provided an environment in which direct focus was enforced, goals were obviated, and immediate feedback was provided. Pattern behavior would obviously develop from such a strict environment, up to physiological limits.

None of that research says the brain bench pressed a bunch of information and became stronger and tougher. It suggests skill development, or at least suggests the strong possibility of skill development. My above discourse about cognitive processing skills is an implied likelihood not addressed by the paper; while the paper itself specifies the teaching of specific, researcher-selected mnemonics and problem-solving skills, rather than the exercise of basic mental faculties.

Nothing in there suggests the brain is a muscle and benefits from exercise. Much of that directly references technique, while the remainder supplies a situation where technique could easily develop and would be useful. I would bet money that tasks requiring similar cognitive effort and load on the same mental faculties, yet wholly unaided by any technique which could improve any of the things tested, would show zero improvement after the experiment.

Comment: Re:Right... (Score 1) 435

In the late 1800s, William James, often referred to as the father of American psychology, tested whether he could improve his memory by exercising it. He memorized some of Victor Hugo's works, and then practiced memorizing Milton for 38 days. After this practice, he memorized more form hugo, and found that he actually memorized a bit slower than he had previously; he reported similar results for several other people who tried the same task.

Similarly, twelve-year-old girls practiced memorizing poetry, scientific formulas, and geographical distances for 30 minutes a day, 4 days a week, for 6 weeks. The practice did not result in any improvement for their ability to memorize.

A more recent study found that after practicing several hours a week for 20 months, a college student was able to increase his short-term memory span for digits from 7 to 80. However, he showed no increased ability in other kinds of memory tasks, including short-term memory for letters or words: He improved his memory for digits because he had learned to apply a mnemonic technique to the digits, not because of any actual increase in the capacity of his short-term memory.

Note: Above was one giant paragraph; I corrected it. Continues in new paragraph as below.

There is no substantial evidence that practice alone makes a significant difference in improving memory. It is true that practicing memorizing can help improve memory, but what you *do* during practice is more important than the *amount* of practice. One classic study (discussed in chapter 6) found that 3 hours of practicing memorizing did not improve long-term memory, but that 3 hours of practice using certain techniques did improve long-term memory.

--Kenneth L. Higbee, Ph.D., "Your Memory: How It Works and How To Improve It".

The brain is not a muscle. That is an urban myth, along with the myth that you use only 10% of your brain (or 1%, or 4%, or 20%, or whatever bullshit number you've heard throughout your life).

Every memory forms neurological links in the brain. It's associative. Stronger associations are easier to grasp at than weaker associations: your brain will attach pancakes to a recipe for pancakes if you cook pancakes a lot, as well as to tastes and smells and visual appearance; but it may attach pickled garlic to an idea, and to the idea of garlic and pickling, attached to vinegar, rather than directly to tastes and smells and opinions and familiar visual imagery and a recipe (process, materials) for pickling garlic.

More recent and more familiar memories tend to associate more with your current, every-day life. When your life changes--which is all the time--those associations drop away. Ties back to them are maintained by the strong memory of your extended long-term recall. As the years pass, those things become mixed around, and eventually the links are hard to locate. That's why you forget things: they're memorable because they're meaningful, and because the thing that makes them meaningful is familiar--meaningful itself.

Your brain doesn't actually get stronger by doing mental bench-presses. You just solidify the information you're working with, or develop implicit mnemonics techniques (people learn to chunk double-digit numbers or make them meaningful, etc.), or tie a bunch of stuff together when working in the same domain. It's like a hard drive that accesses things faster and more reliably when there's more things on it, and when those things are similar--or like a node database.

Comment: Re:Right... (Score 1) 435

Mental engagement in particular

Somewhat. It has to do with memory, though; the brain is not a muscle, and working it does not keep it healthy. Each time you remember something, however, it does become more linked and thus more accessible; this is exactly as true at age 8 as at age 80, barring dementia or other mental disease related to the structure of the brain failing.

Comment: Re:Right... (Score 2) 435

The funny thing is mental exercise doesn't strengthen the brain. The brain is not a muscle; it doesn't become stronger with use.

People think I'm a genius. It took me forever to realize, of course, they're right. Of course I'm a genius. It all makes sense. I didn't put my brain on some kind of mind-treadmill to get this way; it just is.

Being a genius is all about technique. The brains of great memorizers like Dominic O'Brien or Ben Pridmore are exactly like the brains of the average human. The brains of genius thinkers are similarly a near-match for your average flaming dumbass. It's all technique.

Each time you interact with a piece of information, it becomes more fixed in your mind: the more you use English or Japanese, the better you get with assembling or interpreting sentences in those languages, even though you won't get better at other languages that way. When you study a new language, you steadily pick up habits conducive to learning new languages, internally and externally. When you study math, the mathematical formula become entrenched in your mind; new formula work on the same concepts, and thus are readily understood.

Mnemonics are a good place to start: with immediate access to piles of information comes immediate association with new information and new problems. Just as with math or a language, you strengthen your mind's grasp on mnemonic techniques each time you use them. Just as with developing habits to learn languages, you can develop mnemonic techniques like Method of Loci and Major System, or habitual study methods like SQ3R. Like any new habit--driving, a new sport, Go or the inferior Chess, novel writing--it will be exhausting at first, consuming analytic resources and activating the energy-hungry prefrontal cortex; with use, the habit is encoded in the energy-light basal ganglia, and becomes natural and easy.

By encoding these behaviors into your study habits, you train yourself to take in, make meaningful, categorize, organize, store, recall, and put to use new information rapidly and efficiently. The immense and exhausting effort of learning new things still happens, but it happens for a much shorter time, and at much reduced load. Because you remember more of what you're learning, it becomes more meaningful: whatever you just learned in the previous section is memorized more completely, and can be recalled to explain and give meaning to what you're learning in the current section, thus making both more memorable and strengthening their encoding in your brain.

The ability to quickly learn new things makes you smart, unlike normal, dumb people who can't learn shit. The ability to quickly recall what you know as related to what you want to accomplish is the ability to quickly solve problems, which also makes you smart. Apply your knowledge effectively and you stand out from all others. You can even compare IQ tests with every abstract and logical problem you've ever seen, applying familiar reasoning to familiar problems, and familiar analysis to unfamiliar problems, scoring higher on these tests than you otherwise would--and then you can pass a MENSA exam, and have a framed placard stating you're a certified genius.

Memory capacity, and all implied by it, don't decrease with age. Consider that as a final point: bluntly playing the same mind games (e.g. sudoku) won't keep you smart; but your brain won't decay unless taken by serious disease.

Comment: Re:It's the early morning people who are nuts (Score 1) 127

by bluefoxlucid (#47963509) Attached to: 'Why Banana Skins Are Slippery' Wins IgNobel

or goes to bed too late?

The implication is that humans are genetically predisposed to be awake for a few hours after the sun goes down, and sensitive to daylight. It's the same as tulips opening at night, or mice sleeping during the day. It appears 80% of humans are genetically predisposed to stay up later and wake up later than agrarian society dictates (you have to get up way early to tend crops and milk cows).

Comment: Re:More mental retardation (Score 1) 171

by bluefoxlucid (#47947401) Attached to: The Minecraft Parent

It's been happening forever. In the 1500s, a Catholic Priest dedicated his efforts to attacking the mnemonics techniques used to memorize scripture--and everything else--because they attached lewd and base images to ideas in the mind. This happened after one preacher admitted he used an image of a naked virgin girl in a not-so-puritan situation to help remember some odd line of the Catholic bible. Having such thoughts in peoples's heads was unacceptable, entirely.

Comment: Re:It's the early morning people who are nuts (Score 2) 127

by bluefoxlucid (#47946983) Attached to: 'Why Banana Skins Are Slippery' Wins IgNobel

I've noticed about five people have responded, and some of them have user IDs in the millions. That's a pretty small cross-section; and I've had up to 50 responses to posts on Slashdot in under an hour, when I've really pissed the crowd off with some uncomfortable fact. I'm not taking much stock in the overwhelming rise of the majority rule of morning people here.

There is some evidence that 80% of the population awakens far too early, to detrimental effect on health. The idea has gained some traction slowly over the past decade or two; in the next 30-40 years, I expect we'll link circadian disruption by bastardized early-riser sleep culture to the high incidence of stupidity, depression, and psychosis leading to school shootings.

Comment: Re:More mental retardation (Score 1) 171

by bluefoxlucid (#47946851) Attached to: The Minecraft Parent

Sticking your child in front of a video game to parent for you is NOT engaging.

Children need independence. Independence doesn't mean mommy isn't around; it means they make decisions and mistakes on their own, and are able to move away from their parents and return by their own action--even if they're instructed when to do so. Such instruction is engagement, as is parents asking where you're going, where you've been, what you've done, and having food prepared for you when you get home.

We can extrapolate theoretically from here, but that's not the point. Above illustrates that parental engagement does not require your child to be chained to a desk with a single activity when not engaged by the parent. My argument was on this balance of time, and on the impact thereof in regards to independent social and environmental experience versus isolation with a single activity.

To compare: we could also talk about break time spent smoking versus break time spent walking around the building. If you bring a healthy diet into this discussion, you are babbling on about irrelevancies.

If you aren't rich you should always look useful. -- Louis-Ferdinand Celine