Challenging the Perception of Early Achievers

Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard is a self-professed late bloomer. At 26 years old, he was a graduate of Stanford University (which he says he got into on a fluke) working as a security guard, with little direction in life. It wasn’t until soon after, when he was given an opportunity to be a technical writer, that he “felt a cognitive renaissance in that path.”

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Kevin Ochsner. Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.

At last week’s Brainwave event at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, Karlgaard sat down with neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner, whose lab studies emotion and self-control at Columbia University, for a conversation about late bloomers. What started as an exchange about their personal experiences soon became a discussion over the pros and cons of early focus versus finding one’s path later in life.

Both guests criticized the pressure placed on children by schools and oftentimes parents to be high achievers at early ages when critical capabilities are still evolving. Kaarlgard cited research by Harvard’s Laura Germine and colleagues, who reported that different capabilities peak in different stages of our lives. For example, raw speed in processing information seemed to peak around age 18 or 19, while the ability to evaluate other people’s emotional states did not peak until the 40s or 50s.

Ochsner warned of defining achievement too narrowly, as standardized tests, such as the SAT and GRE, often do, without taking into account other forms of intelligence, especially emotional intelligence. Historically, passion and reason were treated as distinct, “as one rises, the other falls,” he said. But that model does not match the research. Gut feelings and insight are largely driven by systems associated with emotion, he said.

Ochsner told the audience that when interviewing Ph.D. candidates at Columbia, he won’t consider applicants who don’t show interests beyond academics. These students have proven they’re very good at being students, in a set structure, he said, but being a Ph.D. student is like being an entrepreneur of your own company. They need to be able to handle criticism and choose their areas of study, he explained. Demonstrated characteristics like maturity and resilience score high during his application evaluations.

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Rich Karlgaard. Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art.

Passion as a driving force to success was a theme revisited throughout the night’s discussion; early achievers often seem to know what they want to do from a young age and receive validation for it, while late bloomers may want to explore options before settling down in one area, Karlgaard posited. Being a late bloomer is “the perfect intersection of our deepest passions and talents,” he said.

Both speakers had ideas on how to nurture curiosity and exploration in a data-driven world. Karlgaard proposed a skilled trades track in school (what used to be called “shop”), gap years in between high school and college (but not just a long vacation), and mandatory service, whether military or community service.

Ochsner circled back to the importance of nurturing emotional or social intelligence so that you can “learn how to get out of your own way and access your own potential.” He pointed to the work being done at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, where they have designed curriculum for schools that supports the development of emotional intelligence.

Ochsner also called out what he saw as trends in education that have not proven to work. Assigning homework at early grade levels and over-planning kids’ afterschool activities have not been proven to help them succeed, he said. Taking away recess is a “huge mistake.”

With that food for thought, Tim McHenry, director of programs and engagement at the Rubin Museum, closed the night’s discussion by tying it back to the museum’s Himalayan roots, noting the increase in meditation in classrooms and the growing scientific validation for it, as a way to achieve a sense of balance.

Brainwave events are planned through September. To see the remaining events and to purchase tickets, visit the Rubin Museum website.

– Ann L. Whitman

Community Neuroscience: How to Build an Outreach Organization

The latest episode of Community Neuroscience is out and all about how to build an outreach organization from the ground up. Neuroscientist Bill Griesar, Ph.D., and artist Jeff Leake, M.F.A., are faculty members of Portland State University’s psychology department, and together they are the brains behind NW Noggin (Northwest Neuroscience Outreach Group: Growing in Networks).

Founded in 2012, the arts-influenced outreach group is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization with a mission to turn kids on to the wonders of neuroscience. Bill and Jeff have since traveled all across the country to schools, displaced youth shelters, correctional facilities, and even the White House to promote learning about the brain. You can learn more about them and their work in a past Dana Blog interview.

Pediatricians’ Group Says Spanking is Ineffective, Potentially Harmful

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

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Photo: Shutterstock

It’s official: spanking is out. Time-outs are in.

That’s the lead message of a new policy statement from the largest pediatricians’ group, in its strongest warning yet against the use of spanking or other harsh punishments–ever–by parents and others charged with caring for children. It’s the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) first update to its policy guideline on discipline since 1998, when it discouraged but did not specifically proscribe spanking. This time, the message is clear: spanking doesn’t work and may cause harm. Ditto for harsh verbal reprimand that shames or humiliates.

The policy, which is intended to guide clinicians in their interactions with parents, cites 20 years of scientific research it says overwhelmingly demonstrates that corporal punishment is not only ineffective as a disciplinary measure, but may be harmful. Spanking in and of itself is associated with adverse outcomes that are similar to those seen in physical child abuse. Continue reading

Community Neuroscience: How to Teach Brain Science to Kids

In the newest episode of our “Community Neuroscience” video series, Eric Chudler, Ph.D., offers his advice on how to make neuroscience fun and engaging to young kids. Chudler is executive director of the Center for Neurotechnology at the University of Washington, where he conducts research related to how the brain processes information from the senses. Outside of the lab, he works with teachers to develop educational materials to help K-12 students learn about the brain and its functions and has been involved in neuroscience outreach for more than 20 years.

In addition to his longtime running Neuroscience For Kids website, Chudler’s most recent outreach endeavor is a video series called “BrainWorks” (produced with partner support from the Dana Foundation). The second episode, on exercise and the brain, landed him a Northwest Emmy Award!


Check back for next week’s episode, featuring two outreach all-stars from the west coast who created their own robust, neuroscience non-profit to excite young people about science, art, and learning about the brain.

Brain Awareness Week 2019 is Coming

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) 2019 (March 11-17) is only three months away, so it’s time to start planning your BAW activities and taking advantage of the resources we offer on the BAW website! Every March, BAW, the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research, unites the efforts of partner organizations worldwide in a week-long celebration of the brain.

During BAW, partners organize fun and fascinating activities in their communities to educate and excite people of all ages about the brain and the promise of brain research. From brain fairs to symposiums to classroom visits and film screenings, the variety of events is almost endless.

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Brainy the Robot has been making the rounds during events organized by the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania since 2010.

Continue reading

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