Think Like an Olympian

rio2016For the last two weeks, the world has been watching athletes perform with superhuman-like ability at the Summer Olympics in Rio. From the television screen, the extraordinary feats of these competitors seem purely physical; but science tells us that much of their talents rely on what’s going on in their brains. In a past interview with the Dana Foundation, seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller said:

The physical aspect of the sport can only take you so far. The mental aspect has to kick in, especially when you’re talking about the best of the best. In the Olympic Games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game.

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What We Can Learn from the Minds of Olympic Athletes: Q&A with John Krakauer, M.D.

Guest blog by Kayt Sukel


The famed Olympic torch is now burning strong in Rio de Janeiro. The 2016 Summer Olympics are under way, and the best athletes in the world have come to represent their respective countries and compete for the gold. Time and time again, sports commentators regale us with stories about the necessity of a good “mental” game to find success in high profile events like the Olympics–and the scientific research, though limited, appears to back that view [See our paper: “Mental Preparation of High-Level Athletes”]. But what is it specifically about the brains of these athletes that allows them to reach these levels? John Krakauer, M.D., a neurologist at the Johns Hopkins University who studies human sensorimotor learning and performance, speaks with us about what we can learn from the minds of Olympic athletes, whether super athletes should be considered geniuses, and how those findings may one day inform rehabilitation after stroke or brain injury.

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Joshua Gordon Named New Head of NIMH

Guest Post by Kayt Sukel

joshua gordonIn late July, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it had finally completed its nearly year-long search for a new director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., said that the agency had selected Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., currently an associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, to take the helm of the $1.5 billion federal agency governing mental health research, replacing former director Thomas Insel. He is expected to start in September.


In the press release announcing the selection, Collins said, “Josh is a visionary psychiatrist and neuroscientist with deep experience in mental health research and practice. He is exceptionally well qualified to lead the NIMH research agenda to improve mental health and treatments for mental illnesses. We’re thrilled to have him join the NIH leadership team.

Gordon, whose research program focused on integrative genetic models of psychiatric disease, spoke with the Dana Foundation about why he wanted to take on this new role in his career, the importance of collaboration and communication, and where he hopes to see the agency go under his leadership.

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Dana Grantee Aims to Offer a More Personalized Treatment for Depression

DrEtkin_Jan2013_8880_5x7eIn an effort to create a more personalized approach to treating depression and to better understand its underlying circuitry, Amit Etkin of Stanford University is studying the use
of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in combination with whole-brain EEG and functional MRI. According to Etkin:

By stimulating brain activity and assessing circuit-level changes as they happen, we can garner important insight into what is wrong in depression and how to fix it in an optimized, personalized matter.

I’ll give you one concrete example: It matters whether stimulation is done to an area in the patient’s brain that is abnormal or normal. For any treatment in any psychiatric disorder, we don’t actually know whether the goal of treatment is to normalize abnormal brain activity or to engage compensatory circuitry. It’s a fundamental question that we cannot answer without a direct tool for manipulating brain systems and assessing the effects.

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Healthy Vision Month Interview

We read countless articles on the importance of diet and exercise to keep our brains and bodies as healthy as possible. Proper eye care is something that is equally important but is often overlooked. In an effort to encourage everyone to make their eye health a priority, the National Eye Institute began promoting May as “National Healthy Vision Month.” While today is officially the last day of Healthy Vision Month, it’s important that we continue to take care of our eyes all year long.

Because exercise usually involves taking part in outdoor activities, we wanted to speak with an expert on tips for maintaining eye health while playing sports. Philip R. Rizzuto, M.D., is an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The Academy was founded in 1896 and is currently the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons.

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