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

New High School Neuroscience Curriculum

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Image: Shutterstock

A neuroscience curriculum for high school students has found a home on The Franklin Institute’s new website dedicated to the brain. Educators looking to generate excitement about brain science with an eye towards the field’s societal implications can now access the expertly reviewed—and free—resource.

The curriculum, developed jointly by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neuroscience & Society and The Franklin Institute, is a cohesive blueprint of instructional material designed around teenagers’ everyday decisions as they enter adulthood. The website describes the units as roughly two-week-long sections that can be offered as a semester-long course or as stand-alone components that can be incorporated into existing courses. Continue reading

Scouts Healthy Brain Initiative: Order Your Patches!

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Girl Scout Troop #72, Nashville, Tennessee, 2018

Are you involved with the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts of America? If so, the order form for the Scouts Healthy Brain Initiative Fun Patch is now available! Scout leaders within the United States and Canada can now order up to 50 patches for their troops.

The Scouts Healthy Brain Initiative aims to bring the topics of neuroscience and brain health into Boy Scout and Girl Scout troop meetings. Planning a fun-filled educational activity can be as easy as using some of our downloadable materials from the Dana Foundation site, including puzzles, games, fact sheets, and lesson plans. Inviting a neuroscientist or other brain health professional to speak to troops is another great way to participate in this initiative. Troop leaders can also teach their scouts how to be become an advocate for brain health and neuroscience research. To earn their patches, the only requirement is that Scouts learn about the brain! Continue reading

Sleep Video Wins Top Honors in 2018 Brain Awareness Contest

It’s commonly known that sleep is important for people to function, but want to dig a little deeper and learn about how it may affect the inner workings of our brains? Cue the Society for Neuroscience’s winner for the 2018 Brain Awareness Video Contest! In Bradley Allf’s video, “I Think, Therefore I Sleep,” he talks about how sleep is believed to affect our memory, function, and health, using craftsy animations and simple explanations.

SfN holds this educational and entertaining video contest every year, asking contestants from around the world to submit a short video “exploring the wonders of the brain and nervous system.”

The top three winners and one honorable mention were announced this week. Joining Allf, a lab technician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are Catherine Bird with “Runners’ High,” Guillaume Riesen with “The Funny Bone: Butt Dialing Your Brain By,” and Anna Maralit with ”Dopey Dopamine.”

Watch these four videos now and take a moment to vote for the People’s Choice winner! You have until the end of the month to cast your vote.

If you’re interested in entering next year’s contest, you can read the guidelines on this page (just scroll down).

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!

SfN Launches New Brain Facts Book

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Credit: Society for Neuroscience

Interested in learning more about how your brain works? Whether you’re looking for information about psychiatric disorders, the developing brain, addiction, or other brain topics, the Brain Facts book by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has got you covered. Produced in partnership with The Kavli Foundation and the Gatsby Foundation, Brain Facts gives an overview of the brain and nervous system, covering a variety of important topics in understandable language. Recently, SfN launched the eighth edition of the book, which was scientifically reviewed by nine members of the Dana Alliance, among others, to make sure the information is as credible and up-to-date as possible.

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