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.”

Kevin

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.

Rich Karlgaard Headshot1

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

Upcoming Brain Events in New York City

baw-2017

This year’s Brain Awareness Week (BAW) was another success with over 850 registered events worldwide (including 42 countries and 44 states)! We spoke with BAW partners from Korea, Israel, and the US, and went to the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC to learn more about perception with their Brainwave series. For those of you living in the NYC area, if you weren’t able to attend any local events, it’s not too late!

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Whoopi Goldberg, David Eagleman, and the Brain

Karma is the Sanskrit word for action and is a fundamental concept in Buddhism that refers to our actions as having a direct effect on our future conditions. But what is it about our brains that sucker us into making decisions we know are not grounded in reality? “We’re not fixed. From cradle to grave, we are works in progress,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman. Last week at New York City’s Rubin Museum, Eagleman was joined by actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg for an entertaining discussion on whether “fate and destiny should be deciding factors in human behavior.”

Photo credit: Lyn Hughes/Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

Photo credit: Lyn Hughes/Courtesy of the Rubin Museum

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Dana News E-Blast: July

Below is yesterday’s Dana News email blast. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.

The Power of Tau

july eblastby Patrick F. Sullivan, MD, FRANZCP

In July 2014, an international consortium of schizophrenia researchers mounted the largest biological experiment in the history of psychiatry. Now, with many more avenues for exploring the biological underpinnings of schizophrenia available to neuroscientists, hope may be on the way for the estimated 1 in 100 people worldwide affected by the illness. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas. Also check out a Q&A with Dr. Sullivan.

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The Science Behind Fear and Anxiety

In a packed theater at the Rubin Museum last Wednesday, Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D., and Mark Epstein, M.D., shared the stage to untangle the mysteries behind two emotions that we are all too familiar with: anxiety and fear. Epstein is a psychiatrist in New York City, who blends Buddhist practices with his work in psychotherapy. Ledoux directs the Emotional Brain Institute of New York University, where he is also University Professor.

Epstein (left) and LeDoux (right) Photo by Lyn Hughes, courtesy Rubin Museum of Art

Epstein (left) and LeDoux (right) Photo by Lyn Hughes, courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art

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