Aerobic fitness correlated with white matter integrity in children

21 Aug

A paper in Frontiers in Neuroscience: “Aerobic fitness is associated with greater white matter integrity in children.” Here is the abstract:

“Aerobic fitness has been found to play a positive role in brain and cognitive health of children. Yet, many of the neural biomarkers related to aerobic fitness remain unknown. Here, using diffusion tensor imaging, we demonstrated that higher aerobic fitness was related to greater estimates of white matter microstructure in children. Higher fit 9- and 10-year-old children showed greater fractional anisotropy (FA) in sections of the corpus callosum, corona radiata, and superior longitudinal fasciculus, compared to lower fit children. The FA effects were primarily characterized by aerobic fitness differences in radial diffusivity, thereby raising the possibility that estimates of myelination may vary as a function of individual differences in fitness during childhood. White matter structure may be another potential neural mechanism of aerobic fitness that assists in efficient communication between gray matter regions as well as the integration of regions into networks.”

From the conclusion:

“Hopefully (sic) these findings will reinforce the importance of aerobic fitness during development and lead to additional physical activity opportunities in and out of the school environment.”

We should think about these results when we hear about efforts to cut physical education in the schools.


BKS Iyengar

20 Aug

I woke up this morning to the sad news that BKS Iyengar died.


Animals closer to human speech than thought

20 Aug


“The “Chickadee dee dee” call by Black-capped chickadees is one of the most complex vocalizations in the animal kingdom and is said to be language -like.”

Originally posted on Dear Kitty. Some blog:

This video from North America says about itself:

Black-Capped Chickadee Vocalizations – Did You Know?

19 April 2014

The “Chickadee dee dee” call by Black-capped chickadees is one of the most complex vocalizations in the animal kingdom and is said to be language -like. This call is used in many social interactions such as, contacting members of the flock, or giving information about an individual’s identity, other slight changes in the phrase of this call can relay other specific messages.

Who’s who?: How chickadees figure out dominance hierarchies through song: here.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Animal noises ‘more closely linked’ with human speech

Tuesday 19th August 2014

ANIMAL vocalisations have more in common with human speech than previously thought, scientists claimed today.

Research published by the Royal Society in its Proceedings B biological science journal suggests there may be a missing link between sounds animals…

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“Will students pass a competitive exam that they failed in their dreams?”

19 Aug

Hat tip to the Dream & Nightmare Lab blog for alerting me to this study. Here is the abstract:

“We tested whether dreams can anticipate a stressful exam and how failure/success in dreams affect next-day performance. We collected information on students’ dreams during the night preceding the medical school entrance exam. Demographic, academic, sleep and dream characteristics were compared to the students’ grades on the exam. Of the 719 respondents to the questionnaire (of 2324 total students), 60.4% dreamt of the exam during the night preceding it. Problems with the exam appeared in 78% of dreams and primarily involved being late and forgetting answers. Reporting a dream about the exam on the pre-exam night was associated with better performance on the exam (p = .01). The frequency of dreams concerning the exam during the first term predicted proportionally higher performance on the exam (R = 0.1, p = .01). These results suggest that the negative anticipation of a stressful event in dreams is common and that this episodic simulation provides a cognitive gain.”

From the paper’s conclusion:

“In conclusion, dreams about the exam were frequent the day before and several days and months prior to the exam, even among students who had not yet experienced the exam. Although the dreams primarily represented problems and failure, these contextual, anticipatory dreams predicted better performance on the exam. These results suggest that this cognitive episodic simulation in dreams is common.”

Here is a 1942 newsreel from British Pathé with an unscientific view of dreams:

A case for rote memory

18 Aug

One thing that most educators agree on is that rote memory is bad. One often sees phrases like “unthinking memorization” and ” rote learning without understanding.”  But research continues to show that rote memory is an essential component of learning. Here, for example, is an AP story about recent research on the brain and math learning:

“Sometime in elementary school, you quit counting your fingers and just know the answer. Now scientists have put youngsters into brain scanners to find out why, and watched how the brain reorganizes itself as kids learn math.

The take-home advice: Drilling your kids on simple addition and multiplication may pay off.”

Automaticity, the ability to respond rapidly and accurately at a basic level, is essential for higher level performance. Automaticity is primarily learned through rote memorization and it is a prerequisite for those higher level skills we value. Opposition to memorization undermines higher level thinking.

Rather than eliminating rote memory, we need to find ways to make it more effective and less burdensome.



Associative Memory- the basic principle

18 Aug


“The brain simply loves linking things together”

Originally posted on memorystrings:

The brain simply loves linking things together, and rightly so, because doing this is one of the main ways we take in information. The complex knowledge we possess is the byproduct of large numbers of associations within the brain. This remarkable ability to form, learn, and remember the relationships between previously unrelated or unknown items is called associative memory.

Although visual memory is perhaps more well known, we heavily rely on associative memory in our daily lives and in higher functioning reasoning. Every day we link faces to names and words to meaning. We are constantly filing information by what it’s related to, and linking new stimuli to our previous experience. And above all, we remember these connections. Thinking of one thing can jog your memory, and remind you of some other thing associated with it that you may not have been able to fully access before.

Human memory is fundamentally associative. You can…

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Dogs enjoy solving problems

17 Aug

From the journal Animal Cognition, “Positive affect and learning: exploring the ‘Eureka Effect’ in dogs.” From the abstract:

“Experimental dogs showed signs of excitement (e.g., increased tail wagging and activity) in response to their achievements, whereas controls showed signs of frustration (e.g., chewing of the operant device) in response to the unpredictability of the situation. The intensity of emotional response in experimental dogs was influenced by the reward type, i.e., greatest response to food and least to another dog. Our results suggest that dogs react emotionally to problem-solving opportunities and that tail wagging may be a useful indicator of positive affective states in dogs.”

Here is a good popular account of the study.

I know this video is only tangentially related to this post, but I can’t resist an excuse to share it:


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