Book Summary – Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Posted: January 29, 2014 by Todd in Books, Productivity
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Brain Rules


Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

John Medina – 2008, Pear Press

Finished January, 2014. (short videos summarizing each chapter/rule)
Chapters have summaries at the end

Chapter 1: Exercise – Rule #1 – Exercise Boosts Brain Power

  • “one of the greatest predictors of successful aging was the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle.”
  • “when couch potatoes are enrolled in an aerobic exercise program, all kinds of mental abilities begin to come back online.”
  • Gold standard: 30 minutes of aerobic activity 2 to 3 times weekly
  • Physical activity also helps with all sorts of mental diseases
  • Exercise provides greater access of oxygen to your brain [more…]
Chapter 2: Survival – Rule #2 – The Human Brain Evolved, Too
  • Weather changes compelled cognitive changes, adaptation to different landscapes – “Variability Selection Theory” (Richard Potts)
  • Prefrontal cortex controls “executive functions” and separates us from other animals
  • Three brains:
    • Paleomammalian Brain – Lizard Brain – Four F’s: fighting, feeding, fleeing, and fucking
    • Mammalian Brain – Second Brain – Emotions and Memories
    • Cortex – Human Brain –
  • We have the ability to predict the interior mind states of others [Todd: Isn’t this a problem too?]
Chapter 3: Wiring – Rule #3 – Every Brain is Wired Differently
  • “A great deal of the brain is hard-wired not to be hard wired.”
  • Brain wiring is as unique as our individual experiences. These are physical brain changes in the actual brain.
  • The major structural wiring is basically the same in different people
  • The neurosurgeon believes in billions of different types of intelligence
Chapter 4: Attention – Rule #4 – We don’t pay attention to boring things
  • “The more attention the brain pays to a given stimulus, the more elaborately the information will be encoded – and retained.”
  • [Todd’s note: This seems very similar to the message of Made to Stick]
  • Four practical truths about attention:
    • Emotions get our attention
    • Meaning before details
    • The brain cannot multitask
    • The brain needs a break
  • We seem to need “emotional hooks” to provide breaks for our brains every 10 minutes or so.

Chapter 5: Short Term Memory – Rule #5 – Repeat to Remember

  • “People usually forget 90% of what they learn in a class within 30 days.”  Most of this occurs within the first few hours after class.
  • You can increase the life span of a memory by repeating the information in timed intervals.
  • Memory can be divided into 4 sequential steps: encoding, storing, retrieving, and forgetting
  • As the memory encodes, it binds memories to other things
  • All senses are used in memory
  • Scientists don’t have an answer for the “binding problem” – how we manage to keep tabs of information for years
  • Three real world applications for binding:
    • The more elaborately we encode information at the moment of learning, the stronger the memory.  The trick for communicators is to do this in such a way that hearers do this on their own.
    • A memory trace appears to be stored in the same parts of the brain that perceived and processed the initial input.  (Concete walkways made from grass paths)
    • Retrieval may best be improved by replicating the conditions surrounding the initial encoding.  “Context-dependent” and “State-dependent” learning
  • Information is remembered best when it is elaborate, meaningful, and contextual.  This is why examples are so powerful.
  • Introductions are everything.  The first time something happens it has disproportionate power to be memorable.

Chapter 6: Long-Term Memory – Rule #6 – Remember to Repeat

  • Working memory’s three-component model – auditory, visual, and executive.
  • Our long term memory of events can be very inaccurate on the details.
  • “Present knowledge can bleed into past memories and become intertwined with them as if they were encountered together.” [Todd’s note: Honesty can be a very tricky thing.]
  • “The typical human brain can hold about seven pieces of information for less than 30 seconds!”  Re-exposure is key to long term memory.
  • “Maintenance Rehearsal” – re-exposing memories to one’s self for long term memory
  • “Elaborative Rehearsal” – tendency to talk about events, cementing them in one’s mind
  • Ebbinghaus’ “forgetting curves” illustrate the need to repeat information quickly after learned. [Todd Idea – type notes after lecture 2 hours later; Do something on social media with information a few hours later; Force self to write reviews on Amazon of books; Force self to blog about readings and learnings; Read then listen to Audiobook later; Make one-page summaries and then review in intervals]
  • Intervaled repetition of knowledge helps recall and learning.
  • Exposure yourself to information “more elaborately” for higher quality retrieval.
  • Best recall practice >> Fixed elaborate intervals of exposure to information.
  • “It’s not called romance; it’s called long-term potentiation.”  (LTP)
  • It can take years (as many as 11!) for long term memory to solidify (hippocampus letting go of its cortical relationship).
  • Our memory is unstable until solidified.
  • Long term remembrances reenact our original patterns during the first moments of learning.
  • Forgetting allows us to prioritize events.
  • Medina suggests restructuring school to favor intervaled recall both in the short and long term.
Chapter 7: Sleep – Rule #7 – Sleep well, think well
  • Sleep is intimately related with cognitive performance.
  • Without sleep, anyone will go into psychosis.
  • Brain activity is greater than during waking state during REM.
  • Scientists don’t exactly know what sleep is for.
  • The basic pattern we need is 16 hours consciously awake to 8 hours asleep.
  • Two systems seem to be at “war” with one another – one trying to keep you awake, another asleep.
  • Different people have different sleeping patterns, e.g., “larks,” “hummingbirds,” and “owls.”
  • Everyone seems to need a 30 minute nap sometime in the early afternoon – it is part of our natural cycle.
  • Obliquitous insights can often come to us after “sleeping on it” as they did for Mendeleyev and periodic tables.
  • We replay daily patterns at an accelerated rate during our sleep.
  • Some real world ideas:
    • Match sleep chronotypes to work around their productivity schedules – “A business of the future will need to become involved in some aspect of its employees sleep schedules.”
    • Promote naps
Chapter 8: Stress – Rule #8 – Stressed Brains Don’t Learn the Same Way
  • In situations of extreme, continued stress, we tend towards “learned helplessness,” preventing us from seeing options.
  • If these 3 are present, someone is stressed: (1) objective, measurable, physiological response, (2) the stressor is perceived as aversive, (3) stressee does not feel in control of the stressor
  • The cortisol and other physiological responses to stress come from the hypothalamus and are necessary for our survival
  • Our stress response is shaped to incidents that last a few minutes, not years.
Chapter 9: Sensory Integration – Rule #9 – Stimulate More of the Senses
  • Three steps of sensory perception: (1) sensation, (2) routing, (3) perception
  • Multisensory perception includes recall (esp. long term)
  • Rules for multimedia presentation: (Two senses – sight & hearing)
    • MULTIMEDIA – Words AND pictures are better than either alone
    • TEMPORAL CONTIGUITY – Corresponding words and pictures should be shown together
    • SPATIAL CONTIGUITY – Corresponding words and pictures should be spatially near one another
    • COHERENCE – Exclude extraneous material
    • MODALITY – Animation + Narration > Animation + Text
  • Smell can evoke memories (Proust effect), especially emotional ones
Chapter 10: Vision – Rule #10 – Vision Trumps All Other Senses
  • “We actually experience our visual environment as a fully analyzed opinion about what the brain thinks is out there.”
  • Our brain puts together a single approximation of what our two eyes see.
  • Cool experiment that shows how eyes see slightly different things at 3151/pg 230
  • The brain uses your prior experience with events of the past (in part) to create the singe images from 2 eyes
  • Creating vision in the brain takes up about half of the total power our brain uses.
  • Text and oral transmission are WAY less effective than pictures
  • Donald in Mathmagic Land –
  • Usually, movement is better than still images.
Chapter 11: Gender – Rule #11 – Male and Female Brains are Different
  • Only the male’s Y chromosome determines gender with the SRY gene.  Y has been shedding genes throughout evolution.  X has not.  [Todd: Could there be long term evolutionary advantage in the female typology?]
  • Many of the 1500 genes on X chromosome involve brain function.
  • There are brain structure differences in men and women – amygdala (larger in males) & serotonin production (faster in males)
  • Right brain as creative; left brain as analytical is a folk tale
  • The right brain tends to remember the gist, while the left tends to remember details.
  • Women are better (as a statistical whole) at “verbal capacity.”
  • Boys tend to cooperate through competition.
  • Both genders maintain hierarchy through communication, but males tend to do so through more direct dominance, whereas females through cooperation
  • It is impossible to declare these differences to be wholly or even mostly biological.
  • Math and science may lend themselves to rewarding competitive tendencies with more objective “right answers,” whereas language arts may lend themselves to more cooperative, “me too” discussion of feelings that reward cooperative tendencies.

Chapter 12: Exploration

  • Babies model how we learn – hypothesis, experimentation, testing
  • Adults can learn and actively create new neural structures, even if some start to become permanent
  • Medical school is a good example of a balanced blend between classroom theory and knowledge with real life practice and hypothesis, experimentation and testing

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