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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Joys of Consciousness

The Joys of Consciousness

You take time to be alone, valuing your personal time.
You meditate.
You feel light and buoyant.
You feel spiritually uplifted.
You find a solution to a problem.
You have a fresh new idea.
You notice something beautiful.
You walk outside in nature and feel refreshed.
You engage in physical activity that's invigorating.
You are playful and take time to play.
There is a moment of pure joy.

You smile in appreciation.
You respect someone else's boundaries without being asked.
You lift someone else's spirits.
You make another person laugh.
You give someone a helping hand.
You do something kind.
You forgive a slight.
You offer yourself in service to someone in need.
You feel a close bond with another person.
You cherish another person.

from The Healing Self by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi
     re-sequenced to show the joys of nurturing oneself and then nurturing others.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

IQ Changes in Teenagers

Common wisdom asserts that your IQ is fixed. Of course, the various “multiple intelligences” change with personal life experiences and growth, but we usually consider the standard IQ score to be inherent and unchangeable. But even the standard IQ measure changes during different life stages. Clearly, the IQ of young children changes as they mature. Several studies even show that working-memory training can raise the IQ of elementary-school children. More than one analyst claims that a rigorous PhD program can raise IQ in adults. Most obvious is the decline of IQ in those elderly who do not age well because of disease.

A neglected segment along the age spectrum is the teenage years. Now, evidence indicates that this age group experiences IQ changes ranging from a decline to an increase. A study of this issue shows that both verbal and non-verbal IQ scores in teenagers relate closely to the developmental changes that occur in brain structure during the teenage years. Longitudinal brain-imaging studies in the same individuals reveal that either increases or decreases in IQ occur coincident with structural changes in cerebral grey matter that occur in teenagers.

The study conducted MRI brain scans and IQ tests on 33 normal adolescents in early teenage years and then again in late teenage years.  A wide range of IQs were noted, 77 to 135 in the early group and 87 to 143 in the late group. For any given individual, the change in IQ score changed from -20 to +23 for verbal IQ and -28- to +17 for non-verbal IQ. Correlation analysis revealed that increases in IQ were associated with increased in cortical density and volume for brain regions involved in verbal and movement functions.

The implications are profound, especially as they relate to the local environment of a given teenager. What happens during the teenager years apparently changes brain structure and mental ability. Many influences likely damage the brain, such as drug abuse, or social stress, or poor education and intellectual stimulation. Conversely, the data indicate that positive benefits to both brain structure and mental capability can result from a mentally healthy environment and rich educational experience.
The data suggest that all the emphasis on pre-school and “Head Start” initiatives may diminish our attention to the key role played by middle school and early high school. This confirms what many of us always suspected, namely that our society tends to insufficiently nurture “late bloomers.” Maybe the early high achievers who fail to live up to their promise do so, because we wrongly assume they can manage without much help. Parents, educators, and education policy makers need to take notice.
Few books can change a person's future. One of them could be my book, Better Grades, Less Effort, which explains the learning tips and tricks that I used to become valedictorian, when a high school teacher said my modest IQ did not justify the high grades I was making. Teachers predicted I "would have trouble with college." Really? I went on to be an Honors student in three universities -- including graduating early with a D.V.M. degree and securing a PhD in two-and-a-half years. My IQ documented that I was not so smart. I believe that poor learning skills are what hold back most students from superior achievement. This book can change a person's life, as my own experiences with learning how to learn have changed my life. I suspect it helped my brain development as well.


Ramsden, Sue et al. (2011). Verbal and non-verbal intelligence changes in the teenage brain. Nature. May 17. Doi:10:1038/nature10514.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

The “Production Effect” Aids Memory

The hardest memory task I ever had was to give an 18-minute TED talk from memory. I remember struggling with remembering my core ideas and their sequence. To solve this problem, my first task was to create some slides, which the TED format allows. The directors even show the slides on a monitor at the foot of the stage that only the speaker can see. Looking at each slide as it advanced helped provide cues in the proper order, but to be effective, slides must not have much text, and in no case can a given slide reveal on its own the associated content. I still had a memorization problem. Then I remembered the “production effect,” which basically is a way to strengthen memory by actually forcing the recall in the appropriate setting. In other words, I needed to rehearse by actually giving the speech, vocalizations, mannerisms, and all, in front of a mirror.

The usual thing we think of about improving memory is the need for rehearsal, especially the kind of rehearsal where you force recall at spaced intervals after the initial learning. But another factor in improving memory is to strengthen the initial encoding at the time of learning. Actually, this is common sense. We all have experienced the case where we remember an intense experience primarily because it is intense. In other words, the intensity strengthened the encoding.

A well-known technique is to use the “production effect.” Basically, this means that encoding is strengthened by generating what you are learning at the time of learning by speaking it, singing it, drawing it, or deploying it in some way (as in “hands on”). Handwriting or typing the information strengthens encoding, and studies have shown that handwriting is more effective than typing. Any of these approaches is much more effective than silent reading, viewing, or listening.

Many such studies confirm the effect. For example, in one study, saying each word in a word list to be memorized, improves recall more than 15% more than silent reading. The same degree of improvement occurs with such mouthing the words.

Why this works to improve memory probably relates to the fact that more attentiveness and processing is required in production than in just silent reading or listening. One common explanation is that production makes each item more distinctive. That is, by saying it, drawing it, or whatever, the item acquires more features and becomes more distinctive.

As far as I know, the production effect has been studied only with respect to rote memory tasks. I should think that it would be even more powerful if applied when using mnemonics. For example, if you are using the “memory palace,” as you place an item to be memorized on a room object in your mind’s eye, you might actually describe out loud what you are imagining.

The production effect should also be useful during forced retrieval rehearsals as well, as I did in learning my TED talk. I am not aware of experiments that test use of production in rehearsal. Anytime you retrieve a memory item, it is an opportunity to re-learn it in a sense, and the information gets re-consolidated. So, if you speak, draw, or use another production effect during forced recall, you further strengthen the encoding and subsequent consolidation.

Whether you are a student seeking better grades, a professional trying to stay at the top of your game, or a senior hoping to stave off mental decline, my book Memory Power 101 is your key to developing and maintaining a sharper mind. The book shares Memory Medic's  decades of professional experience in education and neuroscience. 


Bodner, Glen E. and MacLeod, Colin M. (2016). The benefits of studying by production … and of studying production: Introduction to the Special Issue on the Production Effect in Memory. Canadian Journal of Psychology. 70(2),89-92.

MacLeod, Colin M., and Bodner, Glen E. (2017) The production effect in memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 26(4), 390-395.