Introverts and Extroverts Have Different Brains

Where do you get your energy?

PrintMost people think of themselves as either an extrovert or an introvert, and they often think it has to do with how outgoing or shy they are.

And yet introversion and extroversion are actually based on where we get our energy. An easy way to tell if you’re an introvert or an extrovert is to answer this question: After a long week of work, which would you rather do: spend some quiet time alone OR go out with friends? The introverts among us would prefer some alone time, because lots of interaction can be physically and emotionally draining – introverts lose energy through human interaction and need alone time to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from interacting with others, so at the end of a busy work week, they crave time with friends and loved ones to recharge.

Research shows that the brains of extroverts and introverts actually look different, with each group processing “reward” differently. Compared to introverts, extroverts show greater activity in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens (areas linked to the brain’s reward system) when faced with risky, surprising, or unfamiliar situations. In other words, the brains of extroverts are wired to experience greater reward from unfamiliar situations. These same situations, however, can be overly stimulating for introverts, which can cause them to shut down.

There’s also research that shows that extroverts and introverts also process stimuli in different areas of the brain. For extroverts, new stimulation travels a relatively short path through the areas of the brain associated with taste, touch, and auditory and visual processing. For introverts, however, new stimulation takes a much longer, more complicated path through the areas of the brain associated with planning, remembering, and solving problems.

There is no “good” or “bad” to either side of the spectrum. In fact, extroverted people can be shy and introverted people can love public speaking. What’s important to know is that the brains of introverts and extroverts are wired differently. It’s also good to know how people on each side of the spectrum like to be treated. Check out these graphics for lots of helpful tips on the care and nurturing of the introverts and extroverts in your life!



Chocolate Improves Memory…In Snails!

Can I have a bite?

iStock_000003537039_MediumIn the category of “weird news of the day,” it turns out that scientists have discovered a way to study the impact of dark chocolate on memory skills. But not the memory skills of humans, many of whom would crawl on all fours to be chosen to eat chocolate for the advancement of science. No, the participants selected for this particular study were actually snails.

Researcher submerged snails for 30 minutes in either regular water, or water containing epicatechin, a flavonoid found in cocoa. Whenever the snails extended their breathing tubes, researchers poked them with a stick. The lead study author, Ken Lukowiak, Ph.D, compared it to tapping a sleepy student on the nose every time he yawned in class—eventually the student would remember not to yawn. Would the snails do the same?

Snails in “regular” water remembered the lesson for about three hours. Snails in the “chocolate” water remembered the lesson for 24 to 48 hours. According to Lukowiak, that’s huge. “To go from three hours to 24, you have to have altered gene activity in the neurons that make the memory.”

Luckily for us chocolate-loving humans, there are more pleasant ways to get our flavonoids. We say skip the chocolate bath and go straight for the Hershey’s.

Hello? Can You Hear Me?

How Smartphones Are Changing Your Brain


People who own smartphones often end up using their thumbs—a lot!—swiping through various touchscreens on an ongoing basis throughout the day.

All that thumb action can create physical changes in the brain, researchers say, leaving certain regions more active or even enlarged.

Scientists suspected this might be the case, since something similar happens to violinists. Regions of the brain associated with dexterity are larger in musicians who have played the violin for some time. Would smartphone thumbers show similar changes in brain activity?

Deciding to test the theory, researcher Arko Ghosh hooked 37 people—26 of whom frequently used  touch-screen smartphones—to something called an electroencephalograph. Sure enough, people who had used their smartphones a lot in the previous ten days showed increased activity in the part of the brain related to their thumbs. The eleven subjects who used cellphones with regular keypads did not show that same increased activity.

The moral of the story? We’re not sure what it all means, yet, but Ghosh did sum up his research by saying, “The digital technology we use on a daily basis shapes the sensory processing in our brains, and on a scale that surprised us.”

Liar, Liar

Tempted to Lie or Cheat? Some Scientists Say You’re More Likely to Give in to Temptation in the Afternoon

iStock_000000335618_MediumNot to give anyone an excuse for bad behavior or poor choices, but researchers are saying that “cognitive tiredness” later in the day can play a role in the decision to give in to temptation.

A number of studies seem to reveal similar findings. In one study, folks were far more likely to cheat on a task in the afternoon than in the morning. In another study, they were more likely to cheat after doing other tasks (like memorizing numbers) that left their brains somewhat fatigued.

Other researchers don’t agree. They say the studies that support what some call “morning morality” don’t take into consideration the difference between “morning” and “night” people. Their point is that you can’t really assume someone is more cognitively tired in the afternoon because that person may actually be operating at their peak at that time of day.

Try Brain Training for Yourself!

aAre you ready to give your brain a workout? One of the best ways to boost your brain power is to stress your brain with intense mental exercise, kind of like you might work out a muscle. When you do this, it strengthens the brain’s core cognitive skills, which happen to be the same skills your brain uses to think and learn.

This six-minute video walks you through the first couple levels of a LearningRx brain training exercise. There are many more levels of this exercise that our trainers can get you to. And this is just one exercise! LearningRx brain trainers have more than a hundred exercises and levels to choose from as they customize every workout to give you a faster, smarter, more efficient brain.

Try it and see what you think! And if you can feel your brain working this much just from being prompted by a video, imagine what it would be like working face-to-face with a personal trainer who really knows how to push your brain beyond where you thought it could go!

The Negative Effects of Electronics

Making Your Child’s Bedroom a “Screen-Free” Zone

53411926_thumbnailWhile past studies have linked televisions in children’s rooms to a reduction in sleep, until recently few studies examined how kids’ sleeping patterns are impacted by smaller electronics such as smart phones and tablets.

Studies on the impact of small electronics and quality of sleep are emerging now, and the findings are not good.

In fact, in one recent study, researchers found that children who slept near small screens—including those on phones and other portable electronics—reported about 21 minutes less sleep than peers who slept in electronic-free bedrooms. The kids who slept near electronics also reported feeling more sleep deprived.

Why are televisions and other electronics having such a negative impact on sleep? There are a number of possible reasons, including bright lights, sounds and alerts.

Twenty one minutes less sleep per night might not seem like a big deal, but reduced or interrupted sleep is linked to all sorts of unsavory things including obesity and poor school performance.

Bottom line, experts are suggesting keeping children less than two years old away from electronic screens altogether, and creating “screen-free zones” for older children. And one of those zones, clearly, should be the bedroom.

Talk is Cheep

A Study of Bird Communication Yields New Insights Into How the Brain Processes Sound

iStock_000019872102_LargeWe’ve known for a long time that humans are capable of assigning meaning to sounds based on context. In other words, we often figure out the meaning of a sound (take “bear” and “bare,” for example) based on where the sound falls in a string of other sounds.

It’s a fabulous skill that requires rather sophisticated cognitive abilities. And now researchers have discovered that humans are not alone in this ability. In fact, the ability to interpret sounds based on context has been observed in swamp sparrows, a grey-breasted bird found in North American wetlands.

Researchers discovered that the swamp sparrows’ “vocabulary” is made up of subsets of roughly ten different notes. What’s fascinating, however, is that the birds appear to assign different meaning to the same note depending on where it falls in a snippet of song. Researchers know this because the exact same note elicited fierce territorial behavior when heard in one location in a string of notes, and no response at all when heard in another part of the “sentence.”

What does this mean for humans? The discovery may help researchers better understand the building blocks of language in humans. In the meantime, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of avian communication. Turns out our feathered friends may have more to say than we thought.

Use the Holidays to Develop a Critical Part of Your Child’s Brain

iStock_000017348857_LargeThe holidays provide a great opportunity for developing an important part of your child’s brain. And, no, we’re not talking about filling winter break with hours of extra homework. Between family gatherings, meals, shopping, gift wrapping, scheduling, and everything else, the last thing you want to do is carve aside time for extra math or reading—and the good news is that you don’t have to! In fact, the hustle and bustle of the holidays is the very thing you can use to help develop the frontal lobe of your child’s brain.

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that thinks, plans, makes decisions, controls emotions, pays attention and gets things done. And the more opportunity your child has to exercise that area of the brain, the stronger and more efficient those skills become. You can give your child these kinds of opportunities by involving him or her in tasks like planning meals, creating and following a gift-giving budget, prioritizing holiday tasks, following a recipe, writing the family holiday newsletter, or planning a dinner party.

Holidays offer another brain benefit, and it has to do with all the socializing that often takes place.
Studies show that social interaction improves brain functioning, so encourage your child to put down that smartphone and interact with family friends and relatives during gatherings. What might help? Prepare your child with interesting questions he can ask an eccentric aunt, or give her a list of little known facts and tell her to discover which fact goes with which relative.

So the next time things get crazy and you’ve got a million things to do, delegate some of the fun to your kids. You will be developing their frontal lobes and possibly giving them stronger social skills, as well. At the very least, you’ll benefit from the extra helping hands.

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Is Your Healthy Food Everything it’s Cracked Up to Be?

Fill Your Stomach AND Your Brain!

HiResAll natural. Organic. Cage free. Range free. You’ve read the food labels, shelled out a little extra cash for the promise of healthier options, and savored the flavor of your favorite organics. But wait. If the truth were known about wholesome-labeled foods—the 100% real, 100% pure truth—you might find yourself lowering your fork. Or at least rethinking your grocery list.

There’s good news and bad news about today’s food choices. The bad news is that labels can be misleading. In fact, a growing number of nutritionists, natural food experts, and food industry insiders are blowing the whistle on some foods you’ve been led to believe are good for you and your brain. Buyers, beware when it comes to these popular foods with commonly mislabeled ingredients and processes:

Seafood and salmon. “Wild caught” and “ocean fresh” may only be partially true. Some dietary reports disclose that salmon often spend half their lives in a hatchery before they become wild stock. This is bad news because farm-raised fish contain more cancer-causing chemicals. In addition, a 2013 seafood study revealed that in the United States, 87 percent of red snapper is not red snapper and 59 percent of tuna is not tuna. Does this mean you should go fishless forever? Not necessarily. You can’t catch every deception, but do your best to be as informed as you can. Read labels. Ask restaurants and food retailers if the fish they selling is farmed, and if it’s the type of fish you think you’re buying, or a cheaper substitute.

Olive oil. Italian olive oil is often mixed with seed oils like canola, so read labels if you want to steer clear of hybrids. (Tip: Pay attention to where the oil originated. California is a more trusted source for pure olive oil).

Honey. Forget the plastic bears. Typical store honey is processed with high heat and thinned with corn syrup. Buy only unpasteurized, raw honey.

Raw almonds. Domestically grown almonds are often treated and stripped of nutrients and still labeled “raw.” Look for organic-labeled nuts, particularly imports from Spain.

Milk. Some milk producers add artificial sweeteners including aspartame, so read the label to see what you’re really buying.

Oreo cookies. What’s in that creamy filling? If you think it is real cream, think again. The the middle of an Oreo is actually made with vegetable oils and soy. We’re just sayin’.

Okay, fine, we admit it. Oreos aren’t exactly a brain-healthy food. And yet, in the grand scheme of things, it could be argued (if only with tongue in cheek) that vegetable oil and soy aren’t as bad for you as some of the chemicals and processes we’ve just identified in “healthier” options.  And in our support of Oreos, we’d like to add that cookie-dunking is still pretty much the happiest method of transporting calcium-rich, aspartame-free milk from your glass to your mouth. (See? We promised there would be good news!)

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Go Ahead. Sleep on it.

The Benefits of Taking Naps

iStock_000013131759_LargeWhat do Albert Einstein, Lady Gaga and George W. Bush have in common? Nope, not their fashion sense. The answer is …their naps. Each of these famous people is known for famously protecting their daytime dozing. Dozens of other napping notables join their ranks. Lyndon Johnson conducted presidential meetings while resting in his bed. Bill Clinton once nodded off during a Mets baseball and a memorial service for Martin Luther King Jr.

Why do we love our naps? Well, one reason is rooted in our biology. Many people’s inner clock slows between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., also known as the “postprandial dip.” Many cultures actually honor this natural energy lull with the allowable afternoon siesta, when shops close and people doze.

Sometimes people catnap because they don’t sleep enough at night. Not all of us can be like Martha Stewart who typically sleeps just four hours a day. For many of us, too-few-hours of nighttime shuteye virtually guarantees that we’ll take (or at least wish we could take) a catnap later in the day.

Body clocks and sleep deprivation aren’t the only reasons for taking a nap. Apple, Google and several other Fortune 500 businesses actually allow their staff to sleep on the job, taking naps to reboot their brains and bodies. They believe they reap the benefits in employees’ increased productivity as well as overall morale boost.

The benefits of sleep are myriad, proving that the old saying “You snooze, you lose” couldn’t be farther from the truth. At least not according to scientists and researchers who say naps are good for you in these and other ways:

  • Improved thinking and problem solving
  • Sharpened focus and alertness
  • Increased memory
  • Steadied emotional resiliency
  • Cleansed brain toxins
  • Reduced risk for heart disease
  • Lowered obesity and improved weight loss

In fact, researchers at U.C. Berkley found that an hour nap significantly increases memory and learning ability. In another study at the University of Colorado—Boulder, kids who didn’t nap proved more cranky and anxious. There’s even proven research on the ideal length for naps and what happens if you nap for too long.

Getting a good night’s rest on a regular basis is the best plan. But whether or not you get a full night’s sleep, a 10-15 minute rest during the day can leave you feeling recharged. So find a restful place to snooze and turn down the lights. Pull out the fuzzy socks, the lavender eye mask and the ocean soundtrack and nod off.

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