Archive for March, 2009

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

March 17, 2009

Today’s New York Times explains why it’s so hard to remember jokes:

For researchers who study memory, the ease with which people forget jokes is one of those quirks, those little skids on the neuronal banana peel, that end up revealing a surprising amount about the underlying architecture of memory.

Really great jokes … work not by conforming to pattern recognition routines but by subverting them. “Jokes work because they deal with the unexpected, starting in one direction and then veering off into another,” said Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” “What makes a joke successful are the same properties that can make it difficult to remember.”

Memory researchers suggest additional reasons that great jokes may elude common capture. Daniel L. Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “The Seven Sins of Memory,” says there is a big difference between verbatim recall of all the details of an event and gist recall of its general meaning.

“We humans are pretty good at gist recall but have difficulty with being exact,” he said. Though anecdotes can be told in broad outline, jokes live or die by nuance, precision and timing. And while emotional arousal normally enhances memory, it ends up further eroding your attention to that one killer frill. “Emotionally arousing material calls your attention to a central object,” Dr. Schacter said, “but it can make it difficult to remember peripheral details.”


I haven’t heard Drs. Merzenich or Tallal claim that Fast ForWord can improve a child’s sense of humor. But given the relationship of rapid auditory processing to other temporal processing tasks, there might be a case to be made…

Free Brain Health Talk

March 17, 2009

Short notice (we just stumbled onto this), but if you’ve got some time on Wednesday, you might want to check out a brain health talk hosted by Posit Science.

New studies show that the right brain exercise can make the brain faster, more focused, sharper—and even help it avoid or recover from a serious condition. To bring you more about this extraordinary wave in brain research, Posit Science is hosting a free conference call with a panel of leading neuroscience researchers.

March 18, 2009 – 10am PT, 1pm ET 

Learn more and sign up here.

Posit Science provides effective, non-invasive tools that engage the brain’s natural plasticity to improve brain health. They’ve licensed some of the technology behind the Fast ForWord programs for use with older populations. Posit’s founder and Chief Scientific Officer is Dr. Michael Merzenich, who was one of the pioneering scientists behind the development of Fast ForWord.

Happy Brain Awareness Week!

March 17, 2009

Around here, we’ll take any excuse for a party. But this is a good one: it’s Brain Awareness Week!

Brain Awareness Week

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is an international campaign dedicated to advancing public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research. Founded and coordinated by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and its sister organization, the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, BAW is now entering its fourteenth year as a catalyst for public understanding of brain science.

So fix yourself a brain-healthy meal (one with Omega-3 fatty acids, lean protein, folic acid, complex carbohydrates, and anti-oxidants), grab a crossword puzzle, and contemplate just how amazing your brain is.

Tons of Brain Awareness Week material, including games, puzzles and educational materials are on the Dana Foundation Web site.

Improving Language is a Matter of Time

March 9, 2009

Last week, Be Amazing attended Scientific Learning’s Visionary Conference, featuring professionals who provide Fast ForWord around the country and around the world. (By the way, if you want people to be excited about attending your conference, definitely call it the “Visionary Conference”; who doesn’t want to be visionary?)

Among the features of the conference were presentations by the Scientific Learning’s four founding scientists, including Dr. Paula Tallal. In addition to helping found Scientific Learning, Dr. Tallal is a founder and co-director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Dr. Tallal’s presentation re-capped some of the initial research that led to the development of the Fast ForWord programs, focusing especially on the issue of time as it relates to language. Dr. Tallal’s research takes what we know about timing in language (that very brief changes in speech sounds – measured in the 10s of milliseconds – affect meaning) and examines how deficiencies in rapid auditory processing can inhibit the ability to accurately process speech. 

Dr. Tallal shared some progressive longitudinal studies that looked at babies as young as 6 months old, and measured their rapid auditory processing abilities along with their receptive language abilities at age 2 and 3 and their reading abilities at age 7. 

What the research shows is that children’s receptive language abilities at age 2 and 3 are outstanding predictors of reading success at age 7. Kids who struggle with receptive language skills at 3 are highly likely to struggle with reading by age 7.

The good news is that a program like Fast ForWord attacks the receptive language struggles kids have by developing rapid auditory processing along with other critical cognitive skills like  attention, sequencing, and working memory. Fix the receptive language problems and (with good reading curriculum and instruction) you fix the reading problems.

A couple of other items from Dr. Tallal’s talk about the criticality of timing:

  • What we think of as memory (our ability to recall items, such as a list of words) can be improved by slowing down the input. Put another way, if you speed up the brain’s processing ability (enabling the brain to process faster input), you can improve memory. 
  • Timing is critical in language (the subtle differences in words are very short and require rapid processing to make meaning). But it’s also critical in pragmatic interactions, such as facial expressions and laughter. Laugh on time and you’ve got a good sense of humor. Laugh just a few milliseconds late, and it’s awkward to the point of being off-putting. So developing rapid processing skills is critical for many types of interactions, not just language and reading.

We took a lot of notes at the conference, so we’ll bang out a few more posts in the coming days highlighting some of the more interesting stuff discussed. We may be visionary (well, obviously we are if we attended the “Visionary Conference”), but the folks behind Fast ForWord are geniuses.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Journal of Learning Disabilities article that Dr. Tallal described. And because the scientists say it better than we can, here’s the quote we found most compelling:

Language comprehension at 3 years was the best predictor of later language and early reading for both groups. These results support past work suggesting that children with a positive family history of LLI are at greater risk for future language and reading problems through their preschool and early school-age years. Furthermore, language comprehension in the early years is a strong predictor of future language-learning status.

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