Discovery

A frequent commentary chronicling the creative and intellectual
excitement of discovery at Washington State University.

Brought to you by Washington State Magazine

Posts Tagged ‘brain’

Further Thoughts on Google and the Active Brain

To continue on the question of whether Google makes us smarter:

Last week we noted new research showing that the brains of veteran Google searchers have more active neural circuits and brain regions while searching than novices.

The poster of the item added this smart-aleck remark—“I’m no neuroscientist, but it sounds like Google is making them smarter.” An actively thinking reader agreed, at least on the “no neuroscientist part.” She then added, “You can’t judge the quality or depth of thought by mere ‘brain activity.’ Indeed, a calm brain is often the sign of a thoughtful brain.”

From the desk of WSM Discovery

So which is more thoughtful–a calm brain or an active brain? For an answer, we returned to an actual neuroscientist, WSU’s Jaak Panksepp. His bottom line: It’s all good food for thought.

“Yes,” he wrote in an email, “abundant brain research does show that experts can proceed with a cognitive task by using their brain more efficiently, which is often reflected in less brain arousal than exhibited by novices.  Of course, the fly in the ointment is that each type of cognitive task needs to be taken on its own terms.

“With regard to the Internet, one could imagine that greater recruiting of diverse brain networks is a sign of sophisticated thinking.  However, this is just an interpretation rather than an established fact.   In this same vein, it may be worth noting that expert Zen meditators exhibit massive arousal of frontal lobe regions compared to novices.  What all these brain ‘correlates’ mean remains open to multiple interpretations.  As usual, correlates are not easily translated into causes, although they provide useful raw material for creative thinking about such ultra-complex BrainMind issues.”

This is your brain with not enough sleep

How does your brain work with too little sleep? As police officers, firefighters, nurses, grad students…and most parents…all know, sleep deprivation can cause your mind to react in odd ways. New research by Washington State University scientists has found that the sleep-deprived mind works differently than previously thought.

Hans Van Dongen (right) with Gregory Belenky

Gregory Belenky, M.D. and Hans Van Dongen of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at WSU Spokane use handheld devices to check the sleep habits and reaction times of their sleep study volunteers. Photo by Robert Hubner

Hans Van Dongen and his colleagues at WSU Spokane’s Sleep and Performance Research Center have found that some executive functions of the mind, such as working memory, are essentially unaffected by as much as 51 hours of sleep deprivation. Other functions are highly affected, including information intake, where information becomes distorted before it’s processed in the mind.

Van Dongen’s work appears in the January 2010 journal SLEEP. You can read more about the sleep deprivation research at WSU Today.

To read about WSU’s sleep research, visit Washington State Magazine‘s Spring 2006 feature, “The Secrets of Sweet Oblivion.” 

In the Winter 2009 feature “How We Eat is Who We Are,” you can read about WSU researcher Jim Krueger’s analysis of weight gain and sleep deprivation. (See the sidebar of the article.)

Links

Impact of sleep deprivation different than once thought (WSU Today, Feb. 10, 2010)

WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center