Posts Tagged ‘ brain science ’

Hands, Eyes and Uses for Bricks

Are you Right, Left or mix-handed? Haven’t heard of mix-handedness? Current thinking in neurology and psychology seems to be leaning towards describing handedness as a function of the degree of preference for one hand or the other. For some tasks you may use your right hand, others your left, it is the amount or preference you show that will determine what handedness you are. Not sure now? This page has a simple test that aims to determine hand preference by asking about simple tasks and which hand you prefer to use.

The test involves thinking about tasks (such as writing and drawing) and deciding which hand you prefer to use.Each answer is given a score for each hand your handedness is then given a score using the formula: (Right – Left) / (Right + Left). A pure Left hander will score -1.0, conversely +1.0 indicates pure right handedness, intermediate scores show mix handedness with a preference one way or the other. One thing to note here though, a score of 0 does not necessarily indicate ambidexterity.

This approach may indicate how well the two hemispheres of your brain communicate with strong handedness correlating with less communication and mix handedness with more. So how well are your hemispheres getting along?

This concept of communication between hemispheres is also being implicated in more abstract capabilities such as creativity. A recent study (very well summarised Here and Scientific American’s 60 Second Science podcast) looked at whether creativity can be increased in individuals who performed an exercise designed to increase cross-hemisphere communication. The exercise involved having the study participants move their eyes back and forth horizontally for 30 seconds. This activity likely increases the amount of hemisphere cross talk due to the fact that for each eye the right side of the visual field is processed on the right side of the brain and the left field on the left, this is represented diagrammatically Here (this can lead to a fascinating pathology called Hemispatial Neglect where a patient acts as if the left side of the world simply does not exist, not relevant here but too interesting not to include).

So moving your eyes back and forth means that each side must communicate a little more while forming a coherent whole for the visual field. This extra communication may then carry over to other tasks, that was the hypothesis. The measuring of creativity would seem to be a tough call, in this case participants were asked to come up with as many different uses for mundane objects (like bricks) as they could, participants were regarded as more creative when they came up with more categories of use and uses not thought of by other participants (originality).

The study found that the exercise did have an effect but that the strength of the effect was determined by strong handed or mix handedness. Strong handers had a creativity boost for 6-9 minutes (depending on the type of creativity, originality or more categories of use). If you are a mix hander then there is no benefit from the exercise, but don’t be worried, you are more creative than the strong handers in the first place. The increase of the strong handers performance really only seems to bring them up to the mix handers level.

Perhaps then, if you favour one hand much more than the other and you need a quick increase in creativity, you could do worse than this simple eye exercise. For once science has come up with an easy answer.

Fast Thoughts are Happy Thoughts

Ever noticed that when you are excited or happy your thoughts seem to zip hither, thither and yon at a dizzying pace? Perhaps at the same time you also had feelings of increased energy, creativity and self esteem. These are all symptoms of the psychiatric condition of mania, but you’re probably fine. The persistent linking of mania with rapid thoughts has lead some researchers to suspect that the speed of thought itself, and not necessarily the content of those thoughts, has a direct effect on a person’s mood. Thus merely thinking at a faster pace can create a more positive mood, along with those other symptoms, I mean normal feelings, of creativity, energy, etc.

With this approach as their starting point psychological scientists Emily Pronin and Daniel Wegner, of Princeton and Harvard University respectively, conducted an experiment to elucidate the exact effect of thought speed on mood, independent of the contents of those thoughts. To this end they recruited a number of students to read statements aloud at different speeds, the statements were either fast and positive (eg ‘‘Wow! I feel great!’’) or fast and negative (eg ‘‘I want to go to sleep and never wake up’’) and were contrasted with the reverse combinations, slow/positive, slow/negative. The results showed that the speed of a person’s thinking does indeed have an impact on their mood independent of what they are thinking. Those who read depressing statements fast had a more positive outlook than those who read the depressing statements more slowly.

This work has implications for the treatment of both mania and depression, having manic patients work to slow down their thought processes or those suffering depression increase the speed of theirs might be a more sustainable and empowering (for the patient) method of treating the conditions. Not to mention how this might affect business brainstorming sessions, want to boost your team’s creative output? Just get them doing quick mental exercises to get their brains in the mood. Have some bad news to give? Say it really fast.


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