Psychology Articles

The Teenage Brain is Primed for Learning

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Pantheon & Pompidou Centre 2 18 2011 053What was he thinking?

Is there a parent out there who can’t relate to the first sentence of The Teenage Brain, by Frances E. Jensen, MD?

She’s a neuroscientist specializing in adolescent brain development and the mother of two teenage boys, and her book is “a survival guide” full of important information about how brains develop, what’s going on inside the skulls of adolescents, and what this means for how we parent and educate our teens and young adults.

I’ve just started reading this book, and here are a few of the nuggets I’ve already discovered:


ADHD Types I and II?

Monday, January 26th, 2015

IMG_0110One of my students included this very interesting 9-minute TED talk in a psychology class project.

The speaker proposes that, as with diabetes, there are now arguably two forms of ADHD. We could call the inborn variety ADHD Type I; Type II would be what one doctor calls “Acquired Attention Deficit Disorder”, developed through excessive Internet use.


The Key to Happiness is Becoming a Lower Maintenance Person (Day Eleven: Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

P7170168Because attention, time, and energy are all limited resources, scaling down and living a high-quality yet low-maintenance life is really the way to maximize contentment and minimize stress.


It’s Best to Face Your Fears and Let Your Kids Face Their Fears, Too (Day Ten: Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

P6300072To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. -Pema Chodron

Is there anything more painful than watching your child suffer? But when we shield our kids from the lumps Life dishes out, we rob them of the critical growing-up experiences that will make them into strong, brave, confident adults later.


Relationships Are Not Mysterious or Impossible; They’re Just Really Complicated (Day Eight: Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

P8010076If you love her, support her.

-Randy Pausch

Love may seem magical, whimsical, steered by the forces of fate, timing and chemistry…but, in fact, love thrives when people behave well towards one another and withers when they treat one another badly. (Duh!!)


You Can Become a Better Person (Day Seven: Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

P6290016It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you. -Randy Pausch

I make my living working with kids, and it’s my impression that most of them have little clue as to what they want to do with their lives, and that they find the very question terrifying.


Day Four: Memory is not accurate. Nope, not even yours. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

P8050102Our memories can seem so vivid and realistic, it’s hard to believe they’re not literally true! But memory doesn’t work like a video camera.

For one thing, due to our limited powers of attention (see Day One) we never get the whole story to begin with. Then, every time we recall an event our minds edit and interpret and embellish, like a fish story.

And we do an especially inaccurate job on emotionally loaded events; we freight those memories with so much emotional baggage that they become personal fairy tales more than actual recollections.


Day Three: Willpower is limited. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Pantheon & Pompidou Centre 2 18 2011 048Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night. -William Blake

When I get home from work, which can be as late as 10PM, I am soooo done! I don’t want to do anything besides kick off my shoes, fling my coat over a chair and grab something good to read (my way of relaxing) until bedtime.

I’ve spent most of my life beating myself up over my evening slacker ways, until learning that, in fact, I’m not unusually lazy. Willpower naturally fades as the day wears on.


Day Two: Emotions affect reasoning. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Pantheon & Pompidou Centre 2 18 2011 069People use words as weapons, to defend themselves. It is common for people to attack with anger when they are afraid and to become insulting when they are hurt or jealous.  -Dr. Shirley Glass

When we are anxious or angry we can’t think straight. This means we ought to avoid taking action or having heavy conversations while immersed in these mood states.

The emotions of fear and anger trigger our internal fight-or-flight mechanism, which sends epinephrine (adrenalin) gushing through our bloodstream. Our heart races, our blood pressure shoots up, our platelets ready themselves to clot in case we are injured…and our higher-level thinking skills shut down. After all, it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to run from a saber-toothed tiger.


Day One: Attention is everything. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Versailles #2 2 16 2011 055Your life is the sum total of what you chose to pay attention to. So choose wisely!

Although we move through our days believing we are awake and aware, there are severe limitations on the amount of data our brains can process. This means that we miss out on all but a tiny fraction of what goes on around us.

…it is possible to process at most 126 bits of information per second…It is out of this [limited amount of available attention] that everything in our life must come – every thought, memory, feeling, or action…[and] in reality it does not go that far.  -Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow, pg 29

Enter a party in progress and it sounds like a random, muddled buzz, until you choose to join one conversation; then, miraculously, the background noise tones down and you can engage with your companions. You may even manage to eavesdrop on another conversation or keep an eye on an attractive person across the room, but that’s about where your attention capacities will hit their wall. Everything else happening at that party will pass you by as if you weren’t there.

So creating a happier, better life for oneself begins, very simply, with being selective about how you choose to spend your attention.

…the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life.  -Flow, pg. 30

Here’s a sampling of articles and videos, each exploring ways in which you can become more aware of what you’re doing with your precious 126 bits of attention and how you might refocus your attention for the better:

Dr. John Gottman very humorously describes the Critical Person who has developed the bad habit of automatically searching for the negative in other people.

Dan Heath shows us how we can seek Bright Spots and build on them.

Dr. Martin Seligman explains the options we have for how we respond to our loved ones, and the impact of these choices on our relationships.

This hilarious and eye-opening TED talk by Barry Schwartz


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