Friday, March 09, 2007

Flexible Minds

What does it take to have a flexible mind? Memory, for one thing - researchers found that areas important for juggling information (working memory) were the best correlated with task switching efficiency.

In the figure below, the VLPFC (ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) figures prominently in task switching activities (red arrow, bottom); look at the comparable location on the maturing brains (above)...they are still quite immature in the late elementary school years.

Flexibility is often confused with creativity and intelligence, and consequently its converse, a lack of flexibility or rigidity, a lack of it. But this dichotomy is overly simplistic. A strong working memory is a valuable tool for creative and intelligent thinkers, but it isn't essential. In fact, the biographies of many famous people (like Enrico Fermi) are rife with descriptions of these individual struggling in certain situations with their feeble working memories, nevertheless finding opportunities (and environments) to think deeply and create in the paths they'd chosen. Often these souls needed a little extra protection from the world to think - especially periods of quiet (reduced distractions) and time (longer to process). The greatest troubles came when people or institutions tried to force them into working in way that was poorly suited to them.

The developmental piece is also important to keep in mind, as many children are labeled as ADHD or having an autism spectrum disorder if they show inflexibility (meltdowns) with the routine task-switching demands in the early elementary school years, but this is too non-specific. The pool of people who struggle with working memory is much larger - and as could be expected has its own variation pattern among the normal population.

We're going to be traveling to give an Educator's Conference, so brief break from the blog. We'll be back March 15th.

Task Switching and Memory and fMRI pdf
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Forgetful Learners
Developmental Changes in Task Switching
Cognitive Flexibility pdf
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Your Brain with Time- What About Teen Brain?
Eide Neurolearning Blog: Working Memory & The Classroom

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