Tag Archives: brain research

Screen Time
From the Headmaster—Guest Author Jon Maksik

“Think” – Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Jon Maksik writes:

I sometimes joke that in a few millennia humans will have evolved into stooped beasts able only to look down at whatever glowing device they hold in one hand. But, how naïve; of course, Apple will trump Darwin and implants will preserve our posture. What though of our ability to distinguish between virtual reality and…well, reality? What of our ability to pay attention to one another and to the world around us?

Alarmist hyperbole? Walk into any restaurant, any sporting event, any school, any place at all where people are gathered, and look around. How many people do you see looking at a screen—or two? How often do you see a family of four eating together when each of them is looking at a phone? How often do you see people sitting next to one another, each on a device and never exchanging a word or a look? Exactly.

This is old news by now, so old that we barely remember the quaint days of yore when we scoffed at people bellowing pressing news into their cellphones: “I’m in the vegetable aisle at the market. Where are you?” As we’ve become increasingly inured to the beeping, pinging, quacking, barking, and ringing that intrude on our lives, we veer from grudging acknowledgement of a problem to celebrating the cleverness of the marketing geniuses who sell us so much of what we so rarely need. What we don’t do is address the problem for what it is: an addiction.

More alarmist hyperbole? Ok. How often do you check your email, texts, and social media? How often without justifying it, without thinking that you might better spend your time in other ways? Do you dare to calculate the number of hours in a day, week, or year that you spend on your devices, “connecting” with other people or, more accurately, their avatars? What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last before you go to sleep? Can you cut back? Can you stop? No, you can’t, but, really, so what? How harmful is this so-called addiction?

We’re beginning to find out, to go beyond the anecdotal and actually find out. Two recent studies provide some answers: We risk brain function; we risk our ability to engage with other people; we risk the ability to pay attention to one thing for very long. We risk our cognitive ability; our emotional equilibrium, and we risk depression. We risk altering or destroying relationships with the people we love because we don’t pay attention them. We risk friendships and, yes, we risk that vague notion of “happiness.”

Have a look at some specific findings.

“Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”

“Your Smartphone Reduces Your Brainpower, Even If It’s Just Sitting There”

When I showed these articles to a friend of mine, she asked me how I thought parents might best talk to their children about the problem. I think a better question is how adults and children can talk with each other about it. Two parents wielding cellphones and warning children about the dangers of too much screen time is akin to two parents wielding martinis and warning children about drinking. Besides, it is axiomatic that children have robust powers of observation. Even very young children miss little that occurs in their families; adolescents miss next to nothing. We adults aren’t fooling anyone. If it’s true that young people stand to lose the most from “screen addiction,” it’s also true that adult addiction can have an equally profound impact.

So, how do we talk with our children about all of this? We can save time and avoid the, “When I was your age” trope; and we can skip the Luddite vs. techno-savvy argument because we share the same addiction. Given those time-savers, we might consider discussing what’s important in our lives, what’s wonderful about what we share as families, what’s cool and useful about our devices and what isn’t, about what we gain and what we risk losing. Certainly, we might share some persuasive evidence, like that noted in the articles above, but hold the pontificating. This is one of those times when we are enmeshed in the same fast-moving phenomenon and we are no less vulnerable than our children. That’s an advantage, as it turns out, because it allows us to begin a collaborative conversation

And, perhaps vulnerable is a good word to consider. We are, demonstrably, every bit as vulnerable as our children and it’s good for them to see that vulnerability, to understand that this is not about “responsibility” or taking out the trash. We have no other motive than to help one another to live in the world—the real one, the off-screen world, the world of our friends and loved ones. Those are the people with whom we need to connect.

by Jon Maksik, Ph.D., who served as headmaster of the Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, from 1987 until his retirement in 2006.

Read Jon Maksik’s “The Truth About Success” and other articles.

Fears and Phobias: “I avoid going out in public because I don’t like talking to strangers.”

"Courting Danger" Tamara McKinney by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

When you fear certain situations, your natural tendency is to avoid them. If you feel uncomfortable at parties or talking to strangers, you tend to avoid putting yourself in situations that will arouse that anxiety. Avoidance seems to be effective, because in the short term your fear decreases. You feel safer at home.

However, brain research shows that avoidance actually causes your fear to grow over the long term. Paradoxically, avoiding what you fear amplifies your anxiety when simply thinking about situations you fear.

Therapy can often help by cautiously exposing the fearful person to the very situations that create the initial anxiety. Repeated exposure to the source of a person’s anxiety will cause the hyper-sensitivity to dull.

Exposure should not be extreme, especially in the beginning. Otherwise, the fear would simply intensify. So, don’t go from the privacy of your living room to Times Square or Yankee Stadium on the Fourth of July.

If people who don’t like talking to strangers were to go to places with a few strangers every day, at first, anxiety would spike, but eventually it would diminish. As the brain gets more experience of being around strangers without negative consequences, it will probably learn that it isn’t dangerous after all. The part of the brain that has learned to be vigilant learns it’s okay to relax.

Of course, you want to avoid true danger. If you’re afraid of poisonous snakes, wingsuit flying off cliffs, or walking in the bad part of town after midnight, you’re better off keeping those fears. There is, after all, a biological basis for fear—some is necessary for survival!

But if your fear is unreasonable, hindering your life or relationships, and adding increasing unfounded anxiety, then it may be time to start dealing with homeopathic doses of safe exposure. If your fear turns into a panic disorder, it’s best to meet with a health care provider to consider various approaches to treatment.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Recommended: “Rewire you Brain: Think your way to a better life” by Dr. Arden.

Facial Expressions: “She says I frown all the time. That’s just me.”

"Pleasure" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

Your tone of voice, facial expressions, and words reflect your attitude about yourself, the person you’re talking to, and life in general.

Brain research shows that changing your facial expression actually makes you feel different—smiling makes you feel happier, frowning makes you feel angrier, gestures like sighing make you feel more hopeless. Not only does how you feel affect your facial expressions, but your facial expressions affect how you feel.

Research shows that if you watch a movie holding a pen across your mouth causing you to engage some of the smile muscles, you will think the movie is funnier than those who watched the movie without the pen. Simply smiling—even artificially—releases chemicals in the brain that make you feel happier—try it!

I’m not advocating walking around with a fake smile on your face. But it can’t hurt to become aware of your facial expressions and people’s reactions to them. Becoming aware of scowling, grimacing, or sneering allows you to choose to change your expression, and to some degree, the way you and others will feel.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Don’t look at me that way!”