How We Process Learning Intentionally And Unintentionally Is Very Different

Would you have trouble memorizing and repeating back ten un-related words? How easily do you absorb driving directions before using them?

Learning something intentionally is called explicit learning, such as the list of instructions and words mentioned above. However implicit learning – learning that is naturally absorbed and not intentional — is something brain researchers are very interested in learning more about.

Implicit learning is recognized as a core learning system that underlies our learning of language, music, navigating our environments, and much more. It’s been assumed that implicit learning is something we are born with, a strategy for basic, rudimentary learning. A good example is grammar. Although a six-year-old cannot explain the rules of grammar, s/he will know how to use basic grammar to communicate. The learning of language rules is an unconscious learning of abstract knowledge, even though it is absolutely learned information.

So how does this type of learning occur in our brains? And how much of a difference in this type of learning is there, from person to person?

In a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 64 healthy young adults were given four types of tasks that required implicit learning, including:

  • Ascertaining an artificial grammar usage and correctly applying it.
  • Predicting whether a particular group of images was going to trigger a specific outcome.
  • Guessing where a circle was going to appear on a screen based on prior sequences.
  • Classifying abstract visual stimuli into categories.

One week after these tasks, the same participants returned to complete an IQ test as well as different versions of each of their former tasks. They were tested on their working memory as well as their “explicit” learning (deliberately memorizing a list of words).

For three of the four implicit learning tasks, the researchers found a “medium” level relationship between a participant’s initial performance and how well they did a week later. This suggests stability in implicit learning ability.

The team also found that how well a participant performed at implicit learning bore no relation to their IQ or working memory results. It seemed to be driven by independent neural processes rather than those that explained explicit learning — which is linked to IQ.Their findings tended to reinforce earlier work which tied explicit and implicit learning to different brain regions and networks.

Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, weighs in. “The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for explicit — but not implicit learning. Researchers have found that damage to the basal ganglia and cerebellum sections of the brain impair implicit, but not explicit, learning. Each area of our brain is responsible for different systems, functions and behavior.” 

These findings also suggest that someone might feasibly be smart, as measured by an IQ test, but not particularly adept at implicit learning – perhaps slower than someone else with a significantly lower IQ score. A good example of this is the ability to identify a barely discernible tumor in a medical scan, which would require implicit learning strength.

So, brain researchers wonder, can implicit learning brain mechanisms be trained? How might explicit learning help or hinder implicit learning?

“Our brains are incredibly diverse and complicated. It will be fascinating to learn about the results of follow-up research in this field,” says O’Neil.

If you are concerned about your recall or short-term memory, INDY Neurofeedback has drug-free, non-invasive training plans that can help you improve memory and brain function. Your first consultation is free.

Walking Backward And Brain Function

According to a fascinating recent Harvard University Psychology department study, people who walked backward, imagined they were walking backward, or watched a video simulating backward motion, had better short-term recall than those who walked forward or sat still. Finding out why is another matter entirely.

According to Harvard Psychology Professor Dr. Daniel Schacter, “It’s possible that people associate going backward with the past and this somehow triggers a memory response. We know it can’t have anything to do with how they’ve encoded the information, (as the subjects) weren’t walking backward when they stored the memories tested in this study.”

Here’s how the study worked:

  • 114 people saw a video of a staged crime, a word list, or a group of images. 
  • Participants were then asked to walk forward, walk backward, sit still, watch a video that simulated forward or backward motion, or imagine walking forward or backward.
  • Study participants then answered 20 questions related to the crime video.

Researchers found that people who walked backwards were significantly more likely to answer the 20 questions correctly immediately after walking backwards, than those who did not. This surprising result was true regardless of how old the participants were. On average, the boost in memory lasted for about 10 minutes after people stopped moving.

Improving memory recall

“Although more research needs to be made,” says Leanne O’Neil,  “the preliminary findings suggest that motion strategy might be a relatively simple technique to use to help people better recall past events.”

Psychologists know that a method called cognitive interviewing helps people recall details of a recent event by metaphorically walking a person through an event forward and backward. So it’s possible that literally walking backward may mimic something similar in the brain.

The Harvard study authors are looking at more studies to determine whether this and other motion-based memory aids can help elderly adults or people with dementia.

So, can walking backward help boost your short-term memory?

Lots of studies have shown memorizing lists, facts, or something specific such as memorizing a part in a play can be improved if the individual doing the memorization is walking while committing the details to mind. That may be one way to start working to boost memory.

Walking backward while memorizing would have to be done safely – perhaps while walking in a pool. It might be worth trying, suggests Leanne O’Neil.

If you are worried about your recall or short-term memory, INDY Neurofeedback has non-invasive tools to help you improve memory and brain function.

How We Breathe Influences Brain Functions And Behavior

woman yoga beach deep breathing exercisesDid you know that the rhythm of your breathing influences brain activity such as memory recall and emotional judgment?

In an interesting new study by Northwestern University School of Medicine, scientists have discovered that the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that actually enhances emotional judgments and memory recall.

Specifically, these effects on behavior depend on whether you inhale or exhale — and whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth.

Here’s how the study worked:

  • Subjects looked at faces on a computer screen while having their electric brain signals recorded.
  • The recorded electrical signals showed subjects’ brain activity fluctuated with breathing. The recorded activity occurred in brain areas where emotions, memory and smells are processed.
  • Participants were able to identify a fearful face more quickly when inhaling, compared to exhaling.
  • They were also more likely to remember an object they viewed if they saw it as they inhaled rather than when they exhaled.
  • The recorded signals showed brain activity fluctuated with breathing. The activity occurs in brain areas where emotions, memory and smells are processed.
  • This startling effect disappeared if breathing occurred through the mouth rather than the nose.

What it means:

This study suggests that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation, but not during exhalation. When you inhale through your nose, scientists found, you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and across the complete limbic system.

“Since the amygdala is strongly linked to emotional processing—especially fear-related emotions,” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, “this new finding is fascinating. We all have experienced the faster pace of our own breathing when we are startled or scared.”

When faces were encountered during inhalation, subjects recognized them as fearful more quickly than when faces were encountered during exhalation. This was not true for faces expressing surprise. These effects diminished when subjects performed the same task while breathing through their mouths. Thus the effect was specific to fearful stimuli during nasal breathing only.

“If you are in a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster,” O’Neil summarizes. “That said, you’ll spend more time inhaling when you are in a calmer state of mind. These findings suggest that rapid breathing may provide an innate advantage when we find ourselves in a dangerous situation.”

At INDY Neurofeedback, our clients are trained on proper breathing using the HeartMath emWave Pro system. We are fascinated about how our amazing brain works! If you have a question about brain health and brain behavior, let’s talk.

Can Aromatherapy Help With Brain Health?

The simplest answer is that we don’t know for sure. But in recent medical studies, essential oils and aromatherapy do seem to have a positive effect upon those with brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In one study, for example, aromatherapy was used with a group of the elderly suffering from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s. The patients were given rosemary and lemon inhalations (via diffusers) in the morning. Later in the evening, the diffusers were used with lavender and orange essential oils.

Caretakers and medical professionals studied this group after the morning and evening inhalation sessions. According to professionals in the study, “patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation, without any side effects.”

Although research like this is encouraging, scientists are not sure of the “why” behind the power essentials oils seem to have in helping maintain brain health in seniors.

Here is what we do know:

  • You are able to smell an essential oil because tiny molecules are being dissolved in the mucus lining of the olfactory epithelium located on the roof of your nasal cavity.
  • These molecules stimulate olfactory receptors, triggering sensory neurons which carry signals to the olfactory bulb that processes and filters the input signals of the essential oil scent.
  • From there, mitral cells carry the output signals from the bulb to the olfactory cortex, causes you to perceive the particular scent of the oil that you are smelling.

Interestingly, scientists know that the mitral cells not only lead to the olfactory cortex, but they also carry signals from the essential oil scent to other areas in the limbic system (the primal brain responsible for memory, instinct and mood.) The olfactory system is the only sensory mechanism that involves the limbic system and amygdala in its primary processing pathway.

This connection explains why smell is often linked to memory. This also gives us some insight into why essential oils are so popular as a non-pharmaceutical intervention for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Here are some ways to use essential oils:

  • In search of calm? Try chamomile, frankincense, lavender or vetiver.
  • Need deeper sleep? Lavender has shown increased sleep patterns in dementia patients.
  • For an energy boost, peppermint oil has been proven to increase oxygen capacity.
  • Geranium, lavender and mandarin orange, when mixed with almond oil base, resulted in contentment, increased alertness, and reduced levels of agitation, wandering and withdrawal.
  • Lavender, marjoram, patchouli, and vetiver significantly increased the active mental states of dementia patients.

Try using pharmaceutical grade essential oils in small doses, just a few drops at a time, and see what brain-body benefits you receive. Some of these oils do have contraindications with prescribed medications, so if you are on prescribed medications, first consult with your physician.

Our sense of smell – and its direct connection to our brains — is a powerful resource.

Are Male And Female Brains Different?

mens brains versus womens brainsQuite a few people think so.

In the not so distant past, medical professionals reasoned that since men had larger brains (5 ounces, on average) than women, they were better able to reason, think and process. Men were also said to be more proficient at certain types of thinking – such as strategy, logical thinking and math.

But the truth is, male and female brains work extremely similarly. Regardless of gender, the bigger a person is, the bigger the brain will be. It is body size – not male or female genes or brain structure — that determines brain size. In addition, there is no evidence to suggest that bigger brains are ‘better and more able’ brains.

The proof

That said, it took MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging brain scans) to reveal that that human brains are capable of growing, changing and modifying in all kinds of varying ways, regardless of the gender of the owner.

In a 2015 study at Tel Aviv University, for example, the brains of more than 100 brain structures in over 1400 brain scans and found that it was impossible to define female-typical and male-typical brains.

Our brains, it turns out, tell the tales of the lives we have lived and the experiences we have had. Education, occupations, health, nutrition, sports, and habits like drinking and smoking – all play their part. The way we work, think and perform tasks reflects all of these things. So for instance, the hippocampus of a 20-year New York City taxi veteran will be larger and more complex than an occasional weekend Uber driver.

So where did male/female brain stereotypes come from?

The short answer is society protocols and expectations. Society traditionally allocated certain life-roles and career choices (and gender ‘appropriate’ toys, games and behavior) to men and women which emphasized differing skills and opportunities. This, in turn, shaped brain strengths and neural pathways.

Today, research shows us that every person’s brain is unique. Digital literacy, for example, is gender neutral. So is math ability and organizational skill. And yes, even chance-taking is gender neutral.

Time to discard the outdated concept of male and females are better or worse at doing and being. Every one of us has a truly amazing, absolutely original brain.

To learn the specifics about your unique brain, schedule a non-invasive mapping with us.

Non-Prescription Help With Adult ADHD

Although many associate ADHD or ADD diagnosis with children, the syndrome is not age specific. Since ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is the syndrome recognized by the American Medical Association, it is the term we reference here at INDY Neurofeedback.

How do you know if you have ADHD? In 2013, the FDA approved brainwave testing to diagnose ADHD by measuring brainwave patterns.  Christy Foreman, a director at the FDA, said in a statement that the protocol would help health care providers more accurately determine whether ADHD was the cause of a particular behavioral problem.

In addition to identifying ADHD, brain wave testing also provides the basis for neurofeedback training which can be used to help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with ADHD.  In October of 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report that is intended to serve as a guide for medical doctors in choosing appropriate treatment interventions for many childhood conditions.  The report lists neurofeedback as a Level One, Best Support Treatment for ADHD – as effective as medication but without dangerous side effects.

The following are common symptoms medical practitioners recognize as frequently occurring in adults with ADHD:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Disorganization and problems prioritizing
  • Poor time management skills
  • Problems focusing on a single task
  • Excessive activity or restlessness
  • Low frustration tolerance.

“If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, there are ways to help with your symptoms safely – over and above taking prescribed medications (which come with their own drawbacks),” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback.

“At INDY Neurofeedback, we can work with you to retrain your adult ADHD brain using neurofeedback techniques.”

Beginning with a consultation and a self-administered questionnaire, we’re happy to talk with you about your symptoms. If you wish, we can move forward with an initial QEEG brain mapping appointment to help you better understand what parts of your brain are most affected. (LINK to FEB BLOG #25, “My experience with brain mapping at INDY Neurofeedback”)

Next, we can set up a series of guided EEG biofeedback (a/k/a neurofeedback) with a trained professional to address your specific issues. The sessions are fascinating!

What else can you do to help address adult ADHD symptoms? Here are a few helpful recommendations:

  • Exercise regularly. And if you don’t exercise much, you aren’t doing your brain any favors. Physical activity can improve your memory as well as help you make decisions and pay attention.
  • Make healthy eating choices: Restaurant food and fast food is packed with calories, sugar, salt, and fat, and low on fruits and veggies. Limit junk food. Eat at home and plan your diet around healthy choices.
  • Get more sleep. Lack of sleep and ADHD often go hand in hand. Lack of sleep doesn’t just make you tired, it can also worsen symptoms such as lack of focus and problems with motor skills. Anxiety, depression, and stimulant medications can be to blame. Be frank with your doctor about your symptoms and quality of sleep.
  • Get a good diagnosis. If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, consider a QEEG brain mapping to fully understand the dysregulation.

Know that:

  • ADHD meds don’t always work well if you have substance abuse problems.
  • Drugs for major depression can make ADHD worse.
  • Some ADHD medications can make anxiety worse.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. Your first morning meal can help keep you focused longer as the day progresses. Choose healthy proteins.
  • Get rid of clutter. Messy homes and offices can make ADHD symptoms worse. Clearing the clutter can make you more productive and reduce stress.
  • Reduce screen time. Doctors have found numerous links between ADHD and over dependence on cell phones, screen time (including games) and Internet use. Stay on top of your screen habits – especially just before bed.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we can help with ADHD symptoms. Ask for a consultation to find out how we can help you.

Brain Mapping Can Identify ADHD

In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first objective brain wave test to help properly diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (commonly referred to as ADHD). Christy Foreman, a director at the FDA, said in a statement that the testing would help healthcare providers more accurately determine whether ADHD was the cause of a particular behavioral problem. Since that time, neurofeedback therapy, using brain wave mapping technology, has helped healthcare providers and parents get an accurate determination of whether ADHD is the cause of a child’s struggles and provided therapy for a true health solution.

In fact, in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report as a guide for medical doctors in choosing appropriate treatment interventions for many childhood conditions.  The report listed neurofeedback as a Level One, Best Support Treatment for ADHD – as effective as medication but without dangerous side effects.

This is great news for parents who don’t wish to medicate their children, as their young brains are still rapidly developing. Another thing to consider is that every medication comes with side effects, and every child processes medication differently.

“In fact, states Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, “The  techniques used by INDY Neurofeedback have been used by many healthcare providers all over the world for the past 35+ years. In addition to identifying the brain wave patterns associated with ADHD, the testing also provides the basis for neurofeedback training.”

INDY Neurofeedback has helped children and adolescents overcome many of the symptoms associated with brain wave imbalance. The non-invasive brain mapping identifies unbalanced brain wave patterns that may be related to focus and attention issues. The results of this mapping are used to design a program to teach children how to better regulate their brain wave patterns.

Leanne O’Neil says, “We find that when a child (or adult) learns how to self-regulate brain imbalances, many behavioral issues improve. Students become calmer in class, more focused, and better able to concentrate. Confidence improves. Grades often go up. Behavior outside of school usually improves, too.”

Neurofeedback has been shown to help numerous other conditions in addition to ADHD, including: autism, dyslexia, insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, headaches, memory loss, stress disorders, and post-concussion syndrome.

If you have a question about how neurofeedback can help you or your child, please call us at 317-888-8500, or email us at office@indyneurofeedback.com.

Neurons, The Amazing Building Blocks Of Our Brains

“The human brain is nothing short of amazing,” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback. “From speaking, pattern recognition, reading, thinking ahead, and memorizing – to breathing, walking, digesting, and organ function — all begin with the fundamental unit of the brain, the nerve cell or neuron. It really is fascinating.”

brain mapping and neuronsThe human brain contains an estimated 90 billion neurons, each one a different size and shape. Interestingly, just one neuron can reach from one side of the brain to the other. But no matter the length or shape, each neuron links to hundreds upon hundreds of others in an amazingly complicated network.

Some of these chains of neurons send information to the brain from the body’s extremities, registering foot placement while walking or balance while climbing stairs, for instance. Others send information from the brain to the body, signaling the need to sleep, the sense of being full, or sending a complicated series of exercise instructions to the appropriate muscles of the body. Still other neuron chains share data among themselves to construct subconscious or conscious thoughts, store memories, and acknowledge emotions.

“Even the network of neurons in and of itself forges trillions of connections throughout the brain and body,” adds O’Neil. “That makes the human brain – as far as we know — the most complicated organ on the earth.”

Scientists hope to be able to map out the entire brain with all its connections. This knowledge will help us to more completely understand the distinct areas of the brain containing cells with similar structure, function and connectivity, and how and why they are connected to other areas.

We are well underway in this brain mapping process. Neuroscientists have already charted an equivalent map of the brain’s outermost layer, called the cerebral cortex. They have been able to subdivide each hemisphere’s folds into 180 separate parcels. Some ninety-seven of these areas have never previously been described, despite showing clear differences in structure, function and connectivity from their neuron neighbors.

“The brain mapping we do at INDY Neurofeedback is different, but just as fascinating,” says O’Neil. “It relies on information from a Quantitative EEG. Our software performs thousands of statistical calculations correlating the functions of brain location with the functions of each dimension of each component band. The software then takes these calculations and correlates them with the 50k normal and abnormal brain maps in the database. The items chosen for analysis are derived from functional MRI research and traditional neurological texts. It is amazing how much we can know about areas of the brain.”

If you have a question or a concern about brain function, let’s talk, neurons to neurons!

New Study Shows How Neurofeedback May Help Brains Self-Regulate

Cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly known as CBT, can help people better control their emotions by teaching them new ways of thinking. A recent study suggests this approach could be strengthened by using neurofeedback.

“To understand this study, you first need to understand how the brain works,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “The healthy regulation of our emotions involves our prefrontal cortex, responsible for the regulation of activity in many other areas of the brain, including the amygdala. The amygdala is an almond-shaped cluster of neurons located on each side of the brain, and is involved in memory processing, decision-making and emotional responses.”

“Problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety and panic disorders – which we see at the INDY Neurofeedback center every week — are associated with heightened amygdala activation. So, targeting this heightened activation area of the brain with neurofeedback could be beneficial, according to a group of scientists, who set out to prove their hypothesis.”

Scientists from the US, Germany and Switzerland joined forces recently to investigate whether the response of the amygdala to stress could be increased by providing participants with feedback on their amygdala activity while they tried to regulate their emotions using an fMRI brain scanner.

How the study worked

  • In the study,15 participants with good mental health were placed in a neurofeedback group while 11 others were placed in a control group. All participants underwent four weekly real-time fMRI emotional training sessions that involved looking at a sequence of negative emotional images (to provoke amygdala activation) and asked them to try to regulate their emotional reaction using a reality check
  • The reality check strategy involved using phrases such as “these are only pictures” and “I am participating in an experiment” (a form of cognitive reappraisal).
  • Only participants in the feedback group received visual feedback on their amygdala activity while they looked at the pictures and attempted to regulate their emotions.
  • Participants in the feedback group were also provided with visual feedback in the form of changing colored squares that corresponded with their amygdala activation. In the control group, these color squares changed randomly and the control participants were told they were meaningless.

What the study showed

  • By the fourth week, when participants performed the reality check, the feedback group showed significantly decreased amygdala activation as compared to the first week.
  • Interestingly, no such decrease of amygdala activity was observed in the control group even though they used the same reality check exercises.
  • The feedback group also exhibited better task-related communication between the amygdala and other brain areas involved in emotional control.

In short, although the sample sizes were small, this study strongly suggests that amygdala regulation can be trained and regulated. It also supports existing research showing promise for the application of neurofeedback in the treatment of problems like PTSD, anxiety, addiction, and depression that are associated with heightened amygdala activation.

Leanne O’Neil and her INDY Neurofeedback center team work with many clients suffering from anxiety disorders. If you would like to see if we can help you, give us a call to set up a free consultation.

You Really Aren’t Losing Neurons As You Age

You may be chalking up those small moments of occasional forgetfulness to getting older. That’s because for years we’ve been hearing that the older we get, the more brain cells or neurons, we lose.

But according to Christopher Jarrett, author of Great Myths of the Brain (2014), that is a common myth and just not true. Jarrett points to mid-twentieth century studies, which suggested that adults lose approximately one percent of their brain cells every year throughout adulthood. Alarmingly, this meant that older adults would lose between 35% and 55% of their total brain neurons depending on how long they lived.

More thorough recent studies, however, found that many early theories about the brain came from animal studies and ‘best guess’ theories. Now that we can actually see into the brain with 3-D imaging and other techniques, research is much more accurate.

We now know that while aging brains do get a little smaller, they retain most of their neurons, which just become more densely packed, according to Jarrett.

Here’s what is true about aging and your brain:

  • Ageing naturally leads to the attrition of between 2% and 4% of the 100 billion neurons each of us has.
  • Any memory decline (or other natural – rather than injury-based –aging mental disability) appears to be related to just where those few lost neurons were located.
  • It is the density of neurons in your brain that matters.

“That’s why everything you do to keep your brain challenged, nourished, exercised and rested is so important,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “Taking excellent care of your brain will increase your brain density, which will help ensure that your brain and memory will keep working well for you right into your 80s, 90s and beyond.”

INDY Neurofeedback can help keep your brain in optimal working order with peak performance training. We can assess your current brain functioning with a non-invasive brain mapping and provide neurofeedback to support your specific needs. We also provide Cognitive Performance Testing that you perform in the privacy of your home at the times that best suit you. We look forward to working with you at our neurofeedback center.