Archive for June, 2010

The problem with neuroplasticity

Dr. Vaughn Bell, a contributor to the stimulating Mind Hacks blog, explains, “As your brain is always changing, the term neuroplasticity is empty on its own“:

It’s currently popular to solemnly declare that a particular experience must be taken seriously because it ‘rewires the brain’ despite the fact that everything we experience ‘rewires the brain’.

It’s like a reporter from a crime scene saying there was ‘movement’ during the incident. We have learnt nothing we didn’t already know.

Neuroplasticity is common in popular culture at this point in time because mentioning the brain makes a claim about human nature seem more scientific, even if it is irrelevant (a tendency called ‘neuroessentialism’).

Clearly this is rubbish and every time you hear anyone, scientist or journalist, refer to neuroplasticity, ask yourself what specifically they are talking about. If they don’t specify or can’t tell you, they are blowing hot air. In fact, if we banned the word, we would be no worse off.

In his critical and necessary essay,Vaughn clearly explains the differences among a host of structural changes in the brain, including synaptogenesis, neuronal migration, and neurogenesis.


Below is an engrossing Discovery Channel production about the fascinating resilience and adaptability of the human brain.


June 10, 2010 at 2:07 pm 11 comments

We are purpose maximizers

The talented scribes at Cognitive Media provide a whimsical and engaging illustration of Dan Pink‘s talk about “the surprising truth that motivates us.”

[A more traditional presentation by Dan Pink that focuses on the role of autonomy can be found here.]

Around 9:40 in the above video, Pink notes that the most creative, successful, innovate companies “are animated by a purpose motive.”

“Our goal,” said the founder of Skype, “is to be disruptive, but in the cause of making the world a better place.”

Steve Jobs once explained that his ambition was, “To put a ding in the universe.”

Pink’s explanation of “the purpose motive” reminds me of Simon Senek’s TED talk on “How great leaders inspire action.”

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it…

The goal is not just to sell to people who need what you have; the goal is to sell to people who believe what you believe. The goal is not just to hire people who need a job; it’s to hired people who believe what you believe. I always say that if you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money, but if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for your you with blood and sweat and tears…

The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.

The challenge for us, then, is “to write your own sentence”:

June 1, 2010 at 6:00 am 1 comment

Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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