Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Long-Term Memory

  • The term consolidation is used to describe the process of converting short-term memory to long-term memory. Our semantic long-term memory is where we store factual information. Our episodic long-term memory is where we store stories. When we retrieve memories we can elicit a string of facts or a narrative. The narrative variety needs to be reconstructed and in the process is often embellished. This is compounded by the fact that our short-term memory only provides an approximation of reality.
  • We constantly try to associate new information with existing memory, which can alter what exists. For information that lacks a strong emotional aspect, repetition is necessary to fix long-term memories. Teachers should take advantage of this fact by making sure important material is repeated at the start and end of classes and on subsequent days, weeks, and months. Students can also help themselves by elaborating on what they have learned as they tell others. (Doug: The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.) It is also important to not try to deal with too much information at once. For some kids, a day in secondary school is like a five-period fire hose.

The Roll of Sleep

  • Sleep loss hurts attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, general math knowledge, and manual dexterity. When we do sleep, the brain does not appear to be asleep at all. It seems that we may be consolidate the day’s learning as we close down the reception of new information. People vary in the need for sleep and when they prefer to sleep, and most have a midday nap zone during which performance dips. Businesses and schools should be more sensitive to the sleep needs of employees and students. Starting later and allowing for naps can increase productivity. Mid afternoon exams also seem to be a bad idea.

The Roll of Stress

  • It should be no surprise that chronic stress dramatically impacts: math ability, language processing, long and short-term memory, your ability to generalize and concentrate, and problem solving ability. Stress negatively impacts your immune system to that stressed people are sick more often. They are also more likely to suffer from depression.
  • Stress has three components. FIrst there is an arousal to an event. The arousal must be seen as averse, and the person must not feel in control of dealing with the situation. Stress at home impacts one’s performance at school or work and visa versa. Students from stressful homes get lower grades and are more likely to have discipline problems. The biggest stress in most student’s lives results from marital problems of their parents, which also causes their parents to have problems at work.
  • When students are expected to learn content that they are not developmentally ready for, they will feel the stress that comes with lack of control. This helps explain why a one-size-fits all education plan is ineffective. As for home stress, anything we can do to reduce the stress of poverty and provide marital counseling can help.
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