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CSCA Lecture - Prof. dr. Adele Diamond, Dept of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Canada

Detail Summary
Date 30 June 2011
Time 20:30 - 21:30

Prof. dr. Adele Diamond
Dept of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Canada

To succeed in the 21st century, people will need the self-control to resist temptations, avoiding doing or saying something they’d regret. They’ll need the presence of mind to wait before speaking or acting, giving the considered response rather than an impulsive one. Tomorrow’s leaders will likely be those who have the discipline to stay focused despite distractions, and to see tasks through to completion though the reward may be long in coming. That is, they’ll need inhibitory control. They’ll also need the other ‘executive functions’ – cognitive flexibility and working memory. They’ll need to be able to creatively think outside the box to come up with fresh ways of attacking problems never considered before. They’ll need the flexibility to look at a situation from this perspective and that, able to change course when needed, and to seize opportunities when they unexpectedly arise. They’ll need to use their working memory to hold lots of information in mind, looking for connections between seemingly unconnected things, creatively re-combining elements in new ways.

Luckily, executive functions can be improved. They are amenable to training and practice throughout life. They can be improved even in very young children without specialists or expensive equipment. Improving executive functions early gets children started on a trajectory for success. Conversely, letting children start school behind on these skills starts them on a negative trajectory that can be hard and extremely expensive to reverse.

What we are learning about the brain is turning ideas about education on their heads. Research shows that activities that are getting squeezed out of school curricula -- the arts, physical exercise, and play -- are excellent for developing executive functions and are therefore important for academic success and for success later in life.

The flip side of the coin of executive functions being amenable to positive change or improvement is that they are also particularly susceptible to disruption by stress, lack of sleep, loneliness, or lack of exercise. Counterintuitively, the most efficient way to improve executive functions and academic achievement is not to focus narrowly on those alone, but to also address children’s emotional, social, and physical development. The brain does not recognize the same sharp division between cognitive, emotional, and motor function that we impose in our thinking. The arts, too, do not respect arbitrary separations of the mind, heart, and body. Physical activity is not just beneficial for physical fitness, it is also beneficial for cognitive and emotional fitness.

The interrelations between executive functions, emotions, social needs, and our bodies vary somewhat by genotype and gender. The special properties of the dopamine neurons that project to prefrontal cortex make prefrontal cortex especially sensitive to variations in genes that have little or no effect on other brain regions. The conditions under which males and females excel at executive functions also appear to differ.

Video registration

The video registrations are only visible to CSCA-members or students connected to the University of Amsterdam.

Video registration: Frijda Lecture: Development, Neurochemical Modulation, and Environmental Interventions to Improve Inhibition of Thought and Action

Roeterseilandcampus - building A
Roeterseilandcampus - building A

Nieuwe Achtergracht 166
1018 WV Amsterdam


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