Friday, July 25, 2014

Do I really only use 10 percent of my brain?

Dear Dr. Phil,
There is a new movie that says I am only using 10% of my brain. Is this true? If so, did Albert Einstein really use more than 10% of his? My teacher said Einstein used lots more.
Thanks, Bob from Newark, NJ

Dear Bob from Newark, NJ,
This is a question that I am asked often. I say that with amazement, because the idea that nature is forcing us to carry around the excess weight of 90% of our brain that we never use, seems unbelievable to me. However this myth has prevailed for years.
You use all 100 percent of your brain.
In the movie, Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freemen proclaims that people only use 10 percent of their brain. Freeman is a great actor but not a neuroscientist, but due to his stage presence and authoritative voice, I will be asked about the “10 percent of your brain myth” all summer.
You use all of your brain throughout the day, everyday. Even when you appear not to be doing anything, the electrons in your brain are constantly firing at different rates.
If you are not using your pinky finger on your left hand, the corresponding brain tissue that controls that finger is ready to go. It may not be firing right this instance, but it is on standby if you need it. 
How did the myth start?
In a book that I highly recommend, How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, the writer of the preface, Lowell Thomas, a trusted journalist, misquoted psychologist William James. Dr. James said that people often use only 10 percent of their brain’s latent (not yet developed) potential. This became interpreted to mean 10 percent of their brain -- period. I do not know for sure, but this may be how my headache began.
I once talked to a self professed psychic who was convinced that her gift came from her ability to use more than 10 percent of her brain. When I told her she used all of her brain, she was modest and told me that she hoped to someday, after she practiced and expanded her psychic skills.
The 10 percent of the brain myth has been used a lot in Science Fiction. And, other than bothering my sensibilities, it probably doesn’t matter much. But sometimes myths have real consequences. 
Teachers and the 10 percent myth
I do have a concern about medical myths when they are being passed on by professionals. In a study out of England and the Netherlands, “researchers surveyed 242 primary and secondary school teachers who were interested in the neuroscience of learning.” What they found surprised me. The report states, “Results showed that on average, teachers believed 49% of the neuromyths, particularly myths related to commercialized educational programs.”
So I will “happily” spend my summer telling people about the fallacy of the 10 percent of the brain myth. If you can help me spread the word, thanks. I doubt we can kill this myth, but maybe we can lower its viral spread by say, 10 percent.
Let me end today with my favorite quote from William James, the man who is often called the father of American psychology, “Everybody should do at least two things each day that he hates to do, just for practice.”

Let me know what you think. Please comment below.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Teach your baby to read - Finally a scientifically based study

Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Over the last few years, parents have asked me for my professional thoughts on teaching their baby to read. If you do not know what I am talking about, in a nutshell, there is a growing industry of products claiming they will help you teach your baby to read, usually starting at 3 months of age.
Good parenting
Part of being a parent, and especially a new parent, is dealing with that nagging sense, “Am I doing everything for my baby?” None of us want to be just ‘adequate’ at the daunting job of parenting, so it makes sense that we want our baby to have the best we can offer.
So, if you can teach your baby to read by age 9 months, why wait until age 5? In fact, if you wait until age 5, aren’t you really holding your baby back?
It is normal to fear
It is normal to fear making a mistake with our children. It is also normal to want to give our baby the best we can offer.
All this being true, is it appropriate for a product manufacturer to tell us that their product can do a wondrous thing, such as help us start our baby down the path to learning, without proof?
The teach your baby to read companies typically address this concern with “proof” through testimonials. They explain, “hundreds of parents say” or, “We get thank you emails every day” telling us that our flashcards and DVD’s change babies lives.
The testimonials are real, but are they proof that a product teaches a baby to read?
I am a true believer that the responsibility of proof for amazing products falls on the manufacturer to produce, and a testimonial is not proof. A testimonial is the opinion of a mom or a dad who has invested a great deal of time, effort, and love into the teaching project - a project they want to work. We can all be deluded into believing something, it is a common mistake. Just this morning, while I brushed my teeth, I was looking in the mirror and thought, “I’m not too fat…” Whatever that means.
Finally a scientific study
Susan B. Neuman, Professor of Early Childhood and Literacy Education at New York University, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and her colleagues, have conducted the first controlled study specifically looking at the effects of a best-selling baby media product on reading development.
The product is intended to be used with infants as young a 3 months old. One hundred and seventeen infants, ages 9 to 18 months, were randomly assigned to treatment (i.e. - did the reading program) and control groups (no reading program).
According to the study, Can Babies Learn to Read? A Randomized Trial of Baby Media, “Children in the treatment condition received the baby media product, which included DVDs, word and picture flashcards, and word books to be used daily over a 7-month period; children in the control condition, business as usual.”
The study was published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, Feb 24 , 2014, See the abstract
According to the study, “[by]examining a 4-phase developmental model of reading, we examined both precursor skills (such as letter name, letter sound knowledge, print awareness, and decoding) and conventional reading (vocabulary and comprehension) using a series of eye-tracking tasks and standardized measures.”
The study found
The study found that the babies did not learn to read. But, and this is a big but, some parents were happy with their baby’s reading skills and confident in the product’s benefit.
In conclusion
This is only one study and in science, replication of a study is important. However, if I wanted to sell a reading program I was sure was the best thing since the Gutenberg press was invented, I would go to three major universities and pay for rigorous science based studies of my product. After the researchers independently found out that I did indeed have a great product, I would email the scientific studies to parents, along with a 20 percent off discount coupon. Then I’d sit back and watch the money roll in knowing that I was helping babies learn to read.

In fact, I wonder why this isn’t the business model that companies use to sell, say… wrinkle reduction creams, weight loss wizardry, or free energy from unicorn tail hairs. If you can prove that your product is great, wouldn’t it be easier to sell it? And if you cannot prove the benefits of your product, it would seem you have to fall back onto testimonials and manipulative wordplay to sell your gadget.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

3D image of the most famous brain in neuroscience

Philip Copitch, Ph.D.
The most famous brain in neuroscience belongs to Patient H.M. Don’t worry if you have never heard of Patient H.M., his real name was a medical secret until his death in 2008.
Patient H.M. is famous because of how much his medical condition helped neurologists learn about the inner workings of the human brain. Before Patient H.M., scientists believed that memory was stored throughout the brain. By studying Patient H.M., scientists got their first insight into the evidence that memory was controlled by a small part of the brain called the hippocampi and its attached tissue
Patient H.M.
Patient H.M. was Henry Molaison. All of us owe Mr. Molaison a debt of gratitude. As a child, Mr. Molaison suffered from major epileptic seizures. When epileptic seizures occur lots of neurons in the brain fire all at the same time in an abnormal way. Often seizures occur without warning. They can be mild, with loss of awareness; to severe, with uncontrolled body spasms and loss of consciousness.
Patients with recurring epileptic seizures are often prescribed anti-seizure medication. Mr. Molaison was not helped by this medication. To relieve the severe seizures, Mr. Molaison’s doctor removed the part of Mr. Molaison's brain that was causing the devastating seizures.
Following the surgery, Mr. Molaison’s seizures became manageable, but he no longer possessed short term memory. As the moments of his day went by, Mr. Molaison instantly forgot what he just did. Other parts of his memory were intact, but not his short term memory.
Mr. Molaison allowed himself to be studied by neurologists throughout his life, and after his death he donated his brain for further study. 
3D brain
Mr. Molaison's brain has been studied by many neurologists. In order to provide access to more scientists who wish to study Mr. Molaison’s brain, it has been made into a 3D virtual model.
This 41 second video shows the painstaking slicing of the frozen brain that was done to form the layered images of Mr. Molaison’s brain. This video is not for the squeamish. 

For more information about this fascinating case study, read the article printed in New Scientist.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Antidepressant drugs and drug-induced liver injury

Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

The American Journal of Psychiatry reports
December 2013, researchers reported in The American Journal of Psychiatry that common antidepressant drugs can cause liver damage in humans. Drug-induced liver injury (DILI) was found in 0.05-3.0% of those taking antidepressants.
The researchers did a PubMed review from 1965 to the present, and reported that all antidepressants can induce hepatotoxicity (liver cell damage or destruction), especially in elderly patients or patients taking multiple prescription medications. This chemically driven cell damage was found to be unrelated to drug dosage and generally occurred between several days and 6 months of starting the medication. 
prescription clipart,

The antidepressants associated with greater risks of damaging the liver are:
  • iproniazid
  • nefazodone
  • phenelzine
  • imipramine
  • amitriptyline
  • duloxetine
  • bupropion
  • trazodone
  • tianeptine
  • agomelatine

The antidepressants that seem to have the least potential  to damage the liver are 
  • citalopram
  • escitalopram
  • paroxetine
  • fluvoxamine

The researchers conclude:
Although an infrequent event, DILI from antidepressant drugs may be irreversible, and clinicians should be aware of it.