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Scientists Reveal The Answer To Why People Who Drive And Read Maps Are Smarter

Scientists Reveal The Answer To Why People Who Drive And Read Maps Are Smarter

A scientific study has shown that navigating around a city street can enhance a person’s brain and it has also shown that the brain can change on a structural level as people learn.

The study, conducted by the University of Carnegie-Mellon, looked at 28 adults who played a driving video game. Half of the group, the control group, was asked to maneuver along 20 different routes for 45 minutes. The other group practiced maneuvering along a single route 20 times for 45 minutes.

Details of the study

The control group, by practicing 20 routes, was not able to practice enough to learn the details of all 20 routes in the time period. By contrast, the test group was able to maneuver along that route far faster. They were also able to do a better job drawing a two-dimensional picture of the route and were faster ordering a series of screenshots taken of that route.

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Now, this may seem incredibly obvious. If you practice driving alongside a single route, you will certainly get better at driving that route compared to someone who only practices that route one time out of 20. But the important part was that before and after the testing session, each participant underwent a brain scan using diffusion-weighted imagining (DWI), which measures water molecule activity in the brain.

Results of the brain scan

The brain scan found that those who practiced the one route repeatedly showed changes in the left posterior dentate gyrus. This area of the brain is part of the hippocampus, a region which controls memory and navigational ability. The hippocampus is a crucial region in understanding Alzheimer’s disease, as it is one of the first parts of the brain to be afflicted.

And these changes did not just stay in the hippocampus. The Carnegie researchers noticed that there were increases “in the synchronization of activity – or functional connectivity – between this region and other cortical areas in the network of brain regions responsible for spatial cognition.” Furthermore, this structural change could be correlated with how well the test group people performed at navigating the route.

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Implications for the rest of the brain

It had been known for years that taxi drivers, who have to navigate endless streets, have a larger hippocampus compared to others. But this study, appears to show that they develop this through their driving.

This has important implications beyond navigation. For example, the hippocampus also affects one’s memory. A recent study by Columbia University which analyzed the hippocampus in rats shows that their brain cells – and by implication, ours – are capable of tracking time and distance.

That is important due to the fact that we organize our memories through time, and that we link our sense of time with our sense of physical places. Scientists have understood that navigation and memory are linked in our brains for a long time.

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Hence, if it is possible to enhance one’s navigational ability, then perhaps this strategy could be used to improve one’s memory at the same time.

Plenty of work to be done

The Carnegie-Mellon researcher are understandably elated with what they have accomplished. As Marcel Just, the director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at the University observed, “We’re excited that these results show what re-wiring as a result of learning might refer to. We now know, at least for this type of spatial learning, which area changes its structure and how it changes its communication with the rest of the brain.”

But there remains a great deal of work to be done to see how this link between spatial learning, an enlarged hippocampus, and memory can be used. Still, perhaps taxi drivers can take some pride in knowing that their constant navigating has other positive health effects.

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Featured photo credit: Kaysha via flickr.com

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Last Updated on June 21, 2018

Science Says Screaming Is Good For You

Science Says Screaming Is Good For You

There are many reasons why people might scream – they’re angry, scared, or in pain (or maybe they’re in a metal band!). Some might say that screaming is bad, but here’s why science says it’s good for you.

“For the first time in the history of psychology there is a way to access feelings, hidden away, in a safe way and thus to reduce human suffering. It is, in essence, the first science of psychotherapy.” — Dr. Arthur Janov

Primal Therapy

Dr. Arthur Janov invented Primal Therapy in the late 1960’s. It is a practice that allows the patient to face their repressed emotions from past trauma head on and let those emotions go. This treatment is intended to cure any mental illness the patient may have that surfaced from this past trauma. In most cases, Primal Therapy has lead Dr. Janov’s patients to scream towards the end of their session, though it was not part of the original procedure. During a group therapy session that was at a standstill, Dr. Janov says that one of his patients, a student he called Danny, told a story that inspired him to implement a technique that he never would have thought of on his own.

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How it Started

“During a lull in our group therapy session, he told us a story about a man named Ortiz who was currently doing an act on the London stage in which he paraded around in diapers drinking bottles of milk. Throughout his number, Ortiz is shouting, ‘Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!’ at the top of his lungs. At the end of his act he vomits. Plastic bags are passed out, and the audience is requested to follow suit.”

It doesn’t end there, though. Dr. Janov said that his patient was quite fascinated with that story, and that alone moved him to suggest something even he believed to be a little elementary.

“I asked him to call out, ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ Danny refused, saying that he couldn’t see the sense in such a childish act, and frankly, neither could I. But I persisted, and finally, he gave in. As he began, he became noticeably upset. Suddenly he was writhing on the floor in agony. His breathing was rapid, spasmodic. ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ came out of his mouth almost involuntarily in loud screeches. He appeared to be in a coma or hypnotic state. The writhing gave way to small convulsions, and finally, he released a piercing, deathlike scream that rattled the walls of my office. The entire episode lasted only a few minutes, and neither Danny nor I had any idea what had happened. All he could say afterward was: ‘I made it! I don’t know what, but I can feel.’”

Delving deeper

Dr. Janov says he was baffled for months, but then he decided to experiment with another patient with the same method, which lead to a similar result as before. The patient started out calling “Mommy! Daddy!” then experienced convulsions, heavy breathing, and then eventually screamed. After the session, Dr. Janov says his patient was transformed and became “virtually another human being. He became alert… he seemed to understand himself.”

Although the initial intention of this particular practice wasn’t to get the patient to scream, more than once did his Primal Therapy sessions end with the patient screaming and feeling lighter, revived, and relieved of stresses that were holding them down in life.

Some Methods To Practice Screaming

If you want to try it out for yourself, keep reading!

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  • Step 1: Be Alone — Be alone. If you live in a place that you can’t be alone, it might be a good idea to talk to your family or roommates and explain to them what you’re about to do and make sure they’re okay with it. If you’re good to go, move on to step 2.
  • Step 2: Lie Down — Lie down on a yoga mat on your back and place a pillow underneath your head. If you don’t own a yoga mat, you can use a rug or even a soft blanket.
  • Step 3: Think — Think of things that have hurt you or made you angry. It can be anything from your childhood or even something that happened recently to make yourself cry, if you’re not already crying or upset. You could even scream “Mommy! Daddy!” just like Dr. Janov’s patients did to get yourself started.
  • Step 4: Scream — Don’t hold anything back; cry and scream as loud as you can. You can also pound your fists on the ground, or just lie there and scream at the top of your lungs.

After this, you should return your breathing to a normal and steady pace. You should feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of you. If not, you can also try these other methods.

Scream Sing

Scream singing” is referring to what a lot of lead singers in metal or screamo bands will do. I’ve tried it and although I wasn’t very good at it, it was fun and definitely relieved me of any stress I was feeling from before. It usually ends up sounding like a really loud grunt, but nonetheless, it’s considered screaming.

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  • Step 1 — Bear down and make a grunting sound.
  • Step 2 — Hiss like a snake and make sure to do this from your diaphragm (your stomach) for as long as you can.
  • Step 3 — Breathe and push your stomach out for more air when you are belting notes, kind of like you would if you were singing.
  • Step 4 — Try different ways to let out air to control how long the note will last, just make sure not to let out too much air.
  • Step 5 — Distort your voice by pushing air out from your throat, just be careful not to strain yourself.
  • Step 6 — Play around with the pitch of your screams and how wide your mouth is open – the wider your mouth is open, the higher the screams will sound. The narrower or rounder your mouth is (and most likely shaped like an “o”), the lower the screams will sound.
  • Step 7 — Start screaming to metal music. If you’re not a huge metal fan, it’s okay. You don’t have to use this method if you don’t want to.

If you want a more thorough walkthrough of how to scream sing, here’s a good video tutorial. If this method is too strenuous on your vocal chords, stop. Also, make sure to stay hydrated when scream singing and drink lots of water.

Scream into a pillow

Grab a pillow and scream into it. This method is probably the fastest and easiest way to practice screaming. Just make sure to come up for air.

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Always remember to make sure that you’re not going to disturb anyone while practicing any of these methods of screaming. And with that, happy screaming!

Featured photo credit: Sharon Mollerus via flickr.com

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