Physical and mental skills may not be that different

Researchers are increasingly finding out that there is less difference than we think between cognitive and physical skill acquisition. In short, different parts of the brain take over when a skill becomes practiced or “automatic.” This frees up “room” and attention for higher order thinking or additional levels of skill development. This is true even with such romanticized skills such as writing. Maybe we need to deromanticize many skills like writing and creativity.

Mignon: I’d like to hear more about how the caudate nucleus is involved in “skills that come with practice.”

Ellen: Yes, in the study, the caudate nucleus lit up when the experienced writers were writing, but not with the inexperienced writers.

The caudate nucleus is a midbrain structure, which means that it evolved way ahead of the cortex and plays a role in a mind-boggling array of functions, including some really fundamental things like sleep and movement.

Germane to this study, it also plays a role in learning.  As you gain expertise, your brain economizes and automates.  In other words, as you get good at something, you stop overthinking—the task becomes automatic, like riding a bike or using a fork.  So it makes sense that this area lit up in the scans of expert writers.



I earned this muffin: narrative bias and performance

A great post on how cognitive bias can affect training performance:

After more and more questioning, we started to uncover that her day was filled with little treats like this that she had “earned.” Because these were always in the context of some reward, they didn’t seem off-track, or not fitting within her diet. However, what she wasn’t aware of was the treats often happened much more often than she cared to realize.

This is narrative bias in action. You and I fall victim to the exact same thing.


In their very valuable book Video review of the book

Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning the authors emphasize the importance of corrective feedback to improve learning. Teachers generally focus too much on their role as distributors of information rather than evaporators of student performance. I would add that even better outcomes are achieved when we help students to self-evaluate by providing them with cues, checklists, or external triggers to aid them to evaluate.

TIP: Choose exercise that have built in feedback whenever possible. As instuctors, parents, or managers we should help our learners to self-evaluate to improve performance whenever possible. If the learner does not understand why they have received their grade or evaluation and how they can improve their performance then we have failed to teach effectively.

Examples of exercises with built in feedback:

Can you touch your toes?

Can you hold your balance on one leg with your eyes closed for ten seconds?

A very good example of corrective exercises. In short, our exercise routines should be built on improving performance in a specific area, even when foam rolling.

Delayed onset muscle soreness – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Repeated-bout effect

After performing an unaccustomed eccentric exercise and exhibiting severe soreness, the muscle rapidly adapts to reduce further damage from the same exercise. This is called the “repeated-bout effect”.[9]

As a result of this effect, not only is the soreness reduced, but other indicators of muscle damage, such as swelling, reduced strength and reduced range of motion, are also more quickly recovered from. The effect is mostly, but not wholly, specific to the exercised muscle: experiments have shown that some of the protective effect is also conferred on other muscles.[1]:69

The magnitude of the effect is subject to many variations, depending for instance on the time between bouts, the number and length of eccentric contractions and the exercise mode. It also varies between people and between indicators of muscle damage.[1]:69 Generally, though, the protective effect lasts for at least several weeks. It seems to gradually decrease as time between bouts increases, and is undetectable after about one year.[1]:70

The first bout does not need to be as intense as the subsequent bouts in order to confer at least some protection against soreness. For instance, eccentric exercise performed at 40% of maximal strength has been shown to confer a protection of 20 to 60% from muscle damage incurred by a 100% strength exercise two to three weeks later.[1]:73 Also, the repeated-bout effect appears even after a relatively small number of contractions, possibly as few as two. In one study, a first bout of 10, 20 or 50 contractions provided equal protection for a second bout of 50 contractions three weeks later.[1]:70

The reason for the protective effect is not yet understood. A number of possible mechanisms, which may complement one another, have been proposed. These include neural adaptations (improved use and control of the muscle by the nervous system), mechanical adaptations (increased muscle stiffness or muscle support tissue), and cellular adaptations (adaptation to inflammatory response and increased protein synthesis, among others).[1]:74

via Delayed onset muscle soreness – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Pause, Clarify, Decide – ProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education

The book as a whole provides a valuable set of core principles for improving personal productivity, which feed into the process they call Pause-Clarify-Decide — training yourself to pause and think about what you’re doing, rather than just mindlessly reacting. Stopping to ask yourself periodically “what is the value of what I am doing right now?” can break you out of simply responding to crises or the trance of social media and help you redirect your attention to the most important tasks.

via Pause, Clarify, Decide – ProfHacker – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Academic on the inside? | The Thesis Whisperer

A very insightful post about the class of cultures between business people and academics. What is especially striking is the necessity of making decisions in business with incomplete information. 

The panel pointed out that in business decisions are often made on partial information. This can be uncomfortable for researchers who like to carefully collect evidence and do a considered analysis before offering an opinion. In fact, careful answers are what most academics hold most dear; you are not being an academic if you skip steps, leave out details or don’t entertain the possibility you are wrong.

What was initially described to be a ‘problem’ of the scientists was looking more like a culture clash – and this feeling only intensified when I asked my next question.

How was it possible for science graduates to be bad at team work? They grow up in a lab culture where sharing and collaborating are the norm. You can’t really DO science without collaborating at some level. After years and years of this even those who are not naturally disposed to play well with others will pick up some team work skills?

Well yes of course, the panelists replied. When you get a team of scientists working together in a non academic setting they collaborate like mad. They are the very model of best practice in team work.

So long as they are with other scientist types.

They just don’t get along with other people that well. ‘Other people’ being non academics and people who are not trained in the same discipline.

Scientists often found it difficult, the panelists explained, to communicate with non scientists. Communication involves much more than merely translating technical terms and concepts into non specialist speech. In the workplace telling someone a fact is not enough; scientists must learn to use the facts to persuade people to adopt a position or a new practice. Scientists do not usually have good skills in this because they get used to dealing with people who think the same way. This made sense to me – there is enough climate denial, anti vaccination crusades and anti-wind farm advocates out there, despite the best efforts of scientists to tell them the facts.

Facts do not, in fact, speak for themselves at all.

If you do not get good at persuading people with facts the communication problems multiply. The panelists gave examples of scientists criticising decisions they thought were wrong and asking uncomfortable questions they knew the other person couldn’t answer.

Basically acting like a normal academics.

via Academic on the inside? | The Thesis Whisperer.

Opportunity Cost Definition – Economics Help

Opportunity cost is an underused tool to help us reflect on how we use time. Almost every moment of our waking lives we make choices that involve opportunity costs. If you decide for example that you do not want to exercise, what exactly are you doing instead? Simply reflecting on the opportunity cost can help you make better choices.

Examples of Opportunity Cost


If you have 12 hours at your disposal during the day, you could spend these hours in work or leisure. The opportunity cost of spending all day watching TV, is that you are not able to do any study during the day.

This shows a trade off between working and hours spent in leisure. If you enjoy 2 hours more leisure, the opportunity cost is 2 hours lost for studying.

via Opportunity Cost Definition – Economics Help.