Interview with John Medina

Many parents are concerned about the sleep patterns of their children but in some cultures (Argentina, Spain), staying up late seems not to be a problem. Finally, is there any impact of bedtime or sleep pattern on babies and toddler’s cognitive development?

The most important factor appears to be establishing a consistent bedtime rhythm, regardless of what schedule you follow.

There is room for variation. Different people have different internal clocks – under partial genetic control - regardless of culture. These differences begin to appear in childhood. Some kids turn out to be natural night-owls, for example, and seem to be at their cognitive peak at night (we call them late chronotypes). Others show peaks in the morning (we call them early chronotypes) – and there are all shades in between. What chronotype your child possesses is important for parents to determine - and for kids to follow. Getting the proper amount of regular sleep certainly influences positive cognitive development. But what “proper” means may depend on what child you are talking about.

Several studies showed the benefits of co-sleeping, but some articles also highlight the fact that frequent awakenings during the night can generate stress for babies. Finally, do we know what is the global impact of this practice on sleep quality?

There are pros and cons to cosleeping and the current state of research gives no clear recommendation. There is no permanent damage done if you cosleep with them. There is no permanent damage done if you do the tried-and-true Cry It Out protocols. You can say that frequent awakenings not only stress the baby, they also stress the parents. Continuously stressed parents usually don’t make continuously good parents. Whichever style gives the adult more sleep is generally the healthier option.

Of course this has global implications. The less sleep you get, the more susceptible you become to anxiety and depressive disorders. Sleep loss also affects how you age. The global impact of depression and a poor transit through aging is incalculable.

Baby-wearing, with scarves for example, is increasingly used in western societies, but it has been practiced for centuries in other parts of the world. Does this practice have an impact on babies’ psychomotor development? By fostering visual or tactile exploration of the world for example. And do we know if the induced proximity between parents and babies strengthens the attachment?

I know of no studies conclusively determining whether baby-wearing has either a negative or a positive effect on a baby’s psychomotor development. It’s important for kids to move, for sure, but it’s also important they feel safe. And though safety cues are extremely important for a baby, how that is perceived depends on the child. Some babies seem to love scarves. For others, it’s their worst nightmare.

There are a variety of family structures, from nuclear families to multi-generational families. Does growing up in an extended family and multiplying interactions have an impact on children’s learning abilities, language acquisition or social skills?

I am deeply in favor of multi-generational families. The exposure to multiple intellects provides terrific opportunities for kids to hear alternate points of view -  and learn a great deal about navigating social relationships in a safe, loving atmosphere. Provided the family has a safe, loving atmosphere, that’s a net positive intellectual experience

In some countries, at an early age, toddlers spend much more time with their peers than with their parents and are very independent. What can be the impact of this early autonomy on their cognitive development?

Its not about providing autonomy. It’s about providing perceptions of safety, as I mentioned previously.

The reason is that the brain – even a child’s brain - is the world’s most sophisticated survival organ. If the child feels safe in an independent peer-filled environment, their brain development will maximized. And if that happens, I am all for early independent interactions. But not all kids feel safe in an independent peer-filled environment at an early age. Some get that later.  Parents should pay very close attention to what type of baby they have brought into the world, not into what country the child was born - and decide for themselves how much autonomy they can stand.

Conversely, in some cultures, parents are especially present and try to stimulate their babies’ intellectual growth from the very first months. What are the effects of this enhanced involvement on children’s development?

The greatest predictor of intellectual success is the emotional stability of the home - not the presence of toys or devices built to improve infant cognitive development. Most of those products haven’t been tested, and the few that have been tested don’t work very well. One study actually showed it did more harm.

If you want to maximize your child’s intellectual growth, the best thing you can do is to go home and love your partner. 


John Medina Video Interview

John Medina talks with Sixty&Me about the importance of exercise, managing stress, sleep, visual learning and how to use tricks and tips to address and reduce memory loss. He explains how understanding the brain can be applied to education and business. Dr. Medina explains the difference between simple forgetfulness and more serious brain disease and also surprises us with a 13 ‘rule’ that he would add if he was updating his best-selling book – power of nostalgia to improve brain function.


5 Brain Rules for Parents

There's a great ongoing conversation over at the Brain Rules for Baby Facebook page amongst new parents who have learned from Brain Rules for Baby. Author Dr. John Medina recently shared his 5 essential Brain Rules for Parents:

1. You are going to make lots of mistakes.
2. That’s okay. 
3. If you pay close attention to the safety needs of your children, – both the emotional and physical ones - you will almost always win.

4. If you treat your kids like they were merit badges, you will almost always lose.

5. Be prepared to live with contradictions. The parenting social contract is singular: they take and you give. Yet if you do it right, it won’t matter. You would die for them anyway, which means parenting is the best way to become a saint. Or a martyr. It is hard to believe that ripping your heart out of your pleural cavity and pinning it to your shirtsleeve could be the best thing that will ever happen to you. But it is. Parenting is probably the hardest thing you will ever do, but it is so much on the right side of worth it.


The John Medina Interview Roundup

Just because Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby have been published doesn't mean that Dr. John Medina has stopped educating the public with his scientifically backed insights on how our brains work. Dr. Medina has kept busy by doing a variety of interviews for the wide audiences of readers who are interested in learning more about the Brain Rules. Here are the links to a few of them:

-At the Positive Business Blog, Dr. Medina discusses how using our brains better leads to doing better business--especially when it comes to Rule #8: stress.

-Stream or download Dr. Medina's interview with independent business radio station BFM 89.9.

-Business blogger Bob Morris sits down with Dr. Medina.

-Watch Dr. Medina's conversation with Microsoft's Mary Cullinane at the Innovative Education Forum.

-Listen to Dr. Medina's in-depth interview about a set of Brain Rules that are especially handy for teachers.


Brain Rules for Educators

As anybody who has read Brain Rules knows, Dr. John Medina has a few bones to pick with how the traditional classroom is structured. If Dr. Medina were in charge, a typical day at school would be transformed in a myriad of ways that would increase levels of efficiency, permanence, and, well, fun while learning. Fortunately, educators are listening to Dr. Medina as well, and they're starting to share their thoughts with the rest of us:

-At The Huffington Post, Tom Vander Ark hypothesizes what a Brain Rules-inspired classroom would look like.

-Watch Dr. Medina's interview about which "brain rules" are myths and which ones are backed by scientific evidence in his interview with Mary Cullinane at the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum.

-Listen to Dr. Medina's in-depth discussion of Brain Rules for Teachers from the "Leaps and Bounds for Teachers" series from Berklee Faculty Development.

-You don't need to transform the entire educational system from the bottom up in order for the message Brain Rules to take a positive effect in your classroom: watch high school wrestling coach Mike Hagerty give his unsolicited praise detailing how Brain Rules has influenced his teaching.

Have you figured out new ways to integrate Brain Rules in your classroom? Don't hesitate to share and start a discussion with other educators at the Brain Rules Facebook page.


The NFL's New Brain Rules

You can always find Dr. John Medina's latest writing on brain research and how it affects our daily lives over at Brainstorm. Recently, Dr. Medina has been writing about how new knowledge about the brain could start having a direct impact on America's most popular sport: the NFL.

Like many of us, Dr. Medina is a long-time football fan, but the sport's future looks grim. Since so many current and former football players suffer from the debilitating brain injury CTE, there has been a growing public debate as to whether or not football is a safe game for anybody to consistently play. Dr. Medina points out that there are still significant gaps in research on CTE and its correlation with playing football, but sports fans could be hearing about this darker side of brain research for years to come.

You can read the entire series of Dr. Medina's posts on the NFL here.


New Brain Rules for Baby Videos

We are excited for you to meet Brain Rules Baby, who shares parenting wisdom from Brain Rules for Baby in these 60-second videos.

Watch Out - Your Kids Are Watching You More Than You Think

That's right, kids are really good a imitation.  Even a 13-month-old child can remember an event a week after a single exposure.  Even when you don't realize it, your kids are watching the world around you.  What you allow into your child's brain influences their expectations about the world, which in turn influences not only what they are capable of perceiving, but their very behavior.

View on YouTube

Under 2? No TV for you!

Americans 2 years of age and older now spend an average of four hours and 49 minutes per day in front of the TV—20 percent more than 10 years ago. And we are getting this exposure at younger and younger ages, made all the more complex because of the wide variety of digital screen time now available. In 2003, 77 percent of kids under 6 watched television every day. And children younger than 2 got two hours and five minutes of “screen time” with TVs and computers per day. The average American is exposed to about 100,000 words per day outside of work. Fully 45 percent of those words come from television. The fact is, the amount of TV a child should watch before the age of 2 is zero.

View on YouTube

Want more?
View the Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby videos in HD
"Like" us on Facebook (Brain Rules and Brain Rules for Baby) to get notified about the latest videos and news


Raising a toast to the human brain

John Medina discusses Brain Rules with Warren Etheredge at The High Bar.


Brain Rules for Meetings

Molecular biologist John Medina, speaker and author of the best-selling book Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, didn't set out to become a media star. But he got so fed up with encountering myths about the brain - that you use only 10 percent of it, for example, or that there are right- and left- brain personalities - that he once threw a magazine across a seat on an airplane. (The flight, he notes, wasn't full.) "So I decided to write Brain Rules," Medina said, "as an attempt to say, ‘Look, here's what we do know, here's what we don't know, here are a few things you can try that might have an application in the business world - and the meetings world as well.'"

Not that Brain Rules will tell you how the brain operates. "We don't know squat about how the brain works," said Medina, who has focused on brain research for nearly three decades. He added: "I don't know how you know how to pick up a glass of water and drink it. But we do know the conditions that [the brain] operates best in, even if we don't know all the ins and outs of that operation."

Which of the 12 Brain Rules has the most impact on meetings?
Well, probably, the biggest one would have to be about attentional states. This rule is very simple: People don't pay attention to boring things. So if you really want to have a lousy meeting, make sure it's boring. If you want to have a lousy classroom, make sure it's boring. And if you want to vaccinate against the types of things that really do bore the mind, we have some understanding of that.

So how do you design a good meeting?
Here are the top three "brain gadgets" that probably have a bearing on the question. First, the human brain processes meaning before it processes detail. Many people, when they put meetings together, actually don't even think about the meaning of what it is they're saying. They just go right to the detail. If you go to the detail, you've got yourself a bored audience. Congratulations.
Second, in terms of attentional states, we're not sure if this is brain science or not, but certainly in the behavioral literature, you've got 10 minutes with an audience before you will absolutely bore them. And you've got 30 seconds before they start asking the question, "Am I going to pay attention to you or not?" The instant you open your mouth, you are on the verge of having your audience check out. And since most people have been in meetings - 90 percent of which have bored them silly - they already have an immune response against you, particularly if you've got a PowerPoint slide up there.

How do you then hold attention?
This is what you have to do in 10 minutes. You have to pulse what I just said - the meaning before detail - into it. I call it a hook. At nine minutes and 59 seconds, you've got to give your audience a break from what it is that you've been saying and pulse to them once again the meaning of what you're saying.

What is the third "brain gadget"?
The brain cycles through six questions very, very quickly. Question No. 1 is "Will it eat me?" We pay tons of attention to threat. The second question is "Can I eat it?" I don't know if you have ever watched a cooking show and have loved what they are cooking, but you pay tons of attention if you think there's going to be an energy resource. Question No. 3 is highly Darwinian. The whole reason why you want to live in the first place is to project your genes to the next generation - that means sex. So Question No. 3 is "Can I mate with it?" And Question No. 4 is "Will it mate with me?"

It turns out we pay tons of attention to - it actually isn't sex per se, it's reproductive opportunity. [It is also] hooked up to the pleasure centers of your brain - the exact same centers you use when you laugh at something. Oddly enough, I think that's one of the reasons why humor can work. If you can pop a joke or at least tell an interesting story, it's actually inciting those areas of the brain that are otherwise devoted to sex. You don't become aroused by listening to a joke. I'm saying those areas of the brain can be co-opted. You can utilize them, and a good speaker knows how to do that.

What are Questions 5 and 6?
"Have I seen it before?" and "Have I never seen it before?" We are terrific pattern matchers. There is an element of surprise that comes when patterns don't match, but the reason why that happens is because we are trying to match patterns all the time.

Is there a Brain Rule that addresses whether you should try to control the use of laptops and phones during a meeting session?
I have this rule response, based on data, and then I have a visceral response, also based on data. In other words, I'm about ready to tell you a contradiction. Are you ready?

Yes, I am.
Alrighty. I do believe what you can show is that there are attentional blinks. The brain actually is a beautiful multitasker, but the attentional spotlight, which you use to pay attention to things, [is not]. You can't listen to a speaker and type what they are saying at the same time.

What you can show in the laboratory is that you get staccato-like attentional blinks. Just like you come up for air: You look at the speaker, then when you're writing, you cannot hear what the speaker is saying. Then you come up for air and hear the speaker again. So you're flipping back and forth between those two, and your ability to be engaged to hear what a speaker is saying is necessarily fragmented.
At the same time, if your speaker is boring, you could have checked out anyway. So you see, in many ways it depends upon the speaker.

How so?
If the speaker is really compelling and is clear and is emotion- ally competent, and has gone through those six questions, letting you come up for air every 10 minutes, I've actually watched audiences put their laptops away just to pay attention.

I have a style that is purposely a little speedier. And the rea- son why is that it produces a tension that says, "I need to pay attention closely to him or I'm going to lose what he's saying." I don't make it so fast that it's unintelligible - at least I hope I don't. But I do make it fast, and occasionally I see comments that say, "Great speaker, but you know, you were too freaking fast."

This interview originally appeared in the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) magazine Convene.


What Humans Can Learn From Monkeys

We are exploring the sometimes creepy, always fascinating distance between genes and behaviors. In this entry, I wish to illustrate a dramatic example of how nature and nurture interact, not by examining humans, but by considering some genetic next-door neighbors: vervet monkeys. This is a great example of  “Learn from your parents — it’s good for you!” without a human parent in sight.

Vervet monkeys have interesting predator vocalizations, and even something of a vocabulary. The animals appear to be born with this ability — there’s our nature. As we shall see, however, the application requires some practice — and that’s our nurture. This is easily seen in vervet monkey foraging behaviors, whether the animals are searching for food on the ground or in the trees.

Vervet monkeys have a vocalization for the warning “Run, you idiot, there’s a snake on the ground!”, for example. When an adult vocalizes this warning, the whole tribe runs into the trees, and everyone is safe. They have another word for “Run, you idiot, there’s a predatory bird in the air!” When an adult vocalizes this warning, the whole tribe dives to the ground, and everyone is safe one again.

Note that I italicized the word “adult” throughout the previous paragraph. That’s because when the tribe hears a youngster vocalize either the snake or bird warning, the tribe doesn’t do anything. The members wait until they hear an adult say it. Why do they pause? Because the little ones often get the vocabulary mixed up. They have not yet learned the correct application of their handy early warning system.

The adults aren’t trying to be obnoxious. They are trying to avoid a disaster. Imagine the tragedy if the whole tribe responded to a juvenile’s call to hit the dirt when the little guy saw a snake. The funny cartoon version has him saying sheepishly, “Oops. I meant, trees” — but the deadly real world version is “no more tribe.” Little vervets may be born with the ability to warn others, but they have not yet been instructed on its proper use. They will eventually learn the correct behavior by persistent interactions with older members of the tribe, but the instruction set is not innate. They may have been born with pre-loaded vocalizing software. That doesn’t mean they know how to use it.

A very similar situation between biological ability and social experience is observed with humans, examples of which we will explore in the next few entries. We may come into this world with some pretty sophisticated DNA, but like our primate cousins, that is no guarantee we know how to use it.