Neuroscience Round-Up for Mindful Leaders

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By The Mindful Leader Team

What are the latest ideas and discussions emerging from the fields of neuroscience and psychology, and how might they be relevant to the workplace, leadership, and your life? 

Each month, we will share with you summaries of five recently published neuroscience and psychology articles to keep you current. Here is this month’s Round-Up. We’ve also included links if you’d like to read each article in its entirety. 

1. IQ Tests Can't Measure It, But 'Cognitive Flexibility' is Key to Learning & Creativity  

Rather than assessing intelligence and success based on one’s IQ score, this article argues that a more important indicator may be cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to switch between different concepts or adapt your thinking or behavior in response to changes in the environment. This skill is particularly important for creativity and problem-solving, which is crucial not just for the arts, but also for science and innovation. Unlike IQ, cognitive flexibility is a skill you can train to increase cognitive performance, communication and social skills, and more.

Key Points:

  • Being able to adapt your thinking and behavior has been shown to boost your “cold cognition” (rational thinking) skills, help prevent confirmation bias, improve social and emotional cognition skills, and make you more resilient to negative life events. 
  • Cognitive rigidity (a lack of cognitive flexibility) is associated with mental health disorders like OCD and depression. One of the most effective ways to boost cognitive flexibility is with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based psychological therapy that helps an individual reframe their thought patterns so they become more flexible in their thinking and behavior. 
  • Entrepreneurs who have created multiple companies generally have more cognitive flexibility than their less-successful counterparts of similar age and IQ. 

Read the full article here, and be sure to check out the University of Cambridge video lecture on the unexpected benefits of lifelong learning.

2. Fear of Changing Your Mind

In this article, Roz Savage unpacks how and why we often struggle to change our minds and accept new, often contradictory, information or opinions. Savage points out that we need to be capable of holding apparently contradictory beliefs at the same time, especially if we are to solve many of the big issues facing our world today. She urges us to remain critical of our behavior moving forward and consider where we opt for opinion over fact or instances when our certainty becomes too great such that we stop listening to the opinions of others, especially those who disagree.

Key Points:

  • The brain (particularly the left hemisphere) is hardwired to prioritize coherence over truth. It prefers consistency to cognitive dissonance and subconsciously uses a two-step test to evaluate new information where new data must be consistent with what we already “know” about the world to be processed and accepted. This can make it extra difficult to change our minds once we have accepted that certain ideas and beliefs are part of who we are. 
  • When our ideas become so strongly tied to our sense of self, we become extremely resistant to changing our ideas because it feels like we are giving up our identity. As a result, we may fail to consider opposing viewpoints, and in doing so, deny ourselves the opportunity to gain valuable insight and learn from the other side.  
  • We tend to accept a set of logically unrelated ideas (for instance, gun control, abortion, and gay rights) simply because they are all promoted by the “tribe”, or social group, with which we identity.

Read the full article here.

3. Dopamine Fasting: What Is It & How Does It Work?   

This article explores the recent trend of “dopamine fasting,” ultimately concluding that while the science behind it may be somewhat questionable, the benefits of its application are well-documented and worth incorporating, at least in part, into your lifestyle. The process of dopamine fasting requires individuals to avoid stimulation for a certain period of time to prevent any spikes in dopamine. This means avoiding food and drink except water (intermittent fasting), reading, sex and masturbation, and even social interactions for serious practitioners. While scientists stipulate that it’s likely impossible (and unhealthy) to eliminate all dopamine from the brain and body, they agree that taking time away from bad habits and impulsive behaviors and slowing down to live mindfully in the moment certainly have healthy and positive effects. 

  • What is dopamine?
    • Colloquially known as the “feel-good” chemical, dopamine is a neurotransmitter released during pleasurable activities, like eating food, having sex, or when using phones and social media. 
    • Each time dopamine is released in response to stimuli, the brain becomes less sensitive and requires even more of that same stimuli to activate the reward circuit in the future. These feedback loops, particularly when it comes to the use of technology, create addictive behavior, which “dopamine fasting” seeks to stop.
  • How can we naturally lower and regulate our dopamine levels?
    • First, understand that addictive qualities apply to all of us, and thus we should begin by curating a self-awareness of our own addictive tendencies. 
    • Practicing mindfulness can help us face our feelings of discomfort and pain rather than turning to distractions. With more intentional and mindful living, we can then begin to implement impulsivity control in all areas of our life.
    • Regularly take time away from technology and addictive apps, whether you are “dopamine fasting” or not. 

Read the full article here

4. 6 Science Proven Facts About Emotional Validation Never to Ignore

Emotional validation, which involves communicating acceptance of your own and others’ feelings, thoughts, and beliefs without judgments, is crucial for developing healthy relationships, but a lack of it can also have serious consequences for wellbeing. This article summarizes the six most important benefits and possible harms that arise from emotional validation or invalidation: 

  • Emotional validation leads to better familial, platonic, and romantic relationships by improving communication. It communicates acceptance and value while creating a safe space for the other person to feel heard, which can deactivate defensiveness and aid in emotional regulation. 
  • Based on a famous study by Dr. John Gottman, emotional validation is a reliable predictor of marriage outcomes (up to 94%), with the findings revealing that even small daily moments of emotional validation add up over time. 
  • A lack of emotional validation during childhood can follow an individual into adulthood and contribute to the development of eating disorders like anorexia, borderline personality disorder, and self-harm behaviors. 
  • Similarly, a lack of emotional validation can also have serious long-term consequences including identity issues, difficulty managing emotions, and mental health disorders. 
  • Emotionally validating someone else does not mean you should accept poor treatment. You can communicate your willingness to listen and communicate in a safe environment, but still enforce personal boundaries, especially concerning aggressive, abusive, or negative behavior.
  • You can accidentally invalidate someone’s emotions even if your intentions are good. This can happen when you conflate validation with agreement (i.e., respond to “I feel unloved” by immediately telling them they are loved, instead of just listening to them), assume you know what they mean or want, or talk too much about yourself. 

Read the full article here.

5. Are You Mentally Ill or Very Unhappy? – Psychiatrists Can't Agree  

Journalist Sophie McBain tackles the raging debate happening in psychiatry right now: Is psychiatry’s disease model (i.e., the clinical diagnosis of mental illness) valid or should it be abandoned? This high-stakes debate challenges us to consider how we conceptualize mental illness and how it should be clinically diagnosed, labeled, and treated, if at all. Scientific research has yielded little progress regarding the neurobiological basis (if any) for mental illness, which has resulted in a lack of consensus regarding the best solution when it comes to diagnosis.

  • A few points to consider: The pandemic has triggered a massive mental health crisis (adult depression rates alone have doubled), raising the question: is this actually a health crisis or just mass unhappiness? What do we mean when we use the terms “mental illness” and “diagnosis”?
    • A group of British doctors and patients including psychologist Lucy Johnstone, reject the idea of mental illness entirely, arguing that diagnoses are not only harmful to patients but also invalid and used to medicalize what is actually “mental distress.”  
    • Other doctors, like Sami Timimi, don’t necessarily dismiss the concept of mental illness, but do reject the notion of a “diagnosis,” arguing that, in psychiatry, a diagnosis is subjective and more accurately described as a descriptive term since it doesn’t actually identify the root cause.
    • Receiving multiple diagnoses often has a negative effect on patients’ self-perception
  • What are possible alternatives to the current diagnosis model?
    • Lucy Johnstone and her colleague Mary Boyle instead propose a “Power Threat Meaning Framework” (PTMF), which uses inter-related questions to empower patients to work through their threat responses and identify general patterns of behavior, but more evidence is needed to demonstrate its clinical effectiveness.
    • The open dialogue approach focuses on empowerment through a small support circle and can be used in conjunction with diagnosis and medication or by itself. Early research indicates that it helps significantly reduce hospitalization time, medication, and relapse. 

Read the full article here


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