Ways to Turbo Charge Your Brain

Ways to Turbo Charge Your Brain


Smile, and you’ll experience how the body influences the brain. But how should we think about this relationship? Is a smile an input to the brain or an output from the brain — or both? Recently, we found help from Andy Clark, a professor of logic and metaphysics at Edinburgh University, Scotland, and author of Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension (Oxford University Press, 2008). Describing our “cognitive engine,” he writes:

“An analogy I sometimes use is with the workings of a turbo-driven car engine. Compare: the car makes exhaust fumes (outputs) that are also inputs that drive the turbo that adds power (up to around 30 percent more power) to the engine. The exhaust fumes are both outputs and self-generated inputs that, as they loop around, surely form a proper part of the overall power-generating mechanism. I think much the same is true of our use of bodily gestures while reasoning with others, and of the way that actively writing contributes to the process of thinking. The gestures and words on the page are outputs that immediately loop back in ways that form larger circuits of ongoing thinking and reasoning.”

Here are some other ways to turbo-charge your thinking

Expand for Success: According to new research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, “posture expansiveness,” or positioning oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space, activates a sense of power that produces behavioral changes in a person, independent of his or her actual rank or hierarchical role in an organization. In the expansive posture condition, participants were asked to place one arm on the armrest of a chair and the other arm on the back of a nearby chair. They were also told to cross their legs so the ankle of one leg rested on the thigh of the other leg and stretched beyond the leg of the chair. Conversely, in the constricted posture condition, participants were asked to place their hands under their thighs, drop their shoulders, and place their legs together. In three studies, posture was found to convey confidence and leadership, but the person also would actually think and act more powerfully. (Psychological Science, January 2011)

Flex for Willpower: A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found a very simple way to boost willpower at decision time: flex your muscles. According to the report, “Participants who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscle they tightened — hand, calf, jaw, or biceps — while trying to exert self-control demonstrated greater ability to withstand pain, consume unpleasant drinks, attend to disturbing but important information, and overcome the temptation of eating unhealthy foods. It appears that muscle tightening — aligned with a goal to help out or to live a healthy lifestyle, for instance — helped people overcome the dilemma of self-control if the muscle tightening coincided with the moment of choice. (University of Chicago Press Journals, October 2010)

Know When to Trust Your Gut: Researchers at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, found that the link between gut feelings and intuitive decision-making is stronger in people who are more aware of their own heartbeat. Specifically, the researchers found that subtle changes in the players’ heart rates and sweat responses affected how quickly they learned to make the best choices during a specially designed card game. Unfortunately, the quality of the advice that people’s bodies gave them varied. Some people’s gut feelings were spot on, meaning they mastered the card game quickly. Other people’s bodies told them exactly the wrong moves to make, so they learned slowly or never found a way to win. The researchers conclude: “What happens in our bodies really does appear to influence what goes in our minds. We should be careful about following these gut instincts, however, as sometimes they help and sometimes they hinder our decision making.” (Psychological Science, January 4, 2011)

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