Thursday, October 26, 2006

Can computers change our brains?

Recently, I’ve read an article that postulated that computers are changing the way we think. They train us to become more sequential as we program or use software such as Microsoft Excel, but at the same time they expect us to be simultaneous as they present us with the opportunity to write a document while checking emails and browsing the web for the latest research results.

Still, can computers really change our biological learning styles? Can they make us more sedentary even if we have a preference for mobile or kinesthetic learning? Can the log hours of surfing the net change us into night owls and loners? What do you think? Please take a moment to drop us a comment below. Are computers really changing our lives?

In case you’re wondering what the whole sequential/simultaneous discussion (also known as the left/right brain dominance) is all about, please have a look at

But, you may argue, what does it matter whether your brain is sequential, simultaneous or both?

Replies Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age: “Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere (sequential). They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by traditional tests. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But they're no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere (simultaneous) - artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent.”

To check your own learning style, visit us on

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Improve Reading with Coloured Overlays

A true story: Sue, a fifth-grade student from a professional family, is having trouble in school. When given an assignment requiring reading, she daydreams, talks with friends, and looks around the room . . . anything but read. Sue also has trouble accurately copying work from the board and often leaves out letters, words, and even sentences. She complains that words don't stay still and that numbers disappear; sometimes she gets headaches. She listens in class and raises her hand to answer questions but does not do well on tests. Her teachers insist she could do better if she would just try harder.

It stands to reason that, once classic vision problems are corrected or ruled out, everyone perceives the world in the same way, right? Well, that’s what I thought until a few weeks ago when I was introduced to the concept of "Perceptual Distortion".

Research has determined that not all individuals see the printed page in the same way. Some children see double letters, or letters that seem washed out in the middle, or letters dancing on the page in river patterns. These individuals suffer from a specific type of perceptual problem called Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS), also known as Irlen Syndrome. It is estimated to affect up to 12% of the general population and a much higher percentage of the dyslexic, learning-disabled, ADHD, and autistic populations.

This means that such students find it almost impossible to read. Their reading comprehension suffers and they may not be able to copy text into their books. They may skip lines, change the order of the letters in the words, or simply give up and stare out the window or become disruptive.

Developmental Optometrists say that for those children who suffer from "Perceptual Distortion", placing coloured filters or overlays on top of the printed page may help see the page more clearly. You can find the overlays here:

Why coloured filters may work: in the 19980s, researchers discovered a visual-perceptual processing deficit caused by light sensitivity. Such people have a problem with the timing in which the brain receives and processes visual information. This timing difficulty can cause distortions of print and of the environment. Altering the timing (with coloured filters) permits the visual information to be more accurately received and processed.

Symptoms of Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome (SSS) may include:
· Sensitivity to light;
· Inability to judge distance or spatial relationships;
· Eyestrain;
· Problems concentrating during tasks such as reading, computer use and watching;
· Problems with high contrast, such as black on white, bright colours, and “busy” patterns, e.g., stripes and polka dots;
· Inability to read words in groups or see groups of objects;
· Problems with tracking, skipping words, skipping lines, rereading for information, and slow reading rate;
· Reports of images, backgrounds, and/or print moving, fading, disappearing, swirling, sparkling, or shimmering.

Of course, not all reading problems are SSS-related. If your child is not reaching his or her reading goals, it may simply be that they are not being taught according to their Learning Style. If they have trouble concentrating on books, computers or watching things, for example, it may simply mean that they are not visual learners.

Please check your child’s Learning Style (and how best to teach them) on

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The uncanny effect of office lights

“The uncanny effect of office lights” was the title of an article I’ve recently read in The Cape Times.

Scientists are investigating the biological rhythms that affect people’s levels of alertness at work. They look into phenomena like “the post-lunch dip” - and they are surprised to discover it may occur whether or not you eat lunch! Well, they clearly haven’t heard of our Working Styles model, which pays attention to which time of day the individual finds productive, and which are counter-productive.

The same scientists also they believe these biological rhythms can be influenced by a
hitherto neglected office feature - the lighting. Again, our Working Styles model takes lighting into account when determining the most optimal area of work. It’s important to realise that an area deemed the most optimal for one person (who performs well under bright lights, in a separate quiet office) may be quite unsuitable for another (who might prefer the hustle and bustle of a crowded office which is only dimply lit).

(If you would like to discover your own Working Style, please visit us on

The article goes on to offer a warning about fluorescent tubes (again, something that we’ve been warning about in our assessment reports). The good news is, researchers are now experimenting with lamps that emit a different spectrum of light - of a cooler, bluish hue, which looks almost like daylight. Our receptors respond well to this light, by sending signals to the hypothalamus in the brain, which regulates circadian rhythms and the production of the hormone melatonin.

The year-long experiment discovered that the staff exposed to this light during office hours “felt more alert” and were doing their work “to a higher standard”, as opposed to the staff on other floors."

The hope is that manipulating lighting may improve health, and tackle problems such as depression, insomnia and variation in levels of on-the-job alertness.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Brain Food

We all know that some food is healthier for us than other: better for our waistline, our arteries, or heart. The brain often gets ignored in the equation.

Some of the must-haves for our brain include:
· Fresh air &
· Water &
· Fruit &
· Nuts &
· Seeds &
· Fish &
· Oats &
· Eggs.

An ideal breakfast that allows the brain to function to the max contains a balance of complex carbohydrates and protein:
· Grains
· Dairy or fish or beans &
· Fruit.

Below you will find a few examples of brain-balanced breakfasts:
1. Muesli with low-fat milk, one portion of fresh fruit (1 apple, 10 strawberries, 3 apricots)
2. Bran cereal with dried fruit and no-sugar yogurt
3. Scrambled eggs, whole-grain toast, an orange
4. Omelette, bran muffin, fruit with no-sugar yogurt
5. Whole-grain pancakes or waffles, berries, no-sugar yogurt
6. French toast with fruit, no-sugar yoghurt
7. Low-fat cheese melted on whole-grain toast with a portion of fresh fruit
8. Beans on whole-grain toast with a portion of fresh fruit
9. Peanut butter and banana slices on bran muffins, milk
10. Smoothie (1 raw egg, honey, no-sugar yoghurt, banana, berries, with optional ½ avocado and cinnamon).

Remember: fibre steadies the absorption of carbohydrates and therefore contributes to a steadier blood sugar. We therefore suggest using rich sources of fibre, like whole-grain bread, muesli, bran.

In case you’re after some “real” scientifically-proved brain food, have a look at this article about choline on Evidence suggests that supplemental choline given to a pregnant female can alter brain development in ways that facilitate learning later in life. The best-known choline-rich foods tend to be animal products, especially ones high in fat. Don't be afraid of eating eggs despite their cholesterol, as their yolks are among the richest known natural sources of choline. A tall glass of skim milk offers as much choline as an egg does.