Miss Psychobabble: 3 Ways To Improve The Brain's Health Through Video Games

Image credit: Ginny via Flickr
1.  Action video games make dyslexic kids read better

For about 10% of children, learning to read can be a hard day's work.  This is due to experiencing a neurodevelopmental disorder called dyslexia.  As the current treatments for dyslexia demand high amounts of resources, researchers all over the world are in search of alternative ways to manage it.

In 2013, Franceschini et al. showed that playing action video games can improve the reading skills of children with dyslexia.  In the study, kids aged 7 to 13 were separated into two groups namely:  Rayman Raving Rabids (fast-paced game) group and Lower Tempo group.  After playing these games, the group with the fast-paced action game was able to read faster and more accurately.

2.  Super Mario caused increase in grey matter
Let Mario take your grey matter to the next level by playing Super Mario 64 for 2 months and at least 30 minutes a day.  
Kühn et al. (2014) showed that constantly playing Super Mario 64 caused an increase in the grey matter of regions responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, fine motor skills, and strategic planning, particularly in the right hippocampus, the right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum.  Thus, video games such as this can potentially be used for patients with schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, or Alzheimer's, whose brain regions have decreased in size.

3.  Action video games help make quicker and more accurate decisions
Would you believe me when I say that action virtual games can improve your decision-making skills even in the physical world?  
In 2010, researchers in University of Rochester found that people who played fast-paced games made accurate decisions at a quicker rate - 25% faster, to be exact!  According to the study, frequent gamers had better sense of what is going on around them that they made faster decisions.  This heightened sense of awareness came from the constant training to avoid being killed in action-packed games such as “Call of Duty 2″ and “Unreal Tournament".  In fact, they were also proven to be more efficient collectors of visual and auditory information.

This goes to show that choosing the right video game is not only fun but is also beneficial to your brain!

SGPsychStud: Finding the Fun in Studying and Learning

I just attended a gamification teaching aid during Wednesday and a corporate teambuilding training during Thursday and Friday.  This made me ponder over my experiences in those three days: 
"How can these be applied to one's learning process?  Have I applied these before in my own learning?"
This reflection (which is something I do quite often) has brought me to a revelation:
We need FUN  to be present in our learning.  This helps in the absorption of  knowledge, especially in the topics and subjects that are drier and more complex.
 Here is an fun example of how I use a combination of my previous knowledge to learn the model of operant conditioning below:
Image from: https://wikispaces.psu.edu/display/PSYCH484/3.+Reinforcement+Theory
Although I knew that positive reinforcement/punishment was the application of a stimulus and negative reinforcement/punishment was the removal of a stimulus, I often forgot whether the stimulus is a pleasant or unpleasant stimulus.  So I used this method...
As we all know, according to multiplication of Positive (+ve) and Negative (-ve):
+ve  x +ve  =  +ve
+ve  x  -ve  =  -ve  (and vice versa)
-ve   x  -ve  =  +ve
This results in:
A positive (+ve) reinforcement (+ve) would be the application of a pleasant (+ve) stimulus.
A negative (-ve) reinforcement (+ve) would be the removal of a pleasant (-ve) stimulus.
A positive (+ve) punishment (-ve) would be the application of a unpleasant (-ve) stimulus.
A negative (-ve) punishment (-ve) would be the removal of a pleasant (+ve) stimulus.
So do you understand this model better now???

Lorna Collier (as featured on the APA's June 2015 Monitor on Psychology) had provided some tips to increase engagement in students' learning, which I believe some of them are very doable and compatible to our learning if we are able to increase the fun in it.  So here are the tips by Lorna Collier and my suggestions in how they can be used to increase our learning!

1.  Create personal connections
Though Collier's tips of having personal connections were regarding having a relationship with the teacher, it applies the same way with your knowledge.  By coming up with your own fun (or even ridiculous) ways and methods of remembering stuff (like the above example), this allows you to have a feeling of ownership and a special connection with their theory that you are trying to remember.  This in turn helps you to remember that knowledge whenever and wherever you want to retrieve that knowledge.
2.  Focus on mastery (and have fun in the process)
More often than not, students tend to study for the pure reason that they have exams.  This is a very unhealthy mindset.  A better alternative is to learn materials and things for the pure reason of curiosity.  This is how young children learn things.  Having fun when learning allows you to turn your focus into trying to learn the materials better, which in turn makes you so much better at the materials!  

3.  Build experiences of success
Despite meeting with obstacles and hurdles in our everyday lives and experiences, we should take them with a positive mindset that we are given the chance to improve on these mistakes and obstacles when we experience them again.  Even when reaching the final goal seemed to be a huge task, we should enjoy every moment of fun and take each small success step as an encouragement that you are reaching the final goal.  With continuous self-encouragement and curiosity to explore forward all the time, it is very possible that you can reach your final learning goal!  

Finding the fun in studying and learning really complements well with the conditions of having new opportunities and experiences (as mentioned in my previous post, which are having (a) a thirst of knowledge, (b) curiosity, and (c) a positive mindset.  So Happy Learning and have a Good Weekend!

SGPsychStud: The "Nothing Box" and Mindfulness

Image from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17476117
It was a very weird day yesterday.  I was in my "Nothing Box" state almost the whole day, going around and doing things without much thoughts.  To learn more about the "Nothing Box", watch the below video (from 3:55 onwards):

I believe the above video is only an abstract of a longer seminar, but the main point is in those short 10 minutes.  Other than describing the "Nothing Box" from 3:55, the speaker, Mark Gungor, also explained its purpose, which was to specifically help men reduce stress.
Probably I was undergoing some stress, from work and personal issues, and hence I had to go into my "Nothing Box" for the whole day, which resulted in me not writing the blog again on Saturday.  I woke up this morning, reflecting on what happened yesterday and the "Nothing Box" came to mind.  This led to my next thought:
Would the ability of going into "Nothing Box" reflect one's ability of being mindful?
I mentioned that mindfulness is one of the new trends in psychology in my earlier posts this year.  But how is mindfulness related to the "Nothing Box" and how can it help us in daily lives?

As mentioned in the above video, mindfulness is to pay attention and being aware to the present moment, rather than focusing on the past or the future.  This is a good way for one to be fully experiential of how and what he/she is feeling or thinking at the present moment.
Going into the "Nothing Box" seemed to be a similar experience;  however the question is:
"Is the guy into his "Nothing Box" being aware of the present moment?"
As mentioned before,
Based on a 2010 meta-analysis published in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the authors found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is moderately effective for anxiety and mood disorders.  Another 2013 meta-analysis published in Clinical Psychology Review concluded that it "is an effective treatment for a variety of psychological problems, and is especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress" (p. 763).
Hence we know that mindfulness and its therapy approaches might be very useful for clinical problems, however what about non-clinical issues and everyday lives?
Personally I find it quite relaxing (and reduces stress, like the "Nothing Box") when doing it and after doing mindfulness practices.  It can also get quite stimulating and exciting for me, as I understand that I am fully experiencing my present moment without any judgment.  Another great benefit that I have noticed is that I tend to be able to pay attention for longer periods of time and being more productive when I am being mindful of what I am doing.
Have you tried being mindful in your everyday lives and what benefits have mindfulness given you?
Probably Homer Simpson is an expert at mindfulness.

SGPsychStud's Reflections: Dealing with Life's Ordeals

Like my previous absence, I have to apologise for my absence again.  I have experiencing some personal issues, which took my focus off my work as well as managing of this page.  So they say: "Life happens", as hence this uncontrollable aspect of life may make it uncomfortable for some people.

Everyone has to go through life, and more often than not, we have to experience some life obstacles and ordeals.  The problem is:  
How do we face these obstacles and ordeals if we have never experienced them before?
 I often tell my students in the Health Psychology module (in the healthcare course that I teach in) that the main things that I am educating them on are managing the life ordeals (生老病死 in Chinese), as these are the biggest obstacles they will definitely face in their line of work.
This is my usual explanation and advice that I give them,from a psychological viewpoint:
When things happen in life, our bodies start to react to it.  We normally react to it according to the fight-or-flight theory.  Normally, we will take flight, and try to avoid these bad situations, and go into denial (according to Kübler-Ross model).  However, to improve in life, we must try to overcome these obstacles by having a growth mindset (mindset theory as discussed by Carol Dweck), and treating these life obstacles and ordeals as challenges to be overcome and as learning experiences to learn something from.
Two mindsets by Carol Dweck;  Graphic by Nigel  Homes;  Image from The BlogNotions HR Blog
To conclude:
Life is definitely tough; the question is "How do you deal with it?"
Addition: A quote I wrote last year:
"Life is a process and an experience..Do not focus on the end results, because the end results will only give u momentary extreme emotions, happiness (if you achieve it) or sadness (if you do not achieve it)..However indulge in the process and experience, because they will give u emotions you will never forget for the rest of your life, for that is truly 'Life'."

SGPsychStud: Staying Competitive in the Psychology Job Market as a New Graduate

I got the inspiration to write this post after reading this piece of morning news "As graduate numbers grow, a hard truth: Not all degrees are equal" from Channel New Asia (CNA).

It is very true that the psychology job market is a very tough one to get in.  From the very beginning, it was already mentioned that getting into the Honours/Masters programs is going to be tough.  After your graduation from your diploma / Bachelors / Masters, the types of jobs also tend to be restrictive as a result of your academic level.

Most psychology students have the dream of being a psychologist.  However, that is only one of the three type of  careers that psychology students can embark on.  Not everyone is so fortunate.  Other than having a postgraduate degree (see here for the training pathway), you must possess the required training to be qualified and registered with the SRP.  Lastly, you will have to get through the job interview with the company in order to become a psychologist there.  If you are unable to reach that final point, the question to ask yourself would be:
"Are you okay not being a psychologist but having a job in a psychological-related field?"
As mentioned in the CNA article,
"Underemployment occurs when highly-skilled people work in low-paying or low-skilled jobs, as well as when part-time workers prefer to be employed full-time.  Internationally, underemployment is hard to define because of the subjectivity involved — such as a worker’s preference and whether qualifications equate to skills and performance."
Does not being a psychologist after achieving your Master's degree being equivalent to being underemployed?  That is really a matter of how you look at it, and what you wish to achieve in your career.  Having a psychology degree is just a stepping stone to a start of many careers;  it is what you wish to become that is the final goal.  Keep that in mind!
"humanities and social sciences (5.3 per cent) had higher unemployment rates than the norm."
These are the two reasons why psychology students have issues finding jobs:  1) psychology degrees are general social science degrees, and 2) lack of experience in the field.
So how do we resolve this? The answer was also in the CNA article, as said by the MOM spokesperson:
“We need to help individuals equip themselves with the skills needed to take on the quality jobs of today and tomorrow.”  “Overall, we have to create a culture where workers are motivated and able to continually acquire relevant skills and experience that will help them advance in their careers,”
Jobs of tomorrow are not as simple as those of the past. A quote from a previous post:
We are in a society that wishes to improve all the time (due to our ability to find faults in everything).  Hence there is the thought that we need to be well-rounded in different skills;  however, are these extra skills the skills we personally want to have?  Will these extra skills help us in our ability to be a better psychologist or employee in our line of work? 
We may not see the value in these extra skills, but sometimes these are what is required in these new-age jobs.  Here are some tips to stay competitive in this degree-filled environment where everyone is competing with you for the same job:

1.  Understanding your strengths and weakness (by evaluating your KSAOs)
We need to see what are the current KSAOs we have, and how we can improve ourselves to make sure that we do not only have the minimum KSAOs for the jobs, but overall above and over the minimum criteria. One good way is to find volunteering or internship opportunities so as to improve your experiences, as well as developing your skills and abilities.

2.  Make yourself famous! (or at least your name known to prospective employers and supervisors)
This is the POWER of Networking!  As mentioned before, having good networking skills and knowing people may lead you to your future employment opportunities, research or postgraduate opportunities, or even knowing people from other related field.

3.  Having the thirst for knowledge, curiosity, a positive mindset
Having these three conditions will lead you to reducing the fear of new opportunities and experiences, and hence increasing your chances to learn new things and skills, which might be useful one day!

So remember: This thinking of "Good grades = Having a degree = Good job / career = Good life" does not apply to our modern world any more, and hence always try to stay competitive and improve yourself!