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Why every student must learn cognitive science| Anxious Parents, Praise & Love++ #9

++Upcoming Events

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this.

This week’s main post ‘Why every student must learn cognitive science’ makes a case for why every student (and not just science students) should have some appreciation of neuroscience and cognitive science.

You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out this link for more about the club and how to join it.

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.


Why every student must learn Cognitive Science

Upcoming Events (Free & Paid; both external and GenWise events)

Anxious Parents, Praise and Love

Why every student must learn cognitive science

This post is by GenWise co-founder, Vishnu Agnihotri.

I have never studied neuroscience, cognition or psychology formally but over the last few years I have been fascinated by the subject and have read books and articles, and watched films on the subject. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about what kinds of things children should learn in school, I keep evaluating whether what I am learning is important for children to learn too.

Having thought about this and experimented with running courses on cognitive science, I am convinced that neuroscience and cognitive science should be introduced to every school student. Let me share why.

1. It is a highly engaging subject and can be a doorway to creating an interest in Science. There are many striking experiments on perception that can be conducted using simple materials. These create ‘aha moments’ and create curiosity about the mechanism of cognition.

For example, in the Rubber Hand Illusion, the subject places his hand in a box or behind a screen, and an artificial rubber/ plastic hand is placed in front of the subject. Both are stroked at the same time using a paintbrush. The subject looks at the rubber hand and, after about a minute of synchronous stroking (by the experimenter), usually experiences the illusion that the rubber hand “feels like their own.” The nature of sensation is determined by inputs from different senses and this experiment shows how vision influences the experience of ‘our body’. In this case- vision, touch, and proprioception (awareness of movement of a limb or its position) integrate to constitute our experience.

Some students are either not interested in biology or have developed a fear for it, as it is ‘science’. Experiments such as these, or interesting case studies from the history of science can be a way of getting them engaged in biology.

2. Neuroscience is a truly interdisciplinary subject and helps students to start breaking the silos across disciplines. Whether students pursue a career in neuroscience or not, in today’s world, they need to be able to make connections across disciplines to make sense of things, see opportunities and solve complex problems. As the scientist EO Wilson says-

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

Studying neuroscience is one way of developing an interdisciplinary perspective because knowledge in the subject has been constructed through work in different fields like computer science, biology, psychology and medicine.

Today there is even a branch of economics called ‘behavioural economics’ and artists and designers too, look to neuroscience for tips on how their work can be more impactful.

3. Learning about ‘how learning works’ can help students develop more effective learning habits. For example, ‘mind wandering’ is a major issue for students and research shows that being able to focus attention in the first 5 minutes of a study session (‘settling in’ period) increases the ability to focus throughout the session. Chunking information into meaningful groups helps retention. Also trying to ‘retrieve’ what has been learnt (write down or speak what was learnt) is far more effective than reading the content repeatedly, underlining it etc.

From: MARGE- A Whole Brain Learning Approach, by Arthur Shimamura (PFC stands for Pre-Frontal Cortex)

Learning about the plasticity of the brain could also help students to improve their attitude towards learning- viewing the brain as something ‘trainable’ through deliberate effort and practice, and develop a ‘growth mindset’ instead of viewing themselves as having a ‘fixed ability’.

4. Understanding cognition helps students to become better critical thinkers and manage themselves better. Critical thinking is today recognized by researchers as the integration of different faculties.

For example, when we see a provocative piece of information or a message, are we able to employ self-regulation and focus on the information, are we able to recognize cognitive biases that may be present and correct for them to critically analyze and evaluate the situation?

Appreciating these processes involved in critical thinking help students to reflect on their thinking processes and their ‘executive functions’ (their ability for self-regulation).

From: Integrative Framework for Critical Thinking, by Christopher P Dwyer

5. There are many exciting career opportunities in neuroscience. Cognitive Science is a rapidly growing field and newer applications are always emerging. There is a strong demand for people with advanced training in neuroscience in both research and industry. Apart from offering intellectually stimulating work that has great impact, many careers in neuroscience can also be financially lucrative- whether one works as a neurosurgeon, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) specialist, a machine learning engineer, a pharmaceuticals scientist or a cognitive neuroscientist.

How does one start learning neuroscience?

There are many ways to get started on learning neuroscience.

1. Some classic books that are very engaging are-

Phantoms in the Brain by VS Ramachandran

The man who mistook his wife for a hat and other stories by Oliver Sacks

The tale of the dueling neurosurgeons by Sam Keane

2. There are excellent lectures and documentaries too on YouTube and MOOC platforms like EdX and Coursera. Some examples

Robert Sapolsky’s series of 25 lectures on YouTube

Fundamentals of Neuroscience on EdX

The brain that changes itself on Amazon Prime

Check out the upcoming course on neuroscience by Dr. Pratik Mutha of IIT Gandhinagar in the Events section.

Upcoming Events

External Events

Thermoelectricity- Join ‘Talk to a Scientist’ in their next episode where Prasanna Ponnusamy, PhD scholar at German Aerospace Center will share her work on thermoelectric materials and their applications. Check out this facebook post for details. Saturday, June 5 2021, 5-6 pm IST. For ages 6-16. Register here. (Free)

Fun Chemysteries of Milk (Chai and Why series targeted at children) on Sunday, June 6, 2021 at 11 AM by the cool TIFR outreach team. Zoom, YouTube & FBLive links available here. Be ready with the following items for the session- milk, vessels to heat it in (stove/hotplate etc), sieve/cloth to filter, a plate, a few drops of food colour, detergent, glass, torch. Whatever you have is fine, watch & enjoy! (Free)

History of Neuroscience- the case of Phineas Gage is presented by Synapse Society on Tuesday, June 29. Click here to register your interest.

Events @GenWise

“Psychology of Money” Book Discussions- starting Sun, Jun 13, 3 PM @The GenWise Club Lounge

The facilitator, Vishwesh (a GenWise parent), says “I started my career as an employee almost 25 years ago and had started making money as a teen assembling PCs for corporates, but I had not started to plan my money until 10 years ago- how much money should I save for the future? and how much money should I spend? We have all experienced this and many of us did not realize that we spend a very large portion of our money on current needs, not planning to save and invest for future dreams. I wish I had guidance or a reference book back then and things would have been very different.

The situation is even more complex today, with Gen Z getting plenty of money-making opportunities much earlier in their life by doing summer internships, inheriting investments, pricy gifts, social media channels, etc. thus having a higher chance to start investing early.

Recently I stumbled upon this book called “Psychology of Money” which shares 19 short stories exploring the strange ways people think about money and teaches you how to make better sense of one of life’s most important topics.

Let us come together and listen to these stories every Sunday and discuss our learnings. These readings will help build a wealth mindset and learn from the experiences of other people. It will also give a lot of perspective into things like- why people do crazy things with money, luck and risk, compounding, getting vs staying wealthy, how everything has a price, etc.”

All students and parents are welcome!

Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Details of at least 3 GenWise courses coming up (out of 15+ courses listed here), are shared below. Early registrations can avail an early bird discount.

Anxious Parents, Praise and Love

Dr. Bhooshan shares something he wrote last year-

2 days ago I attended a web conference where my senior by 4 years and a close personal friend Dr Rajesh Nehete was speaking on the topic ‘Introduction to Cognitive Analytic Therapy’. Rajesh is a senior consultant psychiatrist in London.

He was explaining about childhood antecedents (roots) of adult unhappiness.

One of his sentences stayed with me –

“Children expect & need love. But all they get is praise”

This is a profound statement on modern parenting. So later I got into a small personal discussion with him.

Here is a summary of our chat –

Children want parents to be a part of their life and validate it. They need parental presence in their mental life to feel complete. But early on many children realise that parental attention is gained by reporting or discussing achievements. Praise is accepted and sought as a substitute for genuine love.

Unconditional love is a myth. It cannot exist in reality. So what does love look like in real life ?

Genuine attention, interest and trust (that child is capable of solving things after some struggle) in the child is real manifestation of love.

My two pennys on that – love requires time. Love requires genuine curiosity to look at the world from child’s point of view and appreciate the beauty and vitality of that view.

It requires patience and a deep belief that child will be well in this world.

Anxious parents have little capacity for love as their anxiety seeks solutions and reassurance all the time. Children raised on praise become good workers. They aim to please their superiors and get promotions. But they go through life feeling an emptiness inside. They don’t know what to do with that emptiness so they fill it with socially praised achievements and somehow search for happiness in success.

Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, GenWise Mentor MD, DNB, MRCPsych (London), Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Twitter – @docbhooshan

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