Archive for Philanthropy

We have moved

Hello dear readers: after a transition period, we have definitively moved to http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog

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Please visit us there if you want to keep reading our (close to) daily articles. Please update your feed, and any technorati/ stumbleupon/ del.ic.ious account you may have pointing at this old address. Our new location:
http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog

We won’t be posting more articles here.

We’ll see you there!
-Caroline & Alvaro

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2007 New Year Resolution: Carnival of Brain Fitness

Happy 2007 to everyone!

We have just formulated our New Year Resolution: make 2007 the year when Brain Fitness became a mainstream concept.

How do we start? well, let’s announce the launch of the Carnival of Brain Fitness (a Blog Carnival is basically the vehicle that blogs use to share posts around specific topics).

Goal: to facilitate a dialogue about this emerging field across multiple perspectives, from scientists and health professionals, to education and training ones, to basically everyone who has conducted an experiment on his on her brain and mind, and has news to report.

Context: The scientific foundations lie in neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, cognitive training and stress management. Medical and health applications range from stroke and TBI rehabilitation to ADD/ADHD and early Alzheimer’s to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and cognitive therapy. Educational and training applications go from helping kids improve reading abilities to helping manage stress and anxiety – including work with the “mental game” in sports and high-demand activities pr professions. Each of us may also have experiences to report, where we saw first hand, no matter our age, our innate ability to refine and transform ourselves (and our brains).

Mechanics: If you’d like to contribute,

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Tis Better to Give Than to Receive

Yeah, Yeah. Yeah. Whatever. Isn’t that just something your mom always told you so that you wouldn’t be upset when your siblings got better gifts than you? Well, lo and behold, maybe Mom was right!

Researchers have found that the mesolimbic pathway is activated by charitable giving. This area is one of the major pathways where you find the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with the brain’s pleasure system. Furthermore, donating also appears to increase the release of oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and is involved in social bonding and building trust between people.

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Microfinance, and a very sharp brain

We would like to join other bloggers in congratulating Muhammad Yunus for having been awarded the Nobel Peace Price.

The genesis of microfinance, in Professor Yunus’ own words.

Not often can we find personified examples of what we write about. For 3 out of the last 4 entries in this blog, I can not think of a better example than Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank-that launched the field of microfinance.

The entries:

– The Learning Cycle, including Concrete Experience and Active Testing: in 1976, when he was a Professor of Economics, he gave a small loan to a number of villagers. He didn’t preach. He acted.

Reflection, that led him to an Aha! moment : “If you can make so many people so happy with such a small amount of money, why shouldn’t you do more of it”? (quoted in NY Times today). His direct experience, and this Reflection, gave him the motivation to try and literally change the way many poor people live worldwide. It led to the birth of microfinance.

The joy of giving: I am sure Muhammad Yunus, and thousands of people involved in his work, has been amply rewarded with free dopamine and oxytocin. To quote today’s Financial Times, “Without collateral, the system has to rely on trust and social interaction to secure repayments. It is these fundamental aspects of human nature that can help forward not only development, but also peace”.

Plus, given that he has announced he will donate the $1.4m prize money, we can predict an even higher dopamine and oxytocin release in his brain, certainly higher than in the brain of the writer of this surprising article.

Good news: there is a solid pipeline of future Muhammad Yunuses, optimist and pragmatic social entrepreneurs (“New Heroes”, according to PBS):
– A great book titled How To Change The World, that profiles the field and some of its most inspiring participants
– The pioneers in supporting social entrepreneurs worldwide: Ashoka: Innovators for the Public
– Another great foundation: The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship
– The Changemakers community
– And of course, Constant Learning at Grameen

Finally, a post on resiliency. Enjoy the weekend.

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The joy of giving, and the Cognitive and Emotional Health Project: The Healthy Brain

Great article in this week’s The Economist on The joy of giving: Donating to charity rewards the brain. Some quotes:

“Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, wanted to find the neural basis for unselfish acts. They decided to peek into the brains of 19 volunteers who were choosing whether to give money to charity, or keep it for themselves. To do so, they used a standard technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, which can map the activity of the various parts of the brain. The results were reported in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“the researchers were able to examine what went on inside each person’s head as they made decisions based on moral beliefs. They found that the part of the brain that was active when a person donated happened to be the brain’s reward centre—the mesolimbic pathway, to give it its proper name—responsible for doling out the dopamine-mediated euphoria associated with sex, money, food and drugs. Thus the warm glow that accompanies charitable giving has a physiological basis.”

“Donating also engaged the part of the brain that plays a role in the bonding behaviour between mother and child, and in romantic love. This involves oxytocin, a hormone that increases trust and co-operation.”

You may wonder why the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is investigating this (hmm, is giving to charity a Neurological Disorder?), but the Institute is part of a partnership called Cognitive and Emotional Health Project: The Healthy Brain, among the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, that aims to “assess the state of epidemiologic research on demographic, social and biologic determinants of cognitive and emotional health in aging populations, and the pathways by which cognitive and emotional health may reciprocally influence each other. As a first step, a comprehensive review of measures that have been (or could be) used in epidemiologic research was undertaken. Measures in four domains are reviewed: (1) cognitive health, (2) emotional health, (3) demographic/social factors, and (4) biomedical/physiologic factors.”

Proven. Another muscle to train in a good Brain and Mind Fitness Program. Giving to charities we care about, and doing unselfish acts.

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On being positive

One day after 9/11, I would like to depart a bit from the scientific focus of this blog, and add some personal reflections on the “mental muscles” of Being Positive and Appreciation, which is what we probably need to survive in times when we read of a new bombing every day, still 5 years after the terrorist attack.

I remember a few years ago when, over brunch, my good friend Rohit proposed that

Happiness = Reality – Expectations. (Play with it, and it grows. It is very powerful)

A few months later after this discovery, at a public concert, while some friends were having a lively debate on this equation, a nearby stranger proposed a nice refinement:

Happiness = (Appreciation, of what we have, and can do) x ( Reality – Expectations)

Which is nicely phrased in the sentence I have read in a number of places

We need Serenity to accept
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Mahatma Gandhi encouraged us to “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

The fact is that there is much good around us, and much more good of us can do. We don’t always see it this way, but it is a fact (if you doubt this, why don’t you do the Basketball experiment in a previous post). We probably would benefit from having easier access to a CNN of Positive News, of Kind Gestures, Unexpected Generosity, Magic Coincidences, Beautiful Growth.

Some constant sources of inspiration, encouragement, and Appreciation:

Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, and their conviction that “Everyone is a changemaker”

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, that supports amazing and inspiring agents of change worldwide.

– Just read a review of sociobiologist E.O. Wilson’s last book The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion, where he tries to bridge both worlds and focus them on common ground.

No matter our religion, or lack thereof, we can benefit from what the book Daniel Goleman’s Destructive Emotions: How Can We overcome Them proposes as “A Gym for Emotional Skills”. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio opened new ground in his seminal Descartes Error book on the role of emotions in our decision-making.

How can one train this muscle of Appreciation? well, no clinical studies here, but my wife and I like to do, less often that we should, an exercise proposed by Jeffrey Brantley in Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices To Help You Stay Calm & Focused All Day Long:

First, travel back, in your mind’s eye, to a time when you felt a healthy exhaustion, and let you relive that moment as vividly as you can.

Then, remember, re-experience, a loving exchange that really touched you. Pause. See the moment. Smell it. Hear what happened around you.

Next, visualize the most caring gesture you have ever received, as full of details as possible. Who gave you that gift of caring. How you felt.

Now, travel to the most magnificent place you have seen. Enjoy the views. Pause. Listen. Smile. Appreciate.

Good night

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