Monthly Archives: October 2016

Exam cramming fails to answer

The date for an important exam is looming. You know you have to study for it. Suddenly, it’s the evening before the dreaded date, and you feel like you haven’t studied enough, if at all. It’s time to cram all the information you can into your brain.

We know that to do well in exams, you have to remember your material to then demonstrate your knowledge during the test. But is an intense night of study an effective way of learning?

Learning information that can then be recalled in an often stressful environment is taxing on the brain.

In the best situations we can forget things like our colleague’s names when trying to introduce them to someone.

In a high pressure situation our brains can easily perform sub-optimally.

How to remember information in the long term

In cognitive psychology, a discrimination can be drawn between deep and shallow processing of information. This is known as the Levels of Processing theory which was proposed by researchers in the 1970’s. They argued that “deep processing” led to better long-term memory than “shallow processing”.

Shallow processed information can be encoded by the brain based on the simple characteristics of the words, rather than the meaning. So the knowledge is only able to be stored in short-term memory stores, where it is only retained for a short period.

To process information deeply, the meaning and importance of the information is encoded. Relations between concepts are linked together in an elaborate manner, so more understanding of the information is able to be demonstrated.

Due to the more meaningful analysis of the material, stronger and more long lasting memories can be formed.

Taking the time to elaborate and assign meaning to information allows easier recall. However, this process takes time, and when an entire subject needs to be crammed into your memory in a short period of time, deep processing can’t be performed.

So cramming can work for a short-term recall of the information, but this information will rapidly be lost.

Re-reading notes is not enough

Re-reading through notes is often not enough to cement information into your memory.

A way of encoding information more deeply is to write diagrammatic notes. Spider diagrams, mind maps and concept maps are visual stimuli and are more easily remembered than a list of points or blocks of text.

Condensing information down into single word cues can then efficiently trigger the recall of large amounts of information.

Hand writing revision notes can also help you learn information more deeply and helps you to get into the practice of writing rapidly in an exam setting.

Typing on a computer can also increase distraction, as the temptation to procrastinate can increase.

A lack of sleep can affect your performance

Last minute revision is synonymous with a poor night’s sleep, if any sleep at all.

The dilemma presented is that you can either stay up and study to commit as much information to memory as possible, or forfeit a night’s sleep.

Sleep, however, is essential in forming enduring memories – and a lack of sleep is shown to be self defeating in terms of memory recall.

Scientists still do not fully understand why sleep is so important for brain function, but it is known that sleep is important in the consolidation of memory.

This is the process of forming an enduring memory from short-term stores into long-term memory.

Your brain goes through different stages of sleep. The deepest stage of sleep is known as Slow Wave Sleep and this period is proposed to be vital in the consolidation of memories.

The hippocampus is essential in the consolidation of memories, in particular in forming episodic memories, which requires linking the features of a memory together.

Studies have revealed in mice that the neurons in the hippocampus activated during learning a maze became active again during Slow Wave Sleep. The reactivation of neurons is proposed to strengthen the new connections.

So a good night’s sleep after learning new information is essential to forming memories. It’s beneficial to get sleep rather than staying awake and going into an exam without rest.

Procrastination can pile on the pressure

Despite the deadline of exams to study for, mundane tasks suddenly become more appealing, like rearranging a bookshelf, or cleaning your desk, instead of revising for an exam.

The tasks we can occupy ourselves with when procrastinating are typically immediately rewarding but only have a short-term value.

The more important task of studying can lead to a bigger reward – passing the exam, however this reward is not immediate.

Humans tend to be motivated for small, immediate rewards. The value of passing a test certainly outweighs smaller, immediate rewards like playing video games; when the deadline approaches, the importance shifts. This usually leads to a long night of study before the exam.

It has been suggested procrastinators may be a certain personality type, in particular people who are thrill seekers.

Leaving an important task until the last minute increases adrenalin and stress hormones, and you can get a rewarding “rush” once its complete. The reinforces the idea that such people work better under pressure.

Familiar environment can prompt memory

Even if you arrive at the exam the morning after a long night of study, feeling sleep deprived and as if you haven’t learnt enough, all may not be lost.

Being in the exam hall at school, college or university can help you recall information. The familiar environment can increase performance as the stimuli around you can prompt memory.

For example, a science exam being taken in a science classroom can cue memories, these cues aren’t present in a strange environment such as taking an exam in a race course hall.

This is known as the environmental reinstatement effect, which occurs because the location you are in can act as a prompt for past memories.

Environmental cues can trigger memory recall, so something as simple as having your pencil case on your desk while studying and again during the exam could assist in prompting memories.

Tips for remembering information

  1. Hand write out your notes instead of typing
  2. Get a good night’s sleep before an exam
  3. Write a revision plan and start early

Original article published on the Conversation

Young boys weigh in on body image problems

One in five six to eight-year-old boys worry about their weight and body image, according to results of recent Australian research.

The boys, growing up in an era of fat-shaming, media stereotypes and obsession with thin bodies, are struggling with their body size and shape at an alarmingly early age.

The research, part of Roy Morgan’s nationwide Young Australians Survey found boys in this age category were more likely to have body image issues today compared to 2012.

Roy Morgan Research chief executive Michel Levine said the number of obese and overweight Australian adults and generalisations such as “overweight people are lazy” and thin people are more successful filter down to children and influence their own beliefs about weight and body image.

“It’s inevitable that children internalise these commentaries to some extent, and the fact that over 35 per cent of kids aged 6-13 are worried about their weight speaks volumes,”Ms Levine said.

“The striking increase in kids aged between six and seven years worrying about their weight is not a trend anyone wants to see.”

“Childhood should be a happy, untroubled time, free of such insecurities.”

Butterfly Foundation chief executive Christine Morgan told that the proportion of boys in this age group struggling with their weight and body image perception was probably a lot higher than the results of the survey showed.

Under-reporting of young boys’ issues with weight and body image made it difficult to gain a clear picture on the true number of boys struggling.

“Males can be exposed to cultural messages that can increase their vulnerability towards developing an eating disorder, including the internalisation of the ideal body shape for males – a lean and muscular physique,’’ Ms Morgan said.

“This is something we need to address at a national level.”



Blocking social media won’t fix cyberbullying

Bullying is among parents’ greatest concerns. And little wonder. It’s the biggest modifiable risk factor for children and adolescents developing mental illnesses. Every few weeks there are reports of children and teens who have taken their lives, allegedly due to bullying and cyberbullying.

One in five (21% of) 14- to 15-year-olds report having been cyber bullied, up from 4% in eight- to nine-year-olds. Bullies post threatening messages, spread rumours and share humiliating images via sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram for teenagers, and Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin for pre-teens.

But contrary to public perception, bullying via social media is not as common as traditional forms of face-to-face bullying. It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children and teens from bullying on social media, but simply taking their devices away is not the solution.

Who is cyber bullied?

Students who are bullied online are also likely to be victims of traditional bullying and most know the perpetrator in real life. Like traditional bullying, the highest risk time for cyberbullying is at transition to high school.

Children and teens are also more likely to be bullied on social media if they:

• spend a lot of time online
• engage in risky online behaviours such as sharing passwords
• use social media sites to bully others.

Victims of cyberbullying report high rates of anxiety and depression. But the evidence is mixed about whether cyber or traditional bullying impacts more on mental health. It’s likely that both have a serious impact.

There is also a cumulative effect: the more experiences of bullying (whether cyber or tradtional), the worse the mental health risk.

Social media can be good and bad

Most Australian children (78%) have used social media by the ages of eight or nine. Usage increases during teenage years, with most 16-17 year olds (92%) accessing it at least once a month, and around half with daily access. When parents see a problem, it’s sometimes tempting to try to ban children from using social media.

But a ban is difficult to enforce, given the reliance on the internet for education. It may also be counter-productive. Most 14- to 17-year-olds report that the internet is very important to them, saying it improves their wellbeing and relationships.

A recent review of international research confirms that participation in social media can increase teenagers’ feelings of self-esteem, support, and fitting in with a group. Children relate to each other through social media, for good and for bad.

Setting up safe processes

You can help your child from being targeted by adequately supervising them when they’re online, only providing access to social media sites that are appropriate for their level of maturity, and maintaining good lines of communication.

To help decide whether social media sites are appropriate for your child’s age, read the “terms of use” and check the minimum age. You can then help your child to set an appropriate privacy setting. It’s important to educate you child about about internet safety.

This includes ensuring they only “friend” people they know in real life, and that they consider the possible impacts of information before posting. Good cyber-safety resources include the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s downloadable brochures and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s eLicence.

School-based education programs have also been shown to reduce cyberbullying. Try keeping computers only in the common area of the house, friending or following your child online, and occasionally checking their online profile.

Over time, you can give your child more independence as they develop their skills to manage more complicated situations online.

But try to maintain good communication so they can come to you with any problems – this includes listening without overreacting.

Look out for signs of distress, such as greater emotional reactivity, avoiding school or social situations, sleep disturbance, or a drop in school marks.

If your child is unwilling to speak with you, they may be willing to call a support service such as the Kids Helpline.

What if your child has a problem?

If the problem involves someone he or she knows in real life, your child might be able to sort out the problem directly. Or you can ask the school for help. You can help your child decide whether to block or unfriend online users who are causing distress.

It’s wise to keep a record of problems, by taking screen shots. Offensive content can be reported to the website or carrier, and if not addressed, can be reported to the Children’s eSafety Commissioner.

If you think your child is in danger, contact the police or Crimestoppers. Finally, if your child suffers ongoing distress, consider getting professional help from a psychologist, psychiatrist or your GP.

By The University of Queensland Resilience Triple P program Parenting and Family Support Centre program coordinator (psychologist) Karyn Healy

Original article published by the Conversation

Teen brain reward-seeking boosts learning

Teens today may be portrayed in the media as attention-seeking, gratification yearning young people desperate for their five minutes of fame – but their reward-seeking behaviour has much greater benefit than time in the spotlight.

New research shows teen sensitivity to rewards could be an evolutionary adaptation which helps them to learn from their environment.

The joint study by leading US universities, including Columbia, NYU and Harvard compared adult and teen behaviour in a learning environment and found imbalances in the teenage brain made it more effective at learning from its surroundings.

The study also looked at whether teen sensitivity to reward could make them better at learning from good and bad outcomes.

Study co-author and Harvard University postdoctoral psychologist Juliet Davidow said studies of adolescent brains usually focused on the negative effects of teen reward-seeking behaviour.

Researchers in this study concentrated on researching whether this aspect of teen behaviour could link to better learning.

“The adolescent brain is adapted not broken,” Ms Davidow said.

Researchers studied teenage and adult brains in fMRIs and found adolescent brains had different active areas compared to adults when taking part in memory games and learning.

Study co-author and Columbia University psychology associate professor Dr Daphna Shohamy said teens used two regions of the brain during the activity whereas adults used only one. Adolescent brain imagery showed they activated their hippocampus and striatum during the sessions and adult participants only used their striatum.

“This additional system in the brain is contributing to learning more in the adolescents,” Dr Shohamy said.

She said the research showed adolescents could remember things about learning experiences better than adults and paid attention to their environment in everyday life differently to their older counterparts.

“As a teenager, you’re navigating an environment that soon you will have to navigate on your own – and that’s a really good time to be particularly good at learning from experience.”

“What more could a brain need to do during this period than jump into learning overdrive? It may be that the uniqueness of the teen brain may drive not only how they learn, but how they use information to prime themselves for adulthood.”