Short post: why I share (and share often)

If you follow my social media activities I am sure by now that you know me as a compulsive share-addict. Over the past four years I have gradually increased both the amount of incoming and outgoing information I attempt to integrate on a daily basis. I start every day with a now routine ritual of scanning new publications from 60+ journals and blogs using my firehose RSS feed, as well as integrating new links from various Science sub-reddits, my curated twitter cogneuro list, my friends and colleagues on Facebook, and email lists. I then in turn curate the best, most relevant to my interests, or in some cases the most outrageous of these links and share them back to twitter, facebook, reddit, and colleagues.

Of course in doing so, a frequent response from (particularly more senior) colleagues is: why?! Why do I choose to spend the time to both take in all that information and to share it back to the world? The answer is quite simple- in sharing this stuff I get critical feedback from an ever-growing network of peers and collaborators. I can’t even count the number of times someone has pointed out something (for better or worse) that I would have otherwise missed in an article or idea. That’s right, I share it so I can see what you think of it!  In this way I have been able to not only stay up to date with the latest research and concepts, but to receive constant invaluable feedback from all of you lovely brains :). In some sense I literally distribute my cognition throughout my network – thanks for the extra neurons!

From the beginning, I have been able not only to assess the impact of this stuff, but also gain deeper and more varied insights into its meaning. When I began my PhD I had the moderate statistical training of a BSc in psychology with little direct knowledge of neuroimaging methods or theory. Frankly it was bewildering. Just figuring out which methods to pay attention to, or what problems to look out for, was a headache-inducing nightmare. But I had to start somewhere and so I started by sharing, and sharing often. As a result almost every day I get amazing feedback pointing out critical insights or flaws in the things I share that I would have otherwise missed. In this way the entire world has become my interactive classroom! It is difficult to overstate the degree to which this interaction has enriched my abilities as a scientists and thinker.

It is only natural however for more senior investigators to worry about how much time one might spend on all this. I admit in the early days of my PhD I may have spent a bit too long lingering amongst the RSS trees and twitter swarms. But then again, it is difficult to place a price on the knowledge and know-how I garnered in this process (not to mention the invaluable social capital generated in building such a network!). I am a firm believer in “power procrastination”, which is just the process of regularly switching from more difficult but higher priority to more interesting but lower priority tasks. I believe that by spending my downtime taking in and sharing information, I’m letting my ‘default mode’ take a much needed rest, while still feeding it with inputs that will actually make the hard tasks easier.

In all, on a good day I’d say I spend about 20 minutes each morning taking in inputs and another 20 minutes throughout the day sharing them. Of course some days (looking at you Fridays) I don’t always adhere to that and there are those times when I have to ‘just say no’ and wait until the evening to get into that workflow. Productivity apps like Pomodoro have helped make sure I respect the balance when particularly difficult tasks arise. All in all however, the time I spend sharing is paid back tenfold in new knowledge and deeper understanding.

Really I should be thanking all of you, the invaluable peers, friends, colleagues, followers, and readers who give me the feedback that is so totally essential to my cognitive evolution. So long as you keep reading- I’ll keep sharing! Thanks!!

Notes: I haven’t even touched on the value of blogging and post-publication peer review, which of course sums with the benefits mentioned here, but also has vastly improved my writing and comprehension skills! But that’s a topic for another post!

( don’t worry, the skim-share cycle is no replacement for deep individual learning, which I also spend plenty of time doing!)

“you are a von economo neuron!” – Francesca 🙂

Fun fact – I read the excellent scifi novel Accelerando just prior to beginning my PhD. In the novel the main character is an info-addict who integrates so much information he gains a “5 second” prescience on events as they unfold. He then shares these insights for free with anyone who wants them, generating billion dollar companies (of which he owns no part in) and gradually manipulating global events to bring about a technological singularity. I guess you could say I found this to be a pretty neat character 🙂 In a serious vein though, I am a firm believer in free and open science, self-publication, and sharing-based economies. Information deserves to be free!

Forthcoming: this is your brain on WoW

Thanks to philosopher and cognitive scientist Evan Thompson for sharing a project that was accepted today in Cerebral Cortex. I’m sure we can expect to see this one get reported all over as soon as the actual article is released (i’m looking at you Wired).

Here’s the abstract, via Evan Thompson

“How the human brain goes virtual: distinct cortical regions of the person processing-network are involved in self-identification with virtual avatars.”

Cerebral Cortex: Shanti Ganesh, Hein T. van Schie, Floris P. de Lange, Evan Thompson, and Daniel H.J. Wigboldus

“We applied functional neuroimaging to 22 long-term online gamers and 21 non-gaming controls, while they rated personality traits of self, avatar and familiar others. Strikingly, neuroimaging data revealed greater avatar-referential cortical activity in the left inferior parietal lobe, a region associated with self-identification from a third-person perspective. The magnitude of this brain activity correlated positively with the propensity to incorporate external body enhancements into one’s bodily identity. Avatar-referencing furthermore recruited greater activity in the rostral anterior cingulate gyrus, suggesting relatively greater emotional self-involvement with one’s avatar. Post-scanning behavioral data revealed superior recognition memory for avatar relative to others. Interestingly, memory for avatar positively co-varied with play duration.”

I’ll admit, I expected the usual “self x vs other x produces greater MPFC activity”. These findings are a nice extension to similiar work by Schilbach et al. I find it particularly interesting that the avatar-related activity correlated with a tendency to couple with external tools; a bit of an Andy Clark-esque vibe there. I look forward to reading the full article (and watching the media go nuts)!

Video: Infancy Studies at Rutgers

As someone with a long time fascination with developmental research, particularly in the cognitive neurosciences, I found this short clip totally fascinating.

I can’t imagine the extreme patience that goes into these studies! I’d love to hear more about how researchers in this area control for motion artifacts and other noise-elements. The entire data collection processes is really interesting- do let me know if you have any insight! You can read more about this research here:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-build-a-better-learner

Uta Frith – The Curious Brain in the Museum

It’s not everyday that collaborations between the humanities and sciences lead to tangible fruits- but I’m excited to share with you one case in which they did, with surprisingly cute results! Leading development psychologist and Interacting Minds Research Foundation Professor, Uta Frith recently gave the Victoria and Albert Museum’s 2010 Henry Cole lecture. Below you will find the power-point slides from this talk, in which she discussed the relationship between her recent work on social learning and the experience of a museum. Interestingly, a film maker was inspired to put together the following short film, “The Curious Brain in the Museum.” It’s a very well done film and a fascinating look at the museum through Uta’s eyes.

Here are the slides from the talk:

And the resulting video:

In this short film, specially commissioned as part of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary celebrations in 2010, Professor Uta Frith FRS and her young companion, Amalie Heath-Born, find out just what goes on inside our brains when we view the treasures on display at London’s world-famous Victoria and Albert Museum.

“The human mind/brain is exquisitely social and automatically responds to signals sent by other people. These signals can be artfully designed objects, and these can come from people long in the past. The art and design that is embodied in the object can evoke in the brain different streams of imagination: how it was made, the value it represents, and the meaning it conveys. The human mind/brain has ancient reward systems, which respond to, say, stimuli signaling food to the hungry, but also respond to social stimuli signaling relevance to the curious. This makes for a never ending well spring of spontaneous teaching and learning. Education in the museum environment is perfectly attuned to the curious mind.”  Uta Frith (2010)

You can read more about the event and the film on the Royal Society page.