Monday, May 06, 2013

Want to Live a Long Time? Pay Attention (?)

Two reservations about this study:  1).  These were very high IQ people.  The results might not generalize to people in general;  2).  Conscientiousness seems a strange word for what was studied.  The questions used seem to me to be much more concerned with a preference for order.  Rather amusingly, Leftist psychologists have spent decades demonizing preference for order.  They call it "Intolerance of ambiguity", "rigidity", "dogmatism" etc.  I spent a lot of time looking at the Leftist claims about the maladaptive nature of preference for order and found only methodological incompetence.  See here

Long before the age of gene therapy and miracle medical treatments, the secrets of long life were being gathered and revealed in a unique study of 1,500 children born about 1910. By studying these people throughout their lives, successive generations of researchers collected nearly 10 million pieces of observable data and have been able to produce solid insights into human longevity.

"Most people who live to an old age do so not because they have beaten cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease; rather, the long-lived have mostly avoided serious ailments altogether," Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin said in their 2011 book, "The Longevity Project."

"The best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness—the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person," according to the two professors (he at the University of California—Riverside, and she at La Sierra University). "Conscientiousness ... also turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life when measured in adulthood."

Since their book was published, Martin recently told U.S. News, the benefits of conscientiousness have been affirmed and even strengthened in other research studies. "This is still a pretty hot topic," she says. "Work that's come out since the book was published has mainly confirmed the importance of conscientiousness."

In particular, she explained, research being done in Hawaii on personality traits over time is producing similar results to Friedman's and Martin's own research, which chronicles efforts begun in 1921 by Lewis Terman, a Stanford University psychologist. He selected 1,500 bright and generally high-performing children and began amassing detailed information about their personal histories, health, activities, beliefs, attitudes, families and other variables.

Over the next eight decades, other academics maintained the Terman Project and assembled exhaustive details on all facets of the original subjects' later lives. It is this unique depth of detail that has permitted Friedman and Martin to reach what they feel are scientifically sound conclusions about what it takes to live a long life. Now, Martin says, more researchers are reaching similar conclusions.

"It was not cheerfulness and it was not having a sociable personality that predicted long life across the many ensuing decades," she and Friedman wrote in their book. "Certain other factors were also relevant, but the prudent, dependable children lived the longest. The strength of this finding was unexpected, but it proved to be a very important and enduring one."

The book presents three reasons why conscientious people live longer:

1. They are more likely to obey the rules, protecting their health and not engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking or driving without a seat belt. If a doctor tells them to take a medicine, they take every prescribed dose.

2. "Conscientious individuals are less prone to a whole host of diseases, not just those caused by dangerous habits," they found. "It appears likely that conscientious and unconscientious people have different levels of certain chemicals in their brains."

3. "The most intriguing reason conscientious people live longer is that having a conscientious personality leads you into healthier situations and relationships," the research concluded. "They find their way to happier marriages, better friendships, and healthier work situations."

Many of the subjects of the Terman Project faced difficult challenges in their adult lives, including bitter combat in World War II, divorces, stressful jobs and career reversals. Conscientious people had the ability to weather these problems. They displayed "self healing" personalities that helped them find their ways back to healthy lifestyle paths. People without such behavioral traits and healthy coping skills didn't fare as well and were often unable to bounce back.

Other strong longevity traits, Friedman and Martin say, include strong connections with other people and groups, either through marriage or outside activities. Also, "those with the most career success were the least likely to die young. In fact, on average the most successful men lived five years longer than the least successful," they say. While happiness was not a cause of longer life, "the sense of being satisfied with one's life and achievement was very relevant to resilience."

Here are 10 questions used to create a personality scale that will help determine how conscientious you are. The scale is based on work done by Terman, the book's authors and other research. The five possible answers to each question are the same:

1 — Very inaccurate

2 — Moderately inaccurate

3 — Neither accurate nor inaccurate

4 — Moderately accurate

5 — Very accurate

1. I am always prepared.

2. I leave my belongings around.

3. I enjoy planning my work in detail.

4. I make a mess of things.

5. I get chores done right away.

6. I often forget to put things back in their proper place.

7. I like order.

8. I shirk my duties.

9. I follow a schedule.

10. I am persistent in the accomplishment of my work and ends.

Scoring for questions 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10: Each answer is worth one to five points, matching the numbers of the answers (one point for very inaccurate, two points for moderately inaccurate, and so forth, up to five points for very accurate). For questions 2, 4, 6, and 8, reverse the scoring order (one point for very accurate, two points for moderately accurate, and so on, up to five points for very inaccurate).

Total scores can range from a low of 10 to a high of 50. "This score is a good measure of conscientiousness," the book says. "Total scores between 10 and 24 indicate very low conscientiousness ... Scores between 37 and 50 suggest exceptionally high conscientiousness."

To test the accuracy of your own answers, ask your spouse or close friend to tell you what answers they think apply for you. They know you very well and might have a more objective view of your personality traits than you do.

Now, the good and bad news about how conscientious you are is that you can change your personality, but you can't invent a new one overnight. The highly conscientious people in the Terman study had little clue that such behavior would be associated with living a very long life. They behaved this way in their everyday lives because it came naturally.

"It doesn't matter how many New Year's resolutions you make," the book said. "In fact, rapid and pervasive changes are usually quickly abandoned by anyone undertaking them. Lasting adjustments happen with smaller, but progressive, steps."

Medical treatment is conspicuously absent from the book's longevity findings. "So-called modern medical cures have played a relatively minor role in increasing adult life span," the authors wrote. "Social relations should be the first place to look for improving health and longevity.


New computer game can 'make your brain three years younger' in ten hours (?)

There have been a lot of these brain training games over the years but none have stood up on independent examination. I'd be surprised if this one were different

Think computer games rot your brain? Think again.  Playing one for just ten hours could actually make your mind three years younger, scientists claim – and the effects last for at least a year.

But before you reach for the nearest console, there is a catch. You only get the benefits by playing the specific game the experts have designed, which trains the brain to remember information while filtering out distractions.

On average, their brains were three years younger overall – but in one test of speed and attention they were almost seven years younger.

The professor of health management who ran the tests attributed the ‘remarkable’ results to the range of skills needed in the relatively simple game.

Professor Fred Wolinsky, who has no financial stake in Road Tour, said: ‘We know that this can stop the decline and actually restore cognitive processing speed to some people. So, if we know that, shouldn’t we be helping people?  ‘It’s fairly easy and older folks can go get the game and play it.’

The game, which can be accessed online for a fee, involves remembering two things – a vehicle and a road sign.

At the start, the player is shown either a car or a truck and told to remember it. The vehicle is encircled by a series of symbols which includes one road sign and the player also has to memorise the sign’s position.

Later in the game, they have to identify the vehicle again and the position of the road sign. As the game progresses, the amount of time allowed is cut, the car and truck shapes become more similar and the amount of distracting and irrelevant information increases.

While the task may seem simple it has been designed to hone a range of skills, including processing speed, memory, peripheral vision and attention.

Professor Wolinsky said: ‘These functions are critically important in  everyday life.’ Peripheral vision, for instance, is crucial to safe driving,  but declines with age.

For the professor’s study, almost 700 men and women aged 50-plus were given either Road Tour or a computerised crossword game to play.

Some played under supervision in the lab, others took the games home. Results of a battery of mental exercise tests done at the beginning of the study and a year later showed their worth.

 'On average, their brains were three years younger overall – but in one test of speed and attention they were almost seven years younger.'

Not only was Road Tour ‘far more effective’ than the crosswords, playing it at home was just as good as playing it in the lab. And those aged 50 to 64 benefited just as much as those 65 and older, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

A mere ten hours of play left the mind three years’ quicker, while 14 hours improved it by four years.

Road Tour, which is also called Double Decision, is available as part of a brain training package. The minimum subscription is one month, priced at around £8, while access for a year costs £5 per month if paid upfront.

Previous studies have also credited the game with a host of benefits, from improving quality of life to easing depression and cutting medical bills.

But although brain training is popular, views about its value are mixed,  with some studies concluding that  while we may get better at the complex  computer exercises with practice,  there is no evidence this helps us in our everyday lives.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said:  ‘Many of us enjoy puzzling over a game. However, there is currently little  evidence that brain training has any cognitive benefits.

‘Although there is no cure for  dementia, research has consistently shown that eating a balanced diet,  exercising regularly and not smoking can make an important contribution  to reducing your risk of developing dementia.’


1 comment:

Olaf Koenders said...

Memory is the most important part of knowledge or IQ, which is why Alzheimer's patients have few capabilities remaining.

It's obvious that anything training your memory to be more fluid and retentive is a benefit to IQ, however individuals with brain damage or severe cognitive defects will benefit little.

Also, if you're not interested in the subject matter, it'll hamper your retention of it. This is why certain fields of medicine, science and physics are full of people very knowledgeable in their respective subjects because they enjoy them.

Irrelevant information is easily forgotten.