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KEY CONCEPTS

Environmental Effects on Learning Emotional Effects on Learning Social Effects on Learning Gender Differences and Learning

INTRODUCTION

In Chapter 1, you determined your preferences for acquiring information: visually, auditorially, or kinesthetically. In Chapter 2, you learned more than you probably ever wanted to know about how your brain processes the information you obtain. Now one more aspect of the learning process, and you will be fully prepared to tackle the techniques and strategies we present in the following chapters. A complete understanding allows you to control your own learning processes in day-to-day living and the learning you will be experiencing as you read this book.

Not only do you have information-delivery sensory preferences, you have environmental, emotional, and sociological preferences.1 These characteristics are controlled by the reticular system (physical needs and immediate environment), the

Figure 3-1 Control areas for environmental, emotional and sociological preferences

limbic system (emotionality), and the frontal lobe (sociological needs) of the brain (see Figure 3-1). For example, the reticular system functions to allow us to ignore distractions and concentrate on the task at hand. It is the subsystem used to ignore surrounding noises. It then causes us to pay attention to the noise when it changes. The limbic system is considered the source of emotional responses, and the frontal lobe has already been discussed in Chapter 2 as the seat of our knowledge of self.2

ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS

Your physical preferences include presentation styles, such as the size and legibility of the printed material, pitch or loudness of voices, and comfortable clothes in which to practice. Sometimes we can't remember things, or we remember them incorrectly, because of the quality of the presentation. For example, if the person's voice who is giving you an address to remember is pitched too low or they mumble, you may not hear the address or you may interpret it incorrectly. Likewise, struggling to read small print may reduce your efficiency when storing material.

Whatever you need to do to reduce the drain on your energies and allow yourself to be more efficient in a learning situation, do it. Here are some strategies others have found successful:

• Try large-print books. If the book is not available in large print, some folks have purchased a handheld magnifying glass or bought reading glasses.

• Try books on tape. You can adjust the volume, and professional speakers have very clear, precise speech.

• If the problem is an auditory one, ask people to speak more clearly or to talk louder.

• Some people need to practice something by writing it down. You might try this technique. To help, you might begin to carry a small notebook in your pocket or purse.

We all feel that time is too precious to waste! We can be efficient with our learning strategies. If we absorb the information accurately the first time, we can save ourselves stress and worry. Let's find the fastest, most effective learning methods for you. After all, if we don't remember something important, we will be the one who suffers.

Don't spend time being frustrated by something that can be corrected.

Circadian Rhythms

The time of day affects your ability to function. This is a result of your personal biological rhythms. Circadian rhythms are cycles with a period of about one day.3 Biological rhythms, especially the Circadian rhythm, are discussed in more detail in Chapter 6, "Regain an Agile Brain." You may describe yourself as a morning person, or you may recognize that you are most energetic in the afternoon. Circadian rhythms are becoming increasingly important in the medical field as studies indicate that matching medicinal administration, surgery, and cancer treatments to your circadian rhythm increases the success and survival rate.4 One example of the circadian rhythm is that many individuals find their energy level to be at its lowest after lunch. In fact, in traditional Mexican cultures, a siesta is a normal part of their routine. We often assume this is a result of eating. But our energy level does not drop after eating breakfast or supper, so this may be a result of your particular circadian rhythm. Because of circadian rhythms, there are variations in learning readiness as well. Some studies indicate that as we grow older, we begin to prefer the morning hours when energy is at a peak. But this is not true for everyone; others' energies may peak in the evening.5

Try to identify your time periods of peak performance. Schedule doctor visits or other important meetings when you are at your energy peak. Luncheons with business associates, relatives, or friends may be better rescheduled to breakfasts or dinners. You want to be at your best when interacting with others—not only because you want to leave a good impression, but also because it will help you to interact mentally at a higher performance level.

A note about circadian rhythms: It is difficult to be sympathetic with someone who is two or three rhythms different from you. It takes patience and understanding to realize that this is a natural pattern, not an indication of another person's lethargy or excitability!

Circadian Rhythms Quiz

This assessment instrument can help you identify your cir-cadian rhythms. Place a check next to the items in each category that are most like you.

Sleep Habits

1. _I like to go to bed early, right after supper.

2. _I like to go to sleep in the early evening.

4. _I like to go to bed after the late news.

5. _I like to stay up late most of the time.

6. _I am a night owl. I catch up on my sleep in the daytime.

Waking Habits

1. _If I set the alarm clock for 7 a.m. or earlier, I often wake up before it goes off.

3. _If I can sleep in, I usually wake up about 11 a.m.

4. _I could sleep all morning.

5. _I feel groggy if I have to get up before noon.

Mental Peaks

1. _I think best when I first get up in the morning.

2. _I tend to do my best thinking in the midmorning.

3. _Luncheon meetings are my best time to get things done.

4. _I am at my best in the afternoon.

5. _I put off weighty decisions to the evening hours.

6. _Late-night hours are my most creative and productive.

Energy Rhythms

1. _I wake up early and whistle or sing while getting dressed.

But at lunchtime, I come alive.

4. _I get a surge of energy in the afternoons.

5. _I tend to make appointments for evenings, be cause I have the most energy then.

6. _I would really like to work at night and be home during the day.

You may have noticed a pattern to the answer options. All responses to number 1 indicate that you function best in the early morning, 2 in the late morning, 3 midday, 4 midafter-noon, 5 early evening, and 6 late at night.

In learning situations, many people want silence in order to concentrate, while others prefer background noise such as music. With the passing of years, a natural preference for background noise may interfere with our ability to learn as our hearing becomes less acute. If you are trying to concentrate and someone is making too much noise, ask that person to be a little quieter. Try earplugs if you need quiet.

Other Environmental Effects

Other environmental factors that affect our ability to process and retain information are temperature and light. If the surrounding temperature is too high or too low, we are uncomfortable, irritable, easily distracted, and our ability to concentrate lessens. As we age, we require better lighting in order to see more clearly. Proper illumination allows us to see a speaker's lips to assist our hearing, to read more easily and more quickly, and to perform tasks more accurately.

When you are experiencing difficulty concentrating, whether to memorize something or to recall something, check out your environment. Is the temperature comfortable or the light bright enough? Are there too many distractions? Are you struggling to hear or read? Do you need to move around or find a pencil and paper to doodle? You need to accommodate your natural preferences and requirements in order to operate more efficiently. Even if something you want to do seems silly to others, do it. Wouldn't you rather learn what you need to know?

EMOTIONAL EFFECTS

Mental abilities decrease more in people who experience negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety, bitterness, and anger, than in those who are happy or content with their lives. Robert Sapolsky, author of Stress, the Aging Brain and the Mechanisms of Neuron Death, theorizes that stress-related release of adrenal hormone bathes the neurons and eventually can damage the brain.6

Some of emotion's effects on the brain are merely distracting. Here are a few examples of those effects:

• Depression affects your motivation to remember, your ability to concentrate, and your perception of circumstances. It also can cause overreaction to slight lapses in memory.

• Moving to a new home can cause feelings of loneliness, grief, and an inability to concentrate.

Retirement sometimes creates feelings of a lack of purpose, sadness, and a sense of loss.

• Often as we age, anxiety, loneliness, depression, and feelings of a lack of purpose increase.

These negative emotions cause us to disengage from life. Older adults should indeed become more concerned with the quality of life in their golden years. But they should not remove themselves from activities. Better that they recenter on what is important. Once we begin to withdraw from contact with others (perhaps because of ill health, a change in finances, moving to another location, or loss of a spouse), it is difficult to force ourselves to resume social interactions. People who regularly and actively engage in social interactions have better overall health and well-being than those who do not. And inactivity combined with little or no social contact diminishes or eliminates the need to exercise those brain cells and to practice remembering.

First, get a checkup to eliminate any physical reason for negative emotions. Then try to get busy. Here are some suggestions:

• Enroll in interesting classes.

• Make a new friend and learn something new together.

Work to improve your outlook on life. It will improve your mental capabilities as well!

SOCIAL EFFECTS

Your personality and sense of responsibility affect not only your relationships with others, your job, and your hobbies, but also your learning abilities and style. Some people are very self-driven. They are more likely to be lifelong learners. Many tend to be independent learners and do not require structured classes with instructors to guide them. Other individuals are peer-oriented and often follow the lead of another in unfamiliar situations. They are more likely to benefit from the assistance of a formal teaching environment. They may be less likely to pursue learning throughout life without direct access to formal learning scenarios or the influence of a friend or spouse.

It is vital to your health and longevity to remain a lifelong learner. Research studies indicate that lifelong learners tend to take better care of themselves, to be more aware of current health issues and breakthroughs, and to show an increase in IQ.7 The increased IQ is extremely pertinent to you. In fact, a study of identical twins demonstrated that when one twin had a noticeably higher IQ score, that twin always lived longer.8

People who are more intelligent tend to live longer than people who are less intelligent.

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