Prediction Error and Hype

I found out today that my application to UWTSD has been accepted. I’m really pleased and chilling out on the fact that universities have their own pace and that’s that. I also realised that once my three assignments get passed, I will have 30 Level 8 credits which will be an achievement as they are quite special.

Apart from reading, I decided that I need to get on with identifying which neuroscientists I am going to approach as once the ethics form gets signed off I can reach out to them. In 18 months I’ve gone from worrying about whether I’d have enough to talk to, to worrying about how to pick the useful ones from the hundreds around. The reading, especially of the textbook last year, is becoming useful as I have a better ability to understand which ones look like they might be useful and which are in less relevant areas. I am also appreciating that a number of the post-docs might be better to speak with, especially as they might have more time.

So, at the moment I am creating a spider diagram (Inspiration software) of university research centres and their Heads and Post-docs. The good thing is that I can link the webpages to the names but it still means I have to look through the webpages to understand who’s doing what and there can be ten to twenty people to overview. At least I have a good starter for ten from the reading I have done which has helped.

I also feel that I need to understand a bit more about neuromodulation and epigenetics as well so I have found this great little book called “Introducing epigenetics: A graphic guide”: An easy and useful read on that subject. Fascinating area and again there’s much more going on there than I had appreciated. The DNA strands seem covered in proteins and other things which highlight what should happen with the gene (active – how or silent). There’s a lot going on in that nucleus that determines how the genes we have are then interpreted, or not.

Whilst looking at this topic I found a newspaper article about the DNA Testing Kits you can buy. If you are thinking of doing it then it’s worth a read: “What I learned from home DNA testing”. The thing I hadn’t got, is that each product isn’t absolute. The results reflect the collection of people tested to create the database and this appears to skew the results – quite a lot as you’ll read.

On another note of useful little things, I found a great set of YouTube videos called “2-minute neuroscience” which cover various topics from the Amygdala to Glutamate to Alcohol effects. On the other hand, I am also coming across some books and YouTube videos which have some interesting leaps, analogies and tenuous claims. One thing I am learning to do is to Google the person or the topic and see what others are saying about it as a way of getting a feel for where it stands.

In one video the lecturer showed how, under a certain set-up, metronomes get into sync with each other (due to being on a moveable plinth). He then stated that this means that when I talk to you, my brain oscillations cause your brain to oscillate in sync. Hmm???? He ‘proved’ this by showing brain scans showing both brains lit up in the same areas. However, a few thoughts on that which are not about my brain oscillating yours: Brains are roughly laid out the same, so if you are talking about something then we are probably both using similar areas for processing and meaning, etc. And the devil is in the detail, as although the same areas are used, the neural circuits will probably be different. Many brain imaging techniques give either detail for a small bit or generalisation for a large area – i.e. something is happening in this general area but we can’t say what exactly.

At the end he then, I felt, contradicted himself. He said that if two people were primed differently (this person is trustworthy, this person is dishonest), then they would interpret the conversation differently: To ‘prove’ this he showed brain scans with different areas lit up. So how does that ‘prove’ that if I speak to both people my brain gets them in sync with me?? So, my plea to you is to look to differentiate between the good and acknowledged work and the people who are riding on the hype for a quick buck.

For myself, I’ve been experimenting with using my attention to stop me focussing on unhelpful thoughts which is nothing new I know. It is surprising powerful to do and can be like a switch and longer term it is probably beneficial for your brain chemistry. If you can really engage into the moment by reading aloud or forcing yourself to understand what the sentence is saying, or making something you need to think about or doing something that forces your concentration. The other thoughts drop away instantly and I feel quite different, so I am advocating this more in my coaching with a stronger conviction.

Also, I was reading about dopamine and learning. Dopamine helps improve synaptic function and is involved in ‘the prediction error’. If something is novel or is different to expected, the prediction error is high and dopamine is very active. As what you predict and happens gets closer, the dopamine drops. I suppose this is because you’ve learned to predict it: Helpful if what you are learning helps save your life or gets you food. So now I understand why people say that you learn most with surprise or novelty. It has made me wonder about coaching and how much during my coaching I am looking to reduce the prediction error to help make the action palatable to the coachee. I think I am going to watch for this from now on and try something different.