The brain’s prefrontal cortex is often described as the “work in progress” intimating that there exists a continuum of neural development shaped by an interplay between biology and behavior; each influencing the other. Naturally, Executive Function, a set of skills controlled by the prefrontal cortex, emerges slowly allowing humans to form future goals and gain independence in order to become more and more self-possessed. Based on the past few decades of research, educational and cognitive scientists have confirmed that every aspect of modern life requires strong executive function including daily planning, workplace productivity, ability to make and keep friends, marital harmony, abiding by law, and warding of social and legal troubles. This understanding has created an urgency to address the disruptions in executive function as they interfere with students succeeding in school, employees at work, and individuals in their social circle.
On this episode, cognitive neuroscientist, Professor Adele Diamond, discusses how inhibition, self-control, mental flexibility, and many other Executive Function skills are valuable for everyday success. Her work suggests that “if we want children to do well in school and in life, we need to help them develop healthy executive functions.”
About Professor Adele Diamond, PhD, FRSC, FAPA, FAPS
Adele Diamond is the Canada Research Chair Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at UBC in Vancouver. She was educated at Swarthmore, Harvard, and Yale. Her specialty is “executive functions” (e.g., self-control, problem-solving, mentally playing with ideas, flexibly adjust to change, thinking outside the box) which depend on the brain’s prefrontal cortex and interrelated neural regions. Her work has emphasized that executive functions can be improved even in the very young and very old, and anywhere in-between. Dr. Diamond’s work on the unusual properties of the dopamine system in prefrontal cortex have improved medical treatment for ADHD and PKU, improving millions of children’s lives.
Dr. Diamond offers a markedly different perspective from mainstream education in hypothesizing that focusing exclusively on training cognitive skills is less efficient, and ultimately less successful, than also addressing emotional, social, spiritual, and physical needs. Dr. Diamond also offers a perspective markedly different from traditional medical practice in hypothesizing that treating physical health, without also addressing social and emotional health is less efficient or effective.
Recently, Dr. Diamond has turned her attention to the possible roles of music, dance, storytelling, martial arts, sports, and play in improving executive functions and academic and mental health outcomes.
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