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Pre-wired to Care

19 Jun

I start most days reading the latest pieces of research on the brain and behavior — it’s my daily geek reading.

And in today’s geek news, researchers in Germany found that three-year-olds express deep empathy for someone who has suffered an injustice.  The children in this study actually, when given a choice, decided it was more important to make things right for the sufferer than to punish the one who caused the harm.

Chew on this one for a bit: Three-year-olds have a sense of justice that leads them to compassion and not punishment.

The last few days have been sad and disheartening — feels like a young man punishing people out of pure hatred and bigotry in a place that historically symbolizes hope for equality and compassion, sets our country back 200 years.

I am not sure how we climb out of this. But I do know this:

Through words, with actions, and by example we all need to stop re-writing that predisposition to care for each other — we must feed and reward compassion and empathy or this madness will never stop.

From the study mentioned above:

“The take-home message is that preschool children are sensitive to harm to others, and given a choice would rather restore things to help the victim than punish the perpetrator.” from study Three-year-olds Help Victims of Injustice”

My friend, author Amy Wise, said this yesterday and I agree.

Nobody is born a bigot. Children are wise until they are taught otherwise. Teach wisely. Please.


We have to tip the balance somehow. Quickly.

Brain Blips and the Order of Life: A Closer Look at Sequencing

26 Sep

I took a long, wonderful walk with my friend and talented author Elin Waldall this week. We covered so  many topics as we explored a few historic bridges (more on this later) and Balboa Park’s gardens.

One stuck with me. It was a conversation about an overlooked brain function that  smacks most us in the face as we age without us really understanding what it is or how to approach it: sequencing or, in simpler terms, the order of life.

Sequencing is part of a larger group of executive functions that allow us to handle more complex situations and solve problems so it is a pretty important part of successful thinking. It is, however, something we take for granted. Of course you know all the moving  parts of everything you do during the day and in what order to perform each part of the process… don’t you?

This is a tough concept to wrap your head around.    How about an example?   You want to boil an egg.   Sounds simple enough?   Let’s look at this process more closely.

  • Get a pan out of the cabinet.
  • Fill it with water.
  • Turn on the burner.
  • Take the carton of eggs out of the refrigerator.
  • Take an egg out of the carton and put the egg in the pan.
  • Bring the water to a boil.
  • Turn down the temperature so the water does not boil over.
  • Wait 5 minutes.
  • Take the pan off of the burner.
  • Turn the burner off.

Is there a step you could leave off or could you change the order and still end up with a boiled egg?  Not likely but there are also steps you could skip and end up with a pan on fire or an egg sitting in cold water.   Now try to shuffle those steps and what happens?  Every process — making a phone call, starting a car, brushing your teeth, as well as boiling an egg — work best when you take all the steps in a pretty consistent order.

Like other executive functions, successful sequencing does not happen in isolation – it starts with attention and is tied to memory/recall, language processing, problem solving, and in many cases, emotional control.  It is a great thing that, like many other brain processes, challenges with sequencing can be improved and respond really well to training and games.

Yep, you know what is coming next – some exercises in the form of 2 types of games – both challenging and both meant to help you stretch your limits just a bit.

Check out the completed sample of Word Sequences.

Word sequences EXAMPLE


Got it?  Try this one:

Word Sequence 2

Here is another type of word game you can use to practice the order.  This one makes you think in degrees or magnitude.  What word goes in the sequence?  Fill in the blanks! (Hint there might be several logical answers to each but be mindful of the sequence!)

What comes next?


Were these easy for you?


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