I've had a low-grade strep infection for well over a year now, which is ironic since I'm totally saturated in studies which show all the ways that positive emotions (like happiness, gratitude, and compassion) boost your immune system. Nowhere is the research more compelling than it is around kindness and altruism: when we help others, we make ourselves healthier and happier. So I've been trying to think of ways for us to broaden our giving vocabulary, to be givers in lots of different ways. How can we give, and give back, as a way to acknowledge how much our communities give to us?

Slideshow of Molly participating in scientific research.
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Molly and I discovered a great way this morning: participate in scientific studies here at UC Berkeley. I've made a career out explaining other people's scientific research; what if our family was to contribute to those same sorts of studies? Anett Gyurak, a Greater Good Science Center Graduate Fellow, has been looking for study participants, so I took Molly over to the Brain Lab to take part in one.

Molly's study is very back-to-school: under Professor Silvia Bunge's direction, researchers are learning how kids develop "fluid reasoning," which is an important component of intelligence. Fluid reasoning is the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations. It is different from all the factual knowledge (e.g., names of places, people, words, etc.) that we learn during our lifetime.

Fluid reasoning influences the way in which children learn tasks that require complex spatial, numerical, or conceptual relationships. It underlies a child's ability to acquire factual information, and it has received a lot of attention because it accurately predicts performance in school and success in intellectually demanding occupations.

Obviously, we want our kids to have high fluid reasoning, and by participating in this research we are contributing to our understanding of how and why some kids' reasoning improves while others' stays the same.

Children's environments and relationships can increase their fluid reasoning, which means that this sort of intelligence is not necessarily genetically determined. Fluid reasoning advances rapidly in early and middle childhood, and continues to increase until early adolescence. Researchers are studying this developmental trajectory so that they can create more effective programs for children who struggle to perform well in school as a result of low fluid reasoning ability. Preliminary evidence from the Bunge lab indicates that 8 weeks of training leads to improved performance on standard reasoning tasks in children aged 7–9 years, some of whom had low IQ scores at the outset of training.

Molly has loved participating in this research—not because it increased her fluid reasoning (it didn't), but because her participation makes her feel a part of something that is important, something that is larger than herself. Which is the essence of why giving back makes us healthier and happier.

If you and your kids would like to participate in this research, send an email to BrainLab@berkeley.edu. The Bunge lab is looking for kids of all ages to participate in various studies.

© 2009 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Selected references:

Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). Why g matters: the complexity of everyday life. Intelligence 24, 79–132.

Ferrer, Emilio, Elizabeth D. O'Hare and Silvia A. Bunge (2009). Fluid reasoning and the developing brain. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 3 (1) 46-52.

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Just wanted to mention my favorite book about keeping healthy (Perfect Health for Kids by John Douillard).  He describes the Ayurvedic way of health and I’ve seen a marked improvement in our health since implementing some of his suggestions (regular warm oil massages for one).
Also, I’m not associated with him or anything, just love the book.  Just thought I’d share it in case it helps.  I can’t imagine being sick that long.  Good luck!

Wendy | 3:58 pm, September 21, 2009 | Link

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