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Neuroscience, Mindfulness and Learning


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Brief explanation of neuroscience and the impact of the amygdala hijack in educational/social settings for students. Offers ways to calm the amygdala.

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Neuroscience, Mindfulness and Learning

  1. 1. Neuroscience, Mindfulness and Learning Kathy A. Shoemaker, MA, EdS, LPC, NCC, ACS, CPS
  2. 2. With the end in mind, what are your hopes for your students?
  3. 3. #1 Skill/Trait that employers are looking for?  “Learnability”  “Learning Animals”  “Hungry Brains” Self-directed learners who are inquisitive, genuinely interested in acquiring new knowledge, and personally motivated to grow professionally. O’Donnell, 2017
  4. 4. A Quick Neuroscience Lesson Limbic System Amygdala: Emotion-driven Fight/Flight/Freeze Hippocampus: Explicit memory Thalamus: Message control Cerebral Cortex Newer, Higher, Evolved Shaped by social & physical interactions Corpus Collosum Connects left & right hemisphere Prefrontal Cortex conscious thought (Cozzolino, 2010; Siegel, 2010) mPFC Functions: -Bodily regulation -Attuned communication -Emotional balance -Fear extinction -Flexibility -Insight -Empathy -Morality -Intuition Brain Stem - Instinct Regulates vital functions & flow of body messages Sub-cortical, Ancient, Below Conscious Concern=Safety
  5. 5. Our Embodied Brains • Central Nervous System: brain, brain stem, and spinal cord • Peripheral Nervous System: nerves that branch off the spinal cord to all parts of the body • Somatic – voluntary body movement • Autonomic – involuntary body function • Sympathetic – approach - fast • Parasympathetic – rest – slower • Key role in body response to stress • Vagus nerve • Neuroception: are situations or people dangerous (im/mobilize) or safe (engage) • The brain sends messages through the spinal cord and nervous system to control Muscle movement of and organ
  6. 6. Ancient Brain Concern: Safety Amygdala Hijack
  7. 7. Healthy Human Brain Development Pet the Lizard Feed the mouse Hug the Monkey Hanson, 2015; Siegel, 2013; Siegel & Bryson, 2011 2nd chance to develop habits that support wellness across the lifespan Healthy Development and Secure Attachment Supports: • Self-regulation • Self-soothing • Social engagement
  8. 8. Adolescent Brain Development Changes in the adolescent brain gives rise to: • Novelty Seeking – increases drive for rewards and creates internal motivation • Emotional Intensity – creating vitality and passion • Creative Exploration – new ways of thinking and being, pushing back – sparks innovation • Social Engagement - supportive relationships – ***best predictor of well being across the lifespan Successfully navigating these aspects of adolescence predicts outcomes across the lifespan
  9. 9. Tying it all together - Learning Hippocampus: Explicit memory Prefrontal Cortex conscious thought (Siegel, 2010) Amygdala: Emotion-based Motivation Safety = Social Engagement Network Danger = Mobilization or Immobilization Network Neuroplasticity: Neural pathways are developed and strengthend based on learning and practice
  10. 10. Ways to Calm the Amygdala: • Breathe • Move • Play • Mindfulness • Developing Focused Awareness • Supporting Safety and Stability (Ivey & Zalaquett, 2011; Siegel, 2010; Van der Kolk, 2012)
  11. 11. Benefits of Mindfulness Practices • Physical health • Psychological • Emotional • Social • Overall well-being (The Hawn Foundation, 2011; Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Linden, 1973; Rempel, 2012; Siegel, 2013; Siegel & Bryson, 2011; Shonin, Van Gordon, & Griffiths, 2012; Tang et al., 2012)
  12. 12. At its essence, mindfulness is about noticing and tuning into what one is actually experiencing, rather than being hijacked by our habitual thoughts Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Langer, 2000
  13. 13. Mindfulness is . . . “the awareness that emerges from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding experience moment by moment” (Kabat Zinn, 2003, p. 145)
  14. 14. Mindfulness & Neurobiology Learning mindful awareness skills is a key vehicle for strengthen and restructure the brain:  to supports the healthy cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal functioning When successfully cultivated, they lead to:  flexible thinking  active engagement  sense of competence  a healthy lifespan trajectory (Diamond, 2010; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2003; Siegel, 2013)
  15. 15. Mindfulness & Negativity Bias • Evolutionary bias toward negativity • Necessary for survival, but . . . • Too much focus builds self- reinforcing circuitry • Mindfulness practice can shift the default mode network to become less reactive • Heartfulness • Gratitude • Taking in the good
  16. 16. Mindfulness-based Practices  creates a shift in awareness from experiencing to the objective observation of experience.  facilitating the capacity for objectivity, empathy, and tolerance without reactivity to challenging physical and emotional states  fostering self-regulation, self-management, values clarification, and flexibility of cognitions, emotions, body sensations, and behaviors. (Black, 2015; Davidson et al., 2012; Felver et al. 2013; Grecucci et al., 2015; Wisner, 2014)
  17. 17. Benefits in Education Developing mindful awareness skills supports: • On-task behavior • Focused attention • Improved Working Memory • Creativity • Optimal Learning • Reduction in test anxiety • Student engagement • Prosocial Behavior (Davidson, 2012; Langer, 2000; Roeser & Peck, 2009)
  18. 18. Questions/Comments? Kathy Shoemaker