【TED】你大脑的执行功能是如何运作的——以及如何提高这一能力 | How your brain’s executive function works – and how to improve it

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【TED】你大脑的执行功能是如何运作的——以及如何提高这一能力 | How your brain's executive function works - and how to improve it

你每天都要使用大脑的执行功能——它让你能够集中注意力、提前计划和抑制冲动。你能够提升这个能力,做得更好吗?认知学专家萨宾·德贝尔带着自己对于儿童成长的研究,探求影响执行功能的因素——以及你该如何运用这项功能来改变自己的坏习惯,达成你的目标。

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So I have a confession to make. I only recently learned how to drive. And it was really hard. Now, this wasn't an older brain thing. Do you remember what it was like when you first learned how to drive? When every decision you made was so conscious and deliberate? I'd come home from my lessons completely wiped out mentally. Now, as a cognitive scientist I know that this is because I was using a lot of something called executive function. Executive function is our amazing ability to consciously control our thoughts, emotions and actions in order to achieve goals … like learning how to drive. It's what we use when we need to break away from habit, inhibit our impulses and plan ahead. But we can see it most clearly when things go wrong. Like, have you ever accidentally poured orange juice on your cereal?

我要向你们坦白。我最近才学会开车。这对我来说真的很难。这不仅跟大脑老龄化有关。你们还记得刚学会开车时的样子吗?你的每一个决定都经过了深思熟虑。当我下课回家时, 我的脑力完全耗尽。作为一名认知学家,我知道 导致这个现象的原因, 是我过度使用了执行功能。执行功能是我们身上一项迷人的能力, 它能帮助我们有意识地 控制思想、情感和动作, 来达成许多目的, 例如学会开车。当我们需要改变习惯、 抑制冲动和提前计划时, 它就会发挥作用。但只有在做错事的时候, 我们才会明确感觉到它。例如,你是否曾经不小心 把橙汁倒入麦片中?

Or, ever start scrolling on Facebook and suddenly realize you've missed a meeting?

或者,当你在浏览脸书动态时, 突然想起来你错过了一个会议?

Or maybe this one's more familiar: Ever plan to stop at the store on the way home from work and then drive all the way home instead on autopilot?

可能下面这件事听起来更加耳熟:你计划下班途中要去商店, 但实际上你却一路开车回了家?

These things happen to everyone. And we usually call it absentmindedness, but what's really happening is we're experiencing a lapse in executive function.

每个人都经历过这些事。我们通常称之为心不在焉, 但事实上, 是我们的执行功能疏忽了。

So we use executive function every day in all aspects of our lives. And over the past 30 years, researchers have found that it predicts all kinds of good things in childhood and beyond, like social skills, academic achievement, mental and physical health, making money, saving money and even staying out of jail. Sounds great, doesn't it? So it's no surprise that researchers like me are so interested in understanding it and figuring out ways to improve it.

每天,执行功能在我们生活的 各个方面都发挥着功能。在过去的30年中, 研究人员发现在从孩童阶段开始, 它就能够预估一切好的事情, 例如社交技能、学术成就、 生理及精神健康、 挣钱、攒钱, 甚至是遵纪守法。听起来很棒,不是吗?显而易见, 研究人员,譬如我,都想理解它, 想找到方法提升它的能力。

But lately, executive function has become a huge self-improvement buzzword. People think you can improve it through brain-training iPhone apps and computer games, or by practicing it in a specific way, like playing chess. And researchers are trying to train it in the lab in the hopes of improving it and other things related to it, like intelligence. Well, I'm here to tell you that this way of thinking about executive function is all wrong. Brain training won't improve executive function in a broad sense because it involves exercising it in a narrow way, outside of the real-world contexts in which we actually use it. So you can master that executive function app on your phone, but that's not going to help you stop pouring OJ on your Cheeerios twice a week.

但最近,执行功能已经 成为一个自我提升的热门词汇。人们认为可以通过 许多方法提高这个能力, 例如锻炼大脑的苹果应用 和电脑游戏, 或是特殊一点的方法, 例如国际象棋。研究人员尝试在实验室中进行训练, 希望能够提升这个能力, 或者是其他与之相关的能力, 例如智力。我现在告诉你们, 目前对于执行功能 这些猜想都是错误的。总的来说,大脑训练 无法提升执行功能, 因为大脑训练只能小幅度 让执行功能兴奋起来, 脱离了它实际发挥作用的现实环境。所以即使在手机应用中通关了, 你还是会时不时把橙汁倒入麦片中。

If you really want to improve your executive function in a way that matters for your life, you have to understand how it's influenced by context.

如果你真的想提升你的执行能力, 从现实生活层面上来说的提升, 你需要理解环境因素对它的影响。

Let me show you what I mean. There's a great test that we use in the lab to measure executive function in young children called the "dimensional change card sort." In this task, kids have to sort cards in one way -- like by shape -- over and over until they build up a habit. And then they're asked to switch and sort the same cards in another way, like by color. Now, really young kids struggle with this. Three- and four-year-olds will usually keep sorting the cards in the old way no matter how many times you remind them of what they should be doing.

让我解释一下。我们做过这样一个实验, 来测量幼儿的执行功能, 叫作“维度变化的卡片分类”。在这个任务中,幼儿们需要 通过某种标准给卡片分类, 例如形状—— 不断重复,直到他们养成一个习惯。然后他们被要求变更标准, 以另一个标准分类, 例如颜色。年龄太小的幼儿做这个任务有点困难。3-4岁的幼儿通常会按照 旧的标准给卡片分类, 无论你提醒他们多少次新的标准。

(Video) Woman: If it's blue, put it here. If it's red, put it here. Here's a blue one.

视频)女性:如果是蓝色的,放在这里。如果是红色的,放在那里。这是个蓝色的。

OK, so now we're going to play a different game. We're not going to play the color game anymore. Now we're going to play the shape game, and in the shape game, all the stars go here and all the trucks go here, OK? Stars go here, trucks go here.

好的,现在我们要玩 另一个不同的游戏。我们不玩颜色游戏了。我们现在要玩形状游戏, 在形状游戏中, 星形放这里, 汽车形放这里,好吗?星形放这里, 汽车形放这里。

Where do the stars go?

星形的放在哪儿?

And where do the trucks go?

那么汽车形的呢?

Excellent.

非常棒。

OK, stars go here, trucks go here. Here's a truck.

记住,星形放这儿, 汽车形放这儿。这是个汽车形的。

Stars go here, trucks go here. Here's a star.

星形放这里, 汽车形放这里。这是个星形的。

SB: So it's really compelling, and it's really obvious when she fails to use her executive function. But here's the thing: we could train her on this task and others like it and eventually she'd improve, but does that mean that she would've improved her executive function outside of the lab? No, because in the real world, she'll need to use executive function to do a lot more than switching between shape and color. She'll need to switch from adding to multiplying or from playing to tidying up or from thinking about her own feelings to thinking about her friend. And success in real-world situations depends on things like how motivated you are and what your peers are doing. And it also depends on the strategies that you execute when you're using executive function in a particular situation. So what I'm saying is that context really matters.

德贝尔:这非常引人注目, 很明显她没能好好发挥 自己的执行功能。但重点是:我们可以通过类似这样的任务 来训练她, 最终她能够进步, 但是否这就意味着在实验室之外, 她的执行功能也得到了提升呢?并不是,因为在现实生活中, 她需要运用执行功能做的事情 远比在形状和颜色之间转换更难。她需要从加法变换到乘法, 或是从玩乐变换到整理, 又或是从只考虑自己的 情绪变成体贴朋友。想要在现实生活中成功,取决于 你的动力大小, 以及你的同伴在做什么。这还取决于特定情况下 使用执行功能时你采取的策略。我的意思是环境因素真的很重要。

Now let me give you an example from my research. I recently brought in a bunch of kids to do the classic marshmallow test, which is a measure of delay of gratification that also likely requires a lot of executive function. So you may have heard about this test, but basically, kids are given a choice. They can have one marshmallow right away, or if they can wait for me to go to the other room and get more marshmallows, they can have two instead. Now, most kids really want that second marshmallow, but the key question is: How long can they wait?

现在,让我给你们展示 一个我研究的例子。最近我对一群儿童进行了 经典的棉花糖测试, 它被用于测量延迟满足, 而延迟满足也需要运用大量的执行功能。你们也许听说过这项测试, 孩子们面临一项选择。他们可以马上获得一个棉花糖, 或者如果他们能耐心 等我走到另一个房间, 然后拿另一个棉花糖, 他们就可以获得两个棉花糖。大多数孩子非常想要第二个棉花糖, 但重点是:他们的耐心能持续多久呢?

Now, I added a twist to look at the effects of context. I told each kid that they were in a group, like the green group, and I even gave them a green T-shirt to wear. And I said, "Your group waited for two marshmallows, and this other group, the orange group, did not." Or I said the opposite: "Your group didn't wait for two marshmallows and this other group did." And then I left the kid alone in the room and I watched on a webcam to see how long they waited.

我增设了一个环节, 来研究环境因素的影响。我告诉每个孩子,他们属于一个团队, 譬如绿队, 我甚至还发给他们一件绿色的衬衫来穿。然后我说:“你们这队 等到了第二个棉花糖, 还有另一个队,黄队, 他们没能做到。” 或者我会说相反的话:“你们这队没能等到第二个棉花糖, 但其他队做到了。” 之后我离开,只留孩子们在房间里, 然后我会通过摄像头 观察他们能等多久。

So what I found was that kids who believed that their group waited for two marshmallows were themselves more likely to wait. So they were influenced by a peer group that they'd never even met.

我的发现是,那些相信他们队 能够等到两个棉花糖的人 更倾向于耐心等待。他们会被一群陌生人组成的团队影响。

Pretty cool, isn't it? Well, so with this result I still didn't know if they were just copying their group or if it was something deeper than that. So I brought in some more kids, and after the marshmallow test, I showed them pictures of pairs of kids, and I told them, "One of these kids likes to have things right away, like cookies and stickers. And the other kid likes to wait so that they can have more of these things." And then I asked them, "Which one of these two kids do you like more and who would you want to play with?" And what I found was that kids who believed that their group waited tended to prefer other kids who liked to wait for things. So learning what their group did made them value waiting more. And not only that, these kids likely used executive function to generate strategies to help themselves wait, like sitting on their hands or turning away from the marshmallow or singing a song to distract themselves.

很有趣,不是吗?但有了这个结果,我依然不知道 是从众心理还是别的更深层的 因素导致了这个结果。所以我召集了另一些儿童, 在棉花糖测试之后,我展示了 一些照片,上面有两个儿童, 我告诉他们:“其中一个 喜欢马上获得东西, 例如曲奇和贴纸。而另外一个喜欢等待, 这样他得到的就更多。” 然后我问他们, “这两个人中你更喜欢谁?你想跟谁一起玩?” 我发现,那些相信他们 一队会等待的孩子 倾向于喜欢等待的儿童。了解他们的团队会做什么 使他们更倾向于等待。不仅如此, 这些孩子可能会运用执行功能 制定策略,让自己耐心等待, 例如坐在自己的手上, 或是扭头不去看棉花糖, 又或是唱歌分散注意力。

So what this all shows is just how much context matters. It's not that these kids had good executive function or bad, it's that the context helped them use it better.

这些都证明了环境因素的影响力。这并不是说这些孩子的 执行功能好或者差, 是环境因素帮助他们 更好地运用这个能力。

So what does this mean for you and for your kids? Well, let's say that you want to learn Spanish. You could try changing your context and surrounding yourself with other people who also want to learn, and even better if these are people that you really like. That way you'll be more motivated to use executive function. Or let's say that you want to help your child do better on her math homework. You could teach her strategies to use executive function in that particular context, like putting her phone away before she starts studying or planning to reward herself after studying for an hour.

那么,这对你和你的孩子 有什么启示呢?让我们假设你想学西班牙语。你可以改变你所处的环境, 让你身边充满也想学西语的人, 如果你喜欢这些人那就更好了。在这种情况下,你会更加 积极地运用执行能力。或者假设你想帮你的孩子 提高数学水平。你可以教她在特定环境下 运用执行功能, 例如在学习之前不要玩手机, 或是每学习一小时就奖励一下自己。

Now, I don't want to make it sound like context is everything. Executive function is really complex, and it's shaped by numerous factors. But what I want you to remember is if you want to improve your executive function in some aspect of your life, don't look for quick fixes. Think about the context and how you can make your goals matter more to you, and how you can use strategies to help yourself in that particular situation. I think the ancient Greeks said it best when they said, "Know thyself." And a key part of this is knowing how context shapes your behavior and how you can use that knowledge to change for the better.

我并不是说环境因素能决定一切。执行功能非常复杂, 由数不清的因素所组成。但我希望你们记住, 如果你想在生活的某些方面 提升自己的执行能力, 不要试图走捷径。考虑环境因素 以及如何加重目标在你心中的价值, 还有你要如何运用策略 来在特定情况下帮助自己。古希腊有句话说得好:“认清你自己。” 想认清自我,关键是认清 环境对你行为的影响, 以及如何运用这点, 朝更好的方向发展。

Thank you.

谢谢。

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