• New Showreel – As Voted For By You!

    A big thank you to everyone who took time to view the clip reels for each series and send in votes for their favourite bits.
    Those clips given the biggest thumbs up by the largest number of people made the final cut.
    So here are the fruits of your labours… enjoy!
    Dr Jack Lewis Showreel 2014


    This Is How The Showreel Came Together…

    The only way to create a decent showreel is to watch everything you’ve ever presented and then choose the best bits. However when this means watching over 40 hours of footage it can be hard to find the time to do this properly! In the past few weeks I finally got around to doing this and, having created a selection of best bits per series, I’m now at the stage where I need to whittle it down to the best 3 minutes worth of footage – which is where you come in.

    Wisdom of the Crowd describes the phenomenon that if a large number of people are asked to make an educated guess about something, when considered together their estimates are much more accurate than each individual estimate.

    wisdom-of-crowdsThis observation was first made by Sir Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin no less!) at the beginning of the Twentieth Century at a country fair in Plymouth where 800 people were asked to guess the weight of an ox. The true weight of the beast was 1198 lbs and although each individual guess varied wildly around this value the median value (the middle value when each of the individual guesses were organised into ascending order) was 2017 lbs – within 1% of the actual weight.

    Trying to figure out which of the clips from 6 years worth of TV series are the “best” is not an exact science. A clip that one viewer considers to be brilliant may well be entirely uninspiring to another. A TV development producer will likely be looking out for something completely different from a TV commissioner. A younger viewer might find one clip extremely compelling whilst an older viewer’s favourite is completely different.

    By asking a large number of individuals to select their favourite clip(s) from each series the aim is to leverage your collective wisdom to construct the best possible showreel. Below you will find a selection of clips from each of the various TV shows I have appeared on over the years. Please simply watch each short film and make a note of the ClipID number that appears on screen during the clip you find most compelling. Then, if you would be so kind, please tweet these ClipID numbers to @DrJackLewis as per the following example (NB please use #crowdsourcedshowreel rather than other derivations)…



    Below we have a selection of clips from ITV’s This Morning spanning the period from 2011-2014


    And clips from the second series of Plain Jane on MTV in 2013


    Assortment of clips from Sex Hospital on Discovery Homes & Living / TLC in 2013


    Selection of clips from The Tech Show on Discovery Science in 2011


    Clip medley from How To Get What You Want on Sky One in 2010


    And finally, assembly of clips from People Watcher’s on BBC2 in 2008

    It would be amazing if you could find the time to watch these short compilations of clips and let me know via Twitter (or by clicking “contact” on the right of the menu bar at the top of this page).

    Please don’t bother writing a comment below. Unfortunately there is far too much spam sent via the comments and so wading through all the rubbish to find the genuine comments is unfeasible.

    Many thanks for your continued support and happy viewing…

    Read more »
  • Dr Jack’s CBC/CBBC Debuts in early 2014

    Newsround2014 has already seen a TV lifetime ambition of mine achieved by appearing on CBBC’s Newsround (9th April). I explained, in a manner that 6-12 year old children can grasp, exactly how an amazing new electrode implant for people suffering from paralysis due to a spinal injury boosts the weak signal to enable them to move their legs again. Tomorrow (1st May) I’ll be back on This Morning after a two year hiatus to discuss human sex pheromones with Phillip Schofield, Holly Willoughby and Tracey Cox. And right at the beginning of this year I made my debut in a documentary for CBC (Canada’s version of the BBC) called Officeland, which took a lighthearted yet thorough look at working life in the modern office…

    The topic of whether open-plan offices are, on balance, a good or a bad thing is extremely relevant to many people. The concept was first implemented in the hope of doing away with the strictly-defined hierarchy that ruled many office workers lives during the mid to late Twentieth Century. In-so-doing it was hoped that it would encourage greater interaction between staff and thus more spontaneous cross-fertilisation of ideas and innovation. This may be the case, but many workers stuck with this suspiciously cost-effective system of organising a workplace have begun to wonder if it really is the best way to work.

    CBC_Radio-CanadaThe Canadian Broadcast Corporation asked me to do some filming with them last year for a new documentary which aired in January of this year. My role was to illustrate how distracting the open plan office can be. I stress the word “illustration” here because anytime you wheel an EEG kit into an office space in front of TV cameras you are rarely doing what science would consider to be a bona fide experiment or study. The aim was simply to demonstrate what the EEG literature has found time and time again – prefrontal alpha waves are positively correlated with quiet, focused attention, whilst prefrontal beta waves are associated with the effort of blocking out distractions.

    Officeland was presented by the inimitable Peter Keleghan whose light-hearted, comedic approach to the subject matter really helped to carry the whole documentary along very nicely. We wired him up and set him the task of completing an online IQ test in an open-plan office, to see how his brain would contend with commonplace distractions and some more unorthodox distractions thrown in for good measure. You can see how he got on below…

    Read more »
  • New Science Slot “Geek Chic” on XfM, Sundays

    lliana-bird2014 has kicked off with a brand new weekly radio feature every Sunday on XfM dubbed “Geek Chic” (#geekchic). Birdy, as the delectable presenter of the Sat 4-7pm and 4-8pm slots is affectionately known, has been marshalling the XfM (UK 104.9FM) afternoon/early evening airwaves every weekend for the last few years and, it transpires, is a bit of a closet science geek. She kindly invited me to join her in the studio every Sunday afternoon to discuss the week’s most fascinating/quirkiest scientific discoveries.

    PowerPotFor me it’s an opportunity to extend my remit beyond the wonderful world of human brain research into other realms of science. So far we’ve had caterpillars that eat tobacco leaves in order for their fag breath to keep their natural predators (wolf spiders) at bay, Argentinian eco warriors harnessing cow burp energy and a festival friendly gadget that can be fitted to a camping stove that enables you to charge your phone whilst boiling water for a hot drink.

    emotional-arcadeOn the brain side of things we’ve had people pitting their emotion generating powers against each other to blow up balloons in the Emotion Arcade. The aim is to generate a given emotion as powerfully as possible. Competitors scalps are wired up with EEG to measure the strength of the emotional state, which is then translated into an air pressure value that governs the amount of air forced into a pair of balloons. First person to pop their balloon wins!

    We’ve also covered the discovery that a conventional mood stabilising drug appears to have the tantalising side effect of boosting neuroplasticity back to a level long thought to be impossible beyond the age of 7. Valproate is an anticonvulsant typically used to treat conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and migraine to name but a few. A recent experiment demonstrated that adults treated with valproate, but not those treated with placebo (a pill containing no active ingredients) could learn perfect pitch – the ability to name the specific sound frequency of a musical tone. Previously it was thought that if a person had not acquired perfect pitch during childhood then it would be impossible to acquire in adulthood. This is because the “critical period” has passed, a time when areas of the brain involved in musical were particularly malleable in the years leading up to our 7th birthday. Valproate is an inhibitor of an enzyme called histone deacetylase which, when not blocked by valproate, makes it harder to switch genes on and off – a critical aspect of neuroplasticity. The theory is that by blocking this enzyme with valproate during perfect pitch training, genes can be switched on and off more easily, allowing the relevant neuronal networks to re-wire with the level of super-malleability required for the ability to accurately identify musical pitch to be acquired.

    vLast week we talked about the relevance of new brain imaging research investigating the impact of the drug Ecstasy (MDMA) on the brains of healthy volunteers in light of it’s potential for use in helping people with Post-Traumatic Brain Disorder benefit fully from psychotherapy. And away from the brain front we described research accompanying the reintroduction of the northern bald ibis into the natural habitat from which it had become extinct that enabled scientists to explain why flocks of birds give us the V – that is fly in beautiful V-shaped formations. It turns out that whilst cyclists line up in a straight line to benefit from the drag of the bike in front, this is a bad idea if you’re a bird because you get caught up in the down draft from the bird in front. To benefit from the upwash created by the tip of the wing of the bird in front you need to be behind and to the side, making flying easier (as evidenced by a decreased heart rate when flying in V-formation). They even time their wing beats to optimise this process! Clever birds…

    As the first three weeks of the Geek Chic feature seem to have gone down very well, I’ll be back in the Xfm studios every Sunday for the foreseeable future. So make sure you tune in to Birdy’s show on 104.7fm from 4pm to catch the latest and greatest science breakthroughs of the week.

    Read more »
  • Fourth Anniversary of Dr Jack’s Brain Talks for Secondary Schools

    Sydenham Paper Cutting 1In Sept 2013 I gave my “Brain Coach” talk at both Dulwich College and Sydenham High School. That’s the second consecutive year that Sydenham girls entering their GCSE exam year will get my crash course in applied neuroscience. The talk is summarised here on the Girl’s Day School Trust website. It covers changes that take place in their brains as they learn and various neuroscience-informed strategies to manage stress better, stabilise mood, boost problem solving and enhance exam performance. It’s the third year in a row that I’ve shared these insights with Dulwich lads about to embark on their A-levels (and I’ve just been invited back to speak to the Year 11’s in Sept 2014!). Nothing quite like repeat business to confirm you have a product that is highly valued and well received!

    Sydenham Paper Cutting 2I’d jump at the chance to give this talk at schools all around the country. Feedback from teachers year on year indicates that students really do benefit from a better understanding of what is going on within their skulls as they learn and acquire new skills. Understanding that all their effort and hard work actually leads to physical changes in the brain is highly motivating – the audience is left to connect the dots themselves – there’s no need to ram it down their throats. Realizing that feeling stressed is a sign that body and mind are being mobilized to deal with the cause of the stress turns a negative into a positive – simply by pointing out the common misunderstanding. And advice on how to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol when it all starts to become too much to bear gives the students a sense of control over their state of mind. Mnemonic techniques to help them retain important information in mind not just for exams, but for a lifetime – surely the whole point of education after all – has a completely transparent utility. Here’s some feedback from a teacher Lisa Cornell who invited me to speak at Sydenham High School:

    The talk .. was inspirational for staff and students alike. The students enjoyed your informal yet informative style. You made difficult concepts easy to grasp. They especially liked how you applied these high level ideas to their everyday lives and studying. You were witty and  most importantly not in the slightest bit patronising. You managed to use an array of high level language and technical terms [yet] alienated nobody. I particularly liked how you broke down the latin of long words (eg explaining adrenal).

    From a teacher point of view you were engaging, entertaining and a very safe pair of hands for our students to work with. A very good litmus test for any speaker is if students stay behind to speak with you. That you had a ten strong audience of Y11s for half an hour after home time says a lot. Some of those students who stayed I have never seen so enthusiastic about anything!”

    Sydenham Paper Cutting 3

    I would love to get up on stage in front of many more schools each year as I genuinely feel it is one of the best uses of my broad knowledge of neuroscience and aptitude for conveying it in plain english. If you would like me to speak at your or your teenager’s school then please do drop me a line.

    You might also consider following me on Twitter. I flag at least 3 interesting pearls of wisdom from the world of neuroscience and psychology research every day.

    Read more »
  • Talking Brains Live with Dr Jack


    I love nothing more than throwing together a few slides and sharing my passion for brain science with a big audience in a manner that is relevant, revealing and genuinely useful. The Brain Coach talks I do in schools for pupils about to go into GCSE’s and/or A-levels are particularly rewarding, but the feedback I get after speaking at conferences suggests that business people also find these insights to be helpful and inspiring. It seems an understanding of the nuts and bolts of neuroplasticity genuinely motivates people to work harder, faster and wiser.

    All audiences get the 10 B.O.P.’s – that is my 10 Brain Optimisation Principles that help everybody get a little bit more out of their brains each and every day. The last time I gave a talk one audience member asked if I actually practice what I preach. Happily I was able to provide details of how I’d used each and every BOP during the previous 24 hrs. Although these tips were cherry picked over the course of my 16 year exploration of the latest neuroscience literature – I genuinely do find them useful to this day. They involve very simple, straightforward advice on how to give your brain what it needs in terms of raw materials, sunlight, exercise and rest, plus memory tricks, imagination-enhancing techniques and various natural ways to manipulate mood. Ultimately this enables people to exert greater control over their own brain function.

    Schools seem to love it when pupils’ exam results improve. GCSE and A-level students take considerable extra confidence into their exams as a direct result of the clear understanding my Brain Coach talk give them regarding the physical remodeling that occurs in their brain as a direct result of extensive time spent revising (or practicing any new skill for that matter).

    Chilton_Trinity_Technology_College_logo“Dr Jack’s presentation was thought-provoking and engaging. With great clarity he reviewed the core functions of the brain and the implications for us as professional in terms of motivating student to learn…. Dr Jack also ran a brilliant workshop for students who took on board the messages he gave them about how to learn, revise and generally get ready for their GCSEs in the most effective way. Feedback from students collecting their examination results in the summer highlighted the impact he had had on their attitudes to learning and their preparation. Indeed, a number said that they had gone into the exams feeling much more confident about how to show what they knew. They were certainly inspired!”

    Pat Hollinghurst, former Head Teacher of Chilton Technology College, Somerset

    JackAdrianHandshake_SWP994-3594Business audiences are invariably keen to learn about what neuroeconomics has discovered about how we humans make decisions and what factors impact upon them most powerfully. This helps business professionals from all walks of life make better strategic decisions themselves and understand how best to influence the decisions of others in negotiations, communications and/or advertising. There also seems to be a real hunger to understand how the intensive consumption of digital technologies is changing modern brains. Whilst neuroscience and psychology are only just starting to address such questions experimentally, the evidence that has accumulated so far provides many a thought-provoking clue about what changes we are likely to see in the near future when combined with extrapolation based on our current knowledge of lifelong neuroplasticity.

    If your school, conference or business would be interested in inviting me to give a talk on any brain-related subject matter please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I am very keen to do more speaking engagements than ever in 2013. Neuroscience research is producing some fascinating results at an astonishing pace and I am extremely enthusiastic when it comes to finding the best bits and sharing them in order to improve the public understanding of neuroscience in the context of live events as well as print, radio and television.

    If you would like to catch my daily updates about the latest discoveries in neuroscience, then please consider following me on Twitter.

    Read more »
  • Dr Jack – Neuroscience ABC (Author, Broadcaster, Consultant)

    Brain scientist Jack Lewis (Ph.D.) has been getting people excited about their brains on various TV channels since 2008

    At school my favourite subject was human biology. When I was worried about what I should do for a career my parents gave me some very sage advice:

    “Study what you love. That way you will stick at it for long enough to become an expert – and once you’re an expert in something you’ll always be in demand!”

    So that’s exactly what I did:

    • I received a First Class B.Sc. degree in Neuroscience from the University of Nottingham in (2001)
    • I got my Neurobiology Ph.D. after 3 years of using fMRI brain scanning to study sensory integration (2005)
    • My Post-Doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute in Tuebingen was published in the Journal of Neuroscience (2010)

    Along the way I decided to share my love of science and particularly the human brain with the widest possible audience. And because I’ve never lost the knack of explaining complicated science concepts in plain English my career as a science communicator has slowly but surely gone from strength-to-strength.

    In addition to the monthly blogs I’ve been posting here for the past 5 years, I’ve been the presenter or science consultant for TV series on every terrestrial channel in the UK. A weekly science slot on XFM 104.9FM called Geek Chic which aired every Sunday in 2014 evolved into a weekly podcast available on iTunes, Libsyn and Audioboom. My various TV projects have aired on television channels all over the world including BBC, ITV, Channel4, Sky, Discovery, Nat Geo, CBC and even MTV.

    My first book Sort Your Brain Out was launched in April 2014 and has become a best seller with over 25,000 copies sold in it’s first year! Through the exposure that my TV work and book have brought me over the years I’m now becoming extremely busy on the speaking circuit, having given talks in schools all over southern England for many years, not to mention a diverse range of businesses. I really enjoy speaking face-to-face with live audiences. And in recent times demand has spread from the UK to continental Europe with engagements in Czech Republic (Academic Film Olomouc), Germany, Greece, Netherlands and Croatia in 2015 alone! My experience has invariably been that people are extremely motivated to better understand their brains and how to get them working better. I never get bored of answering these questions (in fact when I spoke at the Cheltenham Science Festival it took me more than an hour to answer everybody’s questions in the bar after the show!)

    TV CV

    • “How To Save £1000”  BBC2 (2015, BBC Watchdog) demonstrating the Marshmellow Test with 4 year olds in a nursery
    • “The UK’s First Cloned Pet” This Morning ITV (2014, ITV productions) with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby
    • “The Big Debate” Titchmarsh ITV (2014, ITV productions) discussing using Xenon gas to potentially delete painful memories
    • “Pheromone Parties” This Morning ITV (2014, ITV productions) with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby
    • “Spinal Chip Enables Paralysed People To Move Again” Newsround: Children’s BBC (2014, BBC)
    • “Officeland” Canadian Broadcast Corporation (2014, CBC)
    • “Sex Hospital” 5 x 60 mins by TLC (2013, Betty)
    • “The Tech Show” 26 x 30min showcasing latest sci, tech & engineering Discovery Science Channel (2012, Reef)
    • “Plain Jane” MTV – training young ladies on brain-based tricks &  tips to boost confidence in the dating game
    • “This Morning ITV a monthly strand called Don’t be a Slave to your Brain over the summer of 2011
    • Tom Dyckhoff’s “The Secret Life of BuildingsChannel 4 – EEG demo of open plan office distractions
    • Tony Robinson’s “Gods and MonstersChannel 4 – when epilepsy was mistaken for demonic possession
    • “Body Language Secrets” a.k.a. “How to Get What you Want” 8 x 60 min on Sky One
    • “Naked Britain” 3 x 30 mins for Sky One
    • “People Watchers” 20 x 60 mins for BBC

    As well as presenting series and contributing to one off television programmes I’ve also provided science consultancy services for several TV projects including helping to design the games for “Britain’s Best Brain” on Five in Nov/Dec 2009, and developing a science-based 3D feature film for Blink Films; doing for the brain what “The Great Sperm Race” did for the story of conception.

    Dr Jack LewisMy very first presenting job was a 20-part social psychology series for BBC2 called “The People Watchers”, where we performed a wide variety of social psychology experiments on unsuspecting members of the public.

    Previously, before that I was the science consultant (and featured actor) for a feature-length, Emmy Award winning documentary for Channel 4 and National Geographic, which described the biological processes that take place “Inside the Living Body” from birth until death.

    Other television credits include contributions to the 5-part strand ‘Teen Club’ for This Morning and a 3-part prime-time ITV series called “How to Get More Sex”.

    I have also designed a Brain Gym in central London to test the brain power of the public, offering advice on how to improve memory and decision making strategies.

    Over the past 4 years I have been developing my motivational speaking repetoire from “Brain Coach Live!” for secondary school pupils in their GCSE or A-Level years. These talks have been successfully adapted for undergraduate and post-graduate university students and particularly over the last year or two business audiences. These talks cover various ways in which a person can optimise the functionality of their brain using memory tricks , techniques for minimising and harnessing stress, a brain-focused explanation of why practice makes perfect and a range of practical tips on how to boost general brain health.

    During my undergraduate days in Nottingham, I co-founded an extremely successful club night featuring every DJ from the “drum and bass” hall of fame over three years of monthly events, and even managing to scrape a First Class degree at the same time.

    A bit of a daredevil I have surfed, climbed, dived and white water rafted in every continent bar Antarctica

    I am very active on Twitter, tweeting at least three brain-related news stories everyday.

    I also religiously produce a blog each and every month for this website on a wide variety of topics.

    Over the years I’ve developed extensive experience on the radio appearing on various regional and national radio stations discussing subjects from the effects of partying hard on the human brain, the brain benefits of volunteering, how to make better decisions, adopting new habits, the impact of digital technology on the brain and the brain’s responses to beauty, flirting and sexual attraction.

    Although most of my journalistic output has been through my blog, I’ve contributed several times over the years to the health/science pages of the Mail on Sunday and London Lite.

    Read more »
  • Dr Jack Lewis’ Showreel 2012

    My most recent major project consisted of 26 x 30 min episodes of a brand new flagship series for Discovery Science made by REEF TV called The Tech Show; probably best described as a Tomorrow’s World for the 21st Century.
    The Tech Show showcases the latest breakthroughs in science, technology and engineering. My personal favourites include the super-geek who creates tornados in his garage, the Red Bull pilot who can do a loop-the-loop in a helicopter, the sand lizard who escapes predators by sending travelling waves down the length of its body to burrow, in the blink of an eye, into densely compacted sand and the robot that can track and catch fast moving objects. This series is currently being broadcast across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

    Last year I got my own strand on ITV’s This Morning called “Don’t be a Slave to your Brain.” A fantastic opportunity to showcase ways to improve our memory, decision making and strategies for keeping the symptoms of dementia at bay for as long as possible.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of doing live television and was amazed that my first 10 min appearance resulted in a 33% increase in Twitter followers! Talks are ongoing about bringing this strand back again, even bigger and better by committing a camera crew to accompany me in an investigation of the latest brain research, at some point over the course of 2012.

    Last year I also finally managed to get a foot in the door at Channel 4 by contributing to two primetime series:

    In The Secret Life of Buildings I used EEG to measure the brain activity from the grey matter of none other than Tom Dyckhoff, The Independent’s architecture critic, whilst he tried to pen an article in an open plan office. We demonstrated that, even when unaware of surrounding distractions, like movement in your field of vision or noises/conversations in the nearby environment, the brain nonetheless diverts precious resources away from thinking to process them.

    The other Channel 4 series was Tony Robinson’s dramatic reconstructions of historical accounts of “Gods and Monsters.” My role was to discuss how modern neuroscience would account for the symptoms that people exhibited when accused of being possessed by the devil.

    I also tried my hand at providing some neuroscience-informed romance tips regarding how to make a good impression during a date for MTV‘s “PLAIN JANE.” Predictably enough, any mention of brain areas vital for human bonding, neurohormones involved in sex drive, love and long term bonding etc. hit the cutting room floor. However my contribution to the first series was deemed worthy of an invitation to participate in the second series during which I got the distinct impression that some of the science would survive the edit this time. Fingers crossed!

    I first got involved in television as a science consultant (and later featured actor) in Emmy Award-winning, feature-length, biology documentary “Inside the Living Body” made by PIONEER PRODUCTIONS as a co-production for Channel 4 and National Geographic.

    My first break in presenting came shortly after receiving my PhD from University College London, when OBJECTIVE PRODUCTIONS offered me a role as a presenter performing secretly-filmed social psychology experiments on unsuspecting members of the public for 20 x 1 hour-long episodes of “People Watchers” for BBC2.

    This was followed by a strand on ITV’s THIS MORNING called “Teen Club” where I was called upon to explain exactly what goes on inside the adolescent brain.

    I then put my science consultancy hat back on to help develop two television series: one for Silver River and another for Tigress Productions.

    I then contributed some talking heads material for LIBERTY BELL PRODUCTIONS on the subject of sexual attraction in “How To Get More Sex” which aired at primetime on ITV.

    In 2008, the Institute of Engineering and Technology decided to modernise their Faraday lectures by commissioning 4 x 15 minute films about “Technology for Life” which won gold at the International Video Communications Association awards. As the Face of Faraday 2008 I presented these films, made by HAWKSHEAD/RADLEY YELDAR, and also several live events all across the UK, produced by SHINING WIT. The aim was to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in the eyes of 12-16 year old children… a cause very close to my heart.

    Teacher’s TV were so impressed with the quality of these BAFTA award-nominated films that they decided to buy the rights to air the films on their channel.

    Whilst doing post-doctoral fMRI brain scanning research at the Max Planck Insitute for Biological Cybernetics, I used some of my spare time to provide consultancy services to help develop a documentary for BLINK FILMS.

    During this period I also consulted for TIGER ASPECT PRODUCTIONS in the design of scientifically-rigorous games for the Channel 5 quiz “Britain’s Best Brain” presented by Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston.

    Upon my return from Germany, I immediatly started filming for “Naked Britain“, made by CARBON PRODUCTIONS for Sky One – my first solo presenting job.

    A further series “BODY LANGUAGE SECRETS” a.k.a. “How To Get What You Want“, also made by CARBON PRODUCTIONS has aired on Sky One, Sky Two and Sky Three throughout 2010 and has been repeated throughout 2011 and 2012. My role was to help explain what goes on in our brains during a wide range of human behaviours: from love and attraction to money and power.

    In addition to these regular brainposts you can catch my #braintweets by following me on Twitter.

    Read more »
  • Creativity and the Brain by Dr Jack Lewis

    I’ve recently developed a new live presentation on: “The Neuroscience of Creativity,” which I first presented at the Royal Society of Arts in February 2012. The rapidly expanding list of Brain Coach Live topics continues to grow.

    I kick off by describing some of the features of modern life that are “Enemies of Creativity.” To help motivate this section I describe a Channel 4 architecture series I contributed to called “The Secret Life of Buildings.” In this show I used EEG to illustrate how the brain responds to a variety of sensory distractions typically encountered in a modern work environment – the open plan office. The presenter, The Independent architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff (pictured left), was wired up with an electrode studded scrum cap and plonked in the middle of a busy open plan office to write up an overdue newspaper article. When a colleague (to his left in the photograph) mentioned the word “pub,” an extensive burst of activity was triggered across his prefrontal cortices (pictured top right). His brainwaves also pulsed in response to movements in the background, conversations going on around him and especially the rattle of the trolley loaded with crockery and cutlery as the tea lady tottered by.

    The point I wished to convey was that, although we might not consciously register sights and sounds that are constantly being picked up by our senses, they are nonetheless processed in the brain; diverting precious resources away from the task at hand.

    This is relevant to the process of creativity because soaking up and considering vast quantities of information from a variety of sources for a prolongued period of time is often the first step towards solving a tricky problem and this requires sustained attention. And it is not just disturbances in our open plan working environments (classrooms fall into this category too, of course) that pull the brain’s attentional resources hither and thither, thus disrupting the intake of information. The demands made on us by our smartphones constantly alerting us to the arrival of endless emails, texts, calls and social networking updates also interferes with creative thinking.

    The first tip for boosting creativity is thus to block out distractions by switching off smartphones, closing down email accounts and sticking in the earplugs. Take a tip from french polymath Henry Pointcaré and work in regular two hour sessions from 10:00-12:00 and 17:00-19:00 to get those distraction-free bouts of unbroken concentration in. That way you will be able to take in all the necessary input relevant to the problem at hand. Later, once the subconscious brain has mulled over the possibilities, circumventing the inevitable mental blocks, your Eureka moment will come when you least expect it.

    Great thinkers have typically reached their big creative breakthroughs, usually described in the scientific literature as “Aha! moments,” at a time when they were not thinking terribly hard. For instance, Henry Pointcaré cracked one of his biggest mathematical conundrums whilst stepping onto a bus, Kekulé day-dreamed a snake biting its tail to crack the chemical structure of benzene whilst dozing by the fire and Archimedes was famously plonking himself in the bath.

    The point is that when a “mental impasse” is reached i.e. you’ve done lots of work on trying to crack the problem, but don’t seem to be getting anywhere – the best thing you can possibly do is walk away from it and do something else. You must leave it to your subconscious to play with all the information you have furiously uploaded into your brain and wait for the solution to percolate up into consciousness once you are between thoughts.

    The rest of the talk describes a medley of the latest neuroscientific investigations into the Aha! moment courtesy of the likes of Joydeep Bhattacharya and colleageues at Goldsmith’s University. They discovered that the moment that a problem is solved is associated with activation across the right prefrontal cortex up to 8s before the person registers their response.

    I also touch upon Alan Snyder and colleage’s contraversial experiment where transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) was used to transiently deactivate brain areas over the left anterior temporal/prefrontal areas whilst stimulating right anterior temporal/prefrontal areas resulting in three-fold improvements in finding solutions to creative problems. The idea is based on the theory that, in most right handed people, the left brain controls well rehearsed over-learned behaviours, whilst the right brain is more involved in grappling with novel stimuli and generating creative behaviour.

    Finally, I described what modern science knows about the hypnagogic state, where wakefulness drifts off into sleep, well know to be an incredibly fertile ground for creativity. Scientist and engineer Thomas Edison was a great believer in using the hypnagogic state to boost creativity and given his 1,093 patents and inventions that lead to electric lighting, plus the music and movie industries, I would say that his is a testimony we can all believe.

    Clues as to how and why this brain state is so enormously innovative arise from very recent studies (Magnin et al, 2010) in which electrodes attached all over the surface of a human brain to measure the neuronal activity as a person falls asleep. This has revealed that the thalamus – the brain’s main junction box through which all parts of the cortex are connected to all other parts – “falls asleep” first whilst other brain areas “switch off” up to 5mins, 10mins, 15 mins and even 20 mins later! Until then these brain areas are still firing away, yet cut off as they from the rest of the brain by the absence of viable cortico-thalmo-cortical connectivity, it is surely this dissociation which leads to those magical sparkles of insight?

    Edison even invented a clever device for capturing creative thoughts before they are forgotten. If you want to know more about this then you can click here to book me in to give this talk at your school, university or firm!

    If you’d like to leave a comment below, please do, but so that I can find it amongst all the spam comments would you please email me to tell me on what day and at what time you left it so that I can find and approve it.

    In addition to these brainblogs you can also follow my regular #braintweets by following me (@DrJackLewis) on Twitter.

    Read more »
  • New for 2012: Brain Coach Live for Schools Buddy Scheme

    I gave my inaugural Brain Coach Live talk at the Chilton Trinity Technology College in Somerset for students about to take their G.C.S.E’s in the 2010-2011 academic year and another for their teachers. The students went on to score the best results the school had ever produced. Clearly I cannot take sole responsible for this brilliant achievement – the lion’s share of the credit must, of course, go to the fanastic work of teaching staff and determination of their pupils, alike. That said, there is every reason to suspect that the hour of Brain Coaching I gave those 200 or so bright young minds may well have contributed to this record breaking performance in some small but fundamental way.

    “Dr Jack’s presentation was thought-provoking and engaging. With great clarity he reviewed the core functions of the brain and the implications for us as professional in terms of motivating student to learn. He provided both teaching and support staff with very useful, practical tips for engaging students and helping them “boost their brain power”.

    Dr Jack also ran a brilliant workshop for students who took on board the messages he gave them about how to learn, revise and generally get ready for their GCSEs in the most effective way. Feedback from students collecting their examination results in the Summer highlighted the impact he had had on their attitudes to learning and their preparation. Indeed, a number said that they had gone into the exams feeling much more confident about how to show what they knew. They were certainly inspired!”

    Understanding the hidden processes at work deep inside our brains as we acquire skills and learn a wide variety of information helps to motivate people, whether young or old, to stick to their guns for long enough to make a difference.

    Being able to visualise the very brain areas that are physically changed by the cumulative mental exertion across many hundreds of hours can really capture the imagination of young minds – making the imperceptible, and often frustratingly gradual, improvements that their efforts ultimately result in, much more tangible.

    A firm grasp of the key ingredients required to make a memory truly stick in the neural networks dedicated to storing and recalling information is captured by a variety of mnemonic techniques that make revision more fun, more effective and less of a grind.

    And the 10 Brain Optimisation Principles (BOPs) that top and tail every Brain Coach Live presentation provide hints and tips that help everyone in the audience keep their brain firing on all cyclinders each and every day, for the rest of their lives.

    On Tues 7th February 2012 I will be giving a Brain Coach Live talk at London’s Dulwich College as part of a new Buy One Get One Free Buddy Scheme (“BOGOF Buddy Scheme”) launched this year to enable all schools to get Brain Coach Live in front of their pupils.

    This  system simply allows any school who chooses to book a Brain Coach Live presentation at their school to elect another nearby school where the very same talk will be given for free. The concept is based on the idea that fee-paying schools, more likely to have funds for such extra-curricular activities, might cover costs both for themselves and a local non-fee paying school as a gesture of good will.

    Dulwich College have chosen Kingsdale Foundation as their Buddy School, which was featured in episode 2 of Channel 4’s “The Secret Life of Buildings” to showcase its innovative architecture. So I’m particularly glad to be giving a talk at Kingsdale so that I can see for myself how their innovative use of space helps the school to function better.

    Coincidentally, this was exactly the same episode which I contributed to by performing an EEG experiment in an open plan office to demonstrate how our brains are constantly processing the sensory distractions around us regardless of whether we are aware of it or not!

    If your school would like me to come and give this talk I would be more than happy to consider your application. To get in touch please email me by clicking here.

    If you wish to leave a comment below it would be happily received but you must also email me to let me know you have done this immediately afterwards. The reason for this is that I have lost the battle against the spambots. I currently have 15,000 comments waiting for approval and it simply takes too much time to go through them all to find the 1 in 200 that was actually generated by a real human being. So long as you email me to let me know what time your comment was posted I can identify and approve it straight away.

    In addition to these regular brainposts you can get my daily #braintweets, which draw attention to recent breakthroughs in brain science and related subjects, by following me on Twitter.

    Read more »
  • Demonic Possession or Just Epilepsy? by Dr Jack

    Dramatic reconstructions of our ancestors' superstitious beliefs in a great new series

    This brain post has been written to complement a recent appearance on Tony Robinson’s brilliant new Channel 4 series. Monsters and Demons (watch now on 4OD) investigates our ancestors’ belief in the supernatural through a series of dramatic reconstuctions of recorded historical events. In episode 2 (Sat 3rd Dec 2011) Tony and I discussed how, in times before modern medical knowledge had figured out the facts and made them broadly available to all, certain forms of epileptic seizure could easily have been mistakenly attributed to evil spirits. In particular, temporal lobe epilepsy (these days better known as complex partial seizure disorder) can trigger vivid, sometimes deeply distressing hallucinations. Tonic-clonic seizures, a very common symptom of several different forms of epilepsy, often leads to involuntary production of grotesque-looking and often extremely powerful bodily contortions that, in times of old, could easily have been mistaken for possession by malevolent spirits .

    Hyperexcitability in vunerable brain areas produce synchronised pulses of electrical activity which can spread across the brain

    The human brain is a massively interconnected, intricately woven ball of cellular wires that under normal circumstances sends millions of electrical signals buzzing through billions of interconnected networks. For this to result in purposeful thought, perception and feeling, split second control over the rate at which electrical messages travel along each brain cell is required to allow orderly communication between different brain areas. During an epileptic seizure, powerful surges of electrical signals within a certain vulnerable part of the brain spontaneously begin to synchronise. A positive feedback loop quickly allows this epicentre of activity to force adjacent patches of brain tissue into the same dangerous rhythm. Very quickly this process of “kindling” can begin to overpowers the usual checks and balances inherent in the molecular design of synapses (the site of connection between one brain cell and the next) allowing the torrent of hyperexcitable activity to spread throughout the brain like wildfire.

    Jack Lewis explaining to Tony Robinson the similarities between the contortions of a possessed person and stages of a typical epileptic seizure

    Tony Robison’s brilliant new series explores how our ancestors might have come to believe in magic, Gods and Monsters. Up until a handful of decades ago medicine, and particularly brain medicine, was still riddled with misunderstanding and ignorance. Over the centuries our ancestors would have had little help from doctors when it came to understanding the bizarre and seemingly frightening array of human behaviours that we now know stem from diseases of the brain. And of course for much of mankind’s history, most normal everyday people did not have access to a proper doctor anyway. Instead the masses turned to whatever intellectual authority was available to them in their local community and whether shamans, soothsayers, vicars or priest mankind’s imagination filled in where it’s knowledge got blurry and they inevitably ended up getting sucked into supernatural explanations.

    The phenomenon of epilepsy has been recognised since the time of the Romans (and even before). For centuries it was known as the “falling sickness.” However the many different forms of epilepsy weren’t accurately defined until the 20th Century and so in all previous centuries the causes of many forms of epilepsy may well have been misdisagnosed. In the late 19th Century Yorkshireman John Hughlings Jackson finally put medicine on the right track in terms of understanding the true system of cause and effect in epilepsy describing it as a: “sudden, excessive and rapid discharge” of brain cells.

    The actress in the demonic possession scene was working from a particularly well-documented historical account and her performance had all the hallmarks of a tonic-clonic seizure. A few seconds of “tonic” stiffening of muscles, causing sudden rigidity throughout the whole body, which often yields a blood-curdling scream as air is forced out of the lungs, is quickly followed by a “clonic” phase where the muscles powerfully and repetitively contract and relax, producing grotesque movements of the face and body.

    In the tonic phase of a tonic-clonic seizure all the body's muscles contract simultaneously

    Clearly I jumped at the chance to work with a TV legend like Tony Robinson. Particularly as the project seemed to be taking such an ambitious approach to the age-old tradition of re-creating a story from the history books. Then again, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as such a surprise given his excellent pedigree in making various obscure aspects of history accessible to the widest possible audience. That said the last thing I expected to find myself doing that day was assisting a man (whom for a decade had been known to me only as Baldrick) dressed as a Catholic priest in a staged exorcism!

    The demoniac resists Rev Robinson's attempts to administer the holy potion

    My conclusion from this bizarre experience? I learned that it is much better to find yourself trying to cope with epilepsy in the 21st century. These days most diseases of the brain can be defined fairly rapidly and according to which illness is identified the best available treatments can be instigated – many of which are extremely effective. In the 16th century, however, rather than enabling people struggling with epileptic seizures to get it under control and to help them cope better, the religious authorities of the time opted instead for effectively torturing the afflicted with vile concoctions, toxic fumes and pain in a futile attempt to prise a non-existant demon out. With the benefit of heinsight it is easy to say this now. No doubt were I alive back then, in the absence of a better explanation, I may well have found myself sucked into all the religious fervour like everyone else.

    I would love to receive any comments you might wish to make on this post (see below). If you do choose to leave a comment would you please also click “contact” in the top right hand corner and send me a quick message so that I can make your comment visible. Spambots are now leaving so many fake comments that it has become too time consuming to pick through them all to find the genuine ones. Apologies for the extra step but I will definitely okay all comments made by actual human beings if you’d simply let me know straight after you’ve submitted. Thanks!

    In addition to these brainposts you can get my daily #braintweet by following me on Twitter.

    Read more »