Wake Up and Smell the Cortex: New Sensory Experiences Improve Memory and Promote Brain Health
There’s no doubt that evocative scents—a linden tree in bloom, a former lover’s perfume—have the power to evoke memories of the past and provoke feelings we thought long dead. How does this happen? According to Manning Rubin, co-author with the late Lawrence Katz of Keep Your Brain Alive[i], memory is enhanced when more than one sense is involved in an experience; if you touch a rose, smell it and have strong emotions toward the person who handed it to you, your cortex is activated in at least three areas, creating a pattern and strengthening the linkages among them.
相信每个人都有这样的经历，某种气味会将我们带回从前的记忆，唤醒已然沉睡的感情，比如菩提开花的清香，还有旧情人身上独特的香水味。那么这其中有什么奥秘呢？曼宁•鲁宾（Manning Rubin）先生解释道: 当有多种感官参与某种经历时，记忆力便会提高。当你触到一朵玫瑰，闻到它的芬芳，而且又对赠你玫瑰的人有着强烈感情的时候，你的身体至少有三处皮质处于激活状态，这种模式下三者之间联系密切，记忆也就随之变得深刻。
“Most of what we learn and remember relies on the ability of the brain to form and retrieve associations in much the same way Pavlov’s dogs learned that the sound of a bell meant food,” notes Rubin, a former advertising creative director who became interested in the field of brain science when he learned that adult brains are able to grow new cells. Rubin reasoned that there might be brain exercises that could help to stimulate such growth. After meeting Lawrence Katz, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, the two men developed a systematic approach to exercising the brain for improved memory and overall mental flexibility. Their system, known as Neurobics, remains relevant today, 11 years after the first publication of their book, which has since been translated into 24 languages.
“Katz was a brilliant scientist and ahead of his time,” notes Rubin. “He was working on growing dendrites (the branches on nerve cells that receive information from other cells) in rat brains and found that adding extra neurotrophins[ii] to neurons almost doubles the size and complexity of the dendrites. It is actually the thinning out of dendrites that contributes to mental decline, so doubling the growth added a lot more mental horsepower.”
It is now an accepted fact that while certain areas of the brain are ‘responsible’ for specific sensory functions, the disuse of those functions can lead to cell atrophy and the possible appropriation of the area by another sensory function that is used to excess. This accounts for the heightened sense of touch in someone who uses her fingers to decipher Braille. In cases where a particular sensory area of the brain is not used, the senses become dull and presumably, life is less pleasurable. Those who no longer wake up and smell the coffee have lost the sense of excitement and wonder that a child is born with.
Rubin points out that most of us rely disproportionally on vision and hearing, neglecting the senses of touch, smell and taste. For instance, purchasing canned and frozen food in a grocery store prevents us from using our senses of touch and smell to determine the quality of the food. In contrast, shopping at a farmer’s market engages more senses. And while text messaging uses touch when the fingers tap on a keyboard, we seldom use touch alone as a method of determining what something is, such as when we use our fingers to help us tell the difference between fur and leather.
Neurobics challenges us to combine our sensory experiences in new ways, and to break our routines and experience novel activities. The authors claim this will not only enhance mental fitness but help to seed new cell growth in the brain. You’ll recall that Lawrence Katz was experimenting with neurotrophins, substances that cause neurons to sprout new dendrites. Keep Your Brain Alive cites research demonstrating that neurotrophins help strengthen connections in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is critical for learning and memory; the book also states that there is a direct correlation between nerve cell activity and the production of neurotrophins. So the more active a brain is, the more active it can become through the production of neurotrophins. Rubin likens this to a self-fertilizing garden: “Non-routine experiences that produce novel activity patterns in nerve cell circuits, can produce greater quantities of neurotrophins.”
These discoveries open up new vistas within range of everyone. What could be simpler than using the senses we all have in novel combinations? Just as climbing the stairs is a physical exercise requiring no special equipment, Neurobics offers a simple way to exercise the brain in virtually any environment. In fact, Rubin and Katz have made it easy by offering 83 brain exercises for use when one is at the workplace, commuting, shopping, on arising or preparing for bed. As Rubin explains, “It’s not about tricks, or about coming up with a few things that will help you remember a list of names—it’s about how to live a life that is brain-healthy.”
Some Neurobic Exercises: 神经操小贴士：
Introduce new scents and touch sensations to lovemaking. 性爱时营造新的香氛和触感。
Find your clothes and get dressed with your eyes closed. 闭着眼睛找到衣服并穿上。
Move familiar objects on your desk to new locations. 将桌上熟悉的东西移放到别处。
Share a meal in silence. 与他人分享饭食但是不说话。
Eat with a blindfold on. 蒙上眼睛吃东西。
Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. 用不习惯的那只手刷牙（左撇子用右手，右撇子用左手）。
Keep a variety of scents at your desk and smell them when engaged in routine activities. 在桌上放置不同的香水，例行公事时闻一闻。