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The Agile Mind$
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Wilma Koutstaal

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195367188

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195367188.001.0001

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Making Brain Paths to Agile Thinking, Part 1

Making Brain Paths to Agile Thinking, Part 1

Correlational and Longitudinal Evidence

(p.462) 10 Making Brain Paths to Agile Thinking, Part 1
The Agile Mind

Wilma Koutstaal

Oxford University Press

Our day-to-day environment is a crucial but not always sufficiently recognized sculptor of our brains and of our ability to use agile thinking. The things we see, hear, imagine, and plan each day, the activities we perform, and the “contents” of our leisure and work pursuits simultaneously and reciprocally shape our thinking and our brains. Research findings from a wide range of methodologies and disciplines converge in demonstrating a simple fact: agile thinking thrives in stimulating environments. This chapter considers indirect—correlational and longitudinal—evidence that is broadly consistent with this claim. The consideration of indirect forms of evidence begins by focusing on clear cases of brain plasticity associated with prolonged behavioral alterations in one's experiences, such as the acquisition of complex skills (e.g., learning to play a musical instrument) or adaptations to the loss of a particular sense modality. The chapter then turns to a consideration of the many longitudinal and epidemiologic studies that have sought to identify longer term contributions of our day-to-day cognitive, intellectual, and social-emotional environments to the preservation and optimization of cognitive function, and also to the likelihood and timing of the onset of degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. A final section considers the outcomes of longitudinal field experiments that aim to determine the effects of a cognitively and socially engaged lifestyle on cognitive vitality.

Keywords:   agile thinking, mental agility, stimulation, brain plasticity, cognitive function, cognitive vitality

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