2013 HDFS Gertrude Hinsz Lecture Series
About The Speaker
Adele Diamond, Ph.D., is the Canada Research Chair Tier 1 Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and is one of the founders of the field of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.
Diamond received her PhD from Harvard University in Developmental Psychology and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Neuroanatomy at Yale University. She received a YWCA Woman of Distinction in 2001 and 2009 and was named one of the “2000 Outstanding Women of the 20th Century.” Her work has been featured on the Public Television series, Scientific American Frontiers Series with Alan Alda, and in shows on the CBC, CTV, & NPR, and in articles in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, & the Vancouver Sun. A recipient of many awards, she was named a Distinguished Scientific Lecturer by the American Psychological Association and has received a Canada Fund for Innovation Award.
For over 3 decades, Professor Diamond has been studying the prefontal cortex, a region of the brain allocated to the most complex human abilities. Those abilities are collectively referred to as 'executive functions’ and include attention, self-control, reasoning, and problem-solving. Her work integrates developmental, cognitive, neuroscience, and molecular genetic approaches to examine fundamental questions about the development of the cognitive control abilities and has changed medical practice worldwide for the treatment of PKU (phenylketonuria) and ADHD without hyperactivity. More recently, her research focused on the development of executive functions in children and is shaping early education practices worldwide.
Dr. Diamond’s website: http://www.devcogneuro.com/AdeleDiamond.html
"Executive functions" (EFs) are core skills critical for cognitive, social, and psychological development, mental and physical health, and success in school and in life. Key qualities for success include creativity, flexibility, self-control, and discipline. All of those are EFs or are made possible by EFs. EF skills are amenable to improvement through training and practice. Indeed, diverse activities have been shown to improve children’s executive functions (EFs), including computerized training with or without other types of games, aerobics, martial arts, yoga, mindfulness, and certain school curricula. Regardless of the intervention, a couple of principles seem to hold: (1) EFs can be improved even in very young children. (2) EFs need to be continually challenged; if EF demands do not keep increasing as children improve, few gains are seen. (3) Whether EF gains are seen depends on the way an activity is done and the amount of time spent doing it, practicing and pushing oneself to do better. It’s the discipline, the practice, that produces the benefits. Even the best activity for improving EFs if done rarely produces little benefit. We are not just intellects; we have social needs, emotions, and bodies. The importance of social, emotional, and physical health for cognitive health is nowhere more evident than with EFs. EFs are the first to suffer, and suffer disproportionately, if we are lonely, sad, sleep-deprived, or not physically fit. Therefore, if we want the best EF performance and the best academic outcomes for our children, we need to nurture the whole child; we need our children to feel they have a supportive community they can count on, we need them to feel joyful, and we need their bodies to be strong and healthy. What nourishes the human spirit, it turns out, also appears to be best for executive functions. Traditional activities that have been part of every culture throughout time, such as dance, music-making, martial arts and sports, can be immensely helpful. They challenge our EFs, make us happy and proud, provide a sense of belonging, and help our bodies develop. A school curriculum that ignores children’s physical, social, or emotional needs will find that those unmet needs will work against the achievement of academic goals.