Skip to main content
November 2 (Thu) 13:00-14:00
Drawing Out Maximum Performance by Understanding What Is Going On in The Brain
President, Barnard College, USA
Author of "How the Body Knows Its Mind"
Sian Beilock, Barnard College, USA
Dr. Beilock describes stresses that affect creativity
Dr. Beilock started her speech introducing two case studies about the effects of malfunction of the prefrontal cortex from stress. First example is about the golfer who lost in the British Open to explain how our attention gets diverted when we are under stress.
She explained, "They paid too much attention to aspects of what they are doing that should run on autopilot. In order to avoid paying too much attention, it is important to focus on the outcome. In the case of golf, for example, we should only focus on where we want the ball to land."
Next, she introduced a Cornell University study case on how prefrontal cortex affects creativity under stress. In order to investigate what is happening in the brain while medical students are feeling stress getting ready for the medical board exam, researchers invited students who were going to take exam soon and were not.
According to Dr. Beilock, "The prefrontal cortex of students under the stress for the exam was not communicating as well with the rest of the brain. Also, students were not able to be as creative to think outside the box. Researchers found that students under the stress were less likely to think in a creative way"
She then introduced effective ways to recover brain function. "Taking small breaks is effective. From the research, we found that even small breaks have a positive effect as the brain is still working on the problems in an unconscious manner and when we come back, we are often able to see a problem in a new or unusual way."
She also explained why sleep is also important by relating a story of how birds learn songs while sleeping.
"Talking to other people that working together can be shown to help us come up with solutions to problems that we could not get to on our own," says Dr. Beilock, "The person you are talking to doesn't necessarily have to know the answer. Just talking to people and working together will lead a better connection or better ideas than you are just thinking by yourself."
Showing a long passage with no title, she emphasized the importance of telling explicitly what you are talking about first when pressure is making people difficult to have enough communication to the extent they need to. She also discussed why social sensitivity and diversity are essential in creating organizations that give rise to social innovation.
Dr. Beilock says, "The ability to read what others are thinking is more important than gathering people that are smart or knowledgeable. Turn taking is also important. Listening to each other and sharing other's views will bring better answers. Also, research shows that more women involvement generates more turn taking."
Beilock discussed how concentration is hindered when stress-induced prefrontal cortex malfunction affects emotional control.
"When someone is afraid of math, just knowing that they are about to do math activates the same region in the brain that activates when we feel pain, sending a neural alarm that makes it impossible to concentrate on what needs to be done."
She introduced a method used by the Canadian swimming team to overcome this, which is to 'practice changing your thinking'. She described a way to restore concentration by, for instance, getting out into nature, looking outside a window, or even just looking at a photo of nature.
According to Dr. Beilock, "Meditation is also effective for brain training. Even just 11 hours of meditation per month has been proven to change the structure of brains."
Citing an example of a basketball team's free-throw practice, she described the importance of practicing under the same pressure as the actual event in order to prevail against pressure.
Lastly, she related the role that the body plays in communication by showing photos of just the faces of tennis players and quizzing the audience on who they think won or lost. She added that is also effective to write out your thoughts or feelings as a way to elicit performance under stress.
In her final message before ending the speech, she pointed out, "If you understand the science behind human performance and what is going on in the brain, it is possible to draw out maximum performance by using the right techniques, even when under pressure at a critical stage of the game."