Sunday, February 22, 2009

Take Care of Your Hippocampus

The Hippocampus is the brain structure responsible for our ability to store short memories and is key in learning. This structure shrinks as we age. The more one uses its functions by constantly being exposed to novelty and new learning the less age-related atrophy will occur. But people of all ages can have premature hippocampal damage. Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University neurobiologist, is a researcher with a message for us all. "Long term stress is bad for the brain," Sapolsky says, because it produces, possibly permanent, hypocampal atrophy. The stress Sapolsky refers to is severe enough to create the life-wilting twins, "learned helplessness" and depression. The longer a person is depressed the faster her hippo campus shrinks, inhibiting future short term memory capabilities and learning. "Keep your life in perspective!" Sapolsky says. Unfortunately the people most likely to need his advice are the least likely to be able to process it. Depression is a shirking of perspective, a possibly destructive honing in on the self. Depression kicks in when sadness over life's bad turns does not resolve. Everyone experiences moments of great sadness, the people that best protect their hippo campus from long-term damage are those who have a growth mindset to begin with. People with a growth mindset expect to grow somehow through their deepest valleys of despair. They know they will come out a different person, a wiser person. Psychologist Carol Dweck believes "People can choose which world they want to inhabit." And that choice makes all the difference.

Robert Sapolsky on You Tube

Interview with Carol Dweck


  1. "You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing."
    -Michael Pritchard