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By Carman Dewees
If there were a surefire way to improve your brain, would you try it? Judging by the abundance of products, programs and pills that claim to offer “cognitive enhancement,” many people are lining up for just such quick brain fixes. Recent research offers a possibility with much better, science-based support: that focused training in any of the arts–such as music, dance or theater–strengthens the brain’s attention system, which in turn can improve cognition more generally.
We know that the brain has a system of neural pathways dedicated to attention. We know that training these attention networks improves general measures of intelligence. And we can be fairly sure that focusing our attention on learning and performing an art–if we practice frequently and are truly engaged–activates these same attention networks. We therefore would expect focused training in the arts to improve cognition generally.
Developing Life-Play and playing regularly has profoundly changed my life. As Lehrer alludes to, each person finds their flow state in different activities: work, life, hobbies, athletics or the arts. For me, improv has improved my emotional intelligence and made me, I feel, a better listener.
Maturity – to recover the seriousness one had as a child at play. – W.H. Auden [paraphrasing Nietszche]