The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory

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As the pace of technological change accelerates, we are increasingly experiencing a state of information overload. Statistics show that we are interrupted every three minutes during the course of the work day. Multitasking between email, cell-phone, text messages, and four or five websites while listening to an iPod forces the brain to process more and more informaton at greater and greater speeds. And yet the human brain has hardly changed in the last 40,000 years.

Are all these high-tech advances overtaxing our Stone Age brains or is the constant flood of information good for us, giving our brains the daily exercise they seem to crave? In The Overflowing Brain, cognitive scientist Torkel Klingberg takes us on a journey into the limits and possibilities of the brain. He suggests that we should acknowledge and embrace our desire for information and mental challenges, but try to find a balance between demand and capacity. Klingberg explores the cognitive demands, or "complexity," of everyday life and how the brain tries to meet them. He identifies different types of attention, such as stimulus-driven and controlled attention, but focuses chiefly on "working memory," our capacity to keep information in mind for short periods of time. Dr Klingberg asserts that working memory capacity, long thought to be static and hardwired in the brain, can be improved by training, and that the increasing demands on working memory may actually have a constructive effect: as demands on the human brain increase, so does its capacity.

The book ends with a discussion of the future of brain development and how we can best handle information overload in our everyday lives. Klingberg suggests how we might find a balance between demand and capacity and move from feeling overwhelmed to deeply engaged.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[The Overflowing Brain] is a highly sane look at the increasingly insane demands of the information age."--Publishers Weekly

"Klingberg does his best to keep the material accessible, with lots of anecdotes..."--Washington Post

Named Most Important Book of 2008 by!

"...[The Overflowing Brain] has a scholarly tone, but Klingberg provides a good balance between the science and the practical...An interesting book..."--Sacramento Book Review

"Klingberg writes in an engaging, conversational style....He...does a straightforward job of explaining the background science without being overly simplistic....The description of his initial pilot studies, his larger validation experiments, and his extension to neuroimaging studies makes for an interesting narrative..."--New England Journal of Medicine

" elegant scientific book of the most accessible type...."--Neuron

"There are several reasons I think so highly of this book... Klingberg brilliantly and (yes) patiently explains for non-scholars such as I (a) how and why our brains overflow with an increasingly greater number of 'messages' from an increasingly greater number of information sources (e.g. other persons, electronic and print media, The Web, telephones, billboard), (b) how and why at least some of it is retained by working and long-term memory capabilities, and (c) what we must do to achieve and then maintain a balance of working load with working memory capacity..."--Dallas Business Commentary Examiner

"Klingberg presents a lively and well-informed survey of a number of topics dealing broadly with attention, working memory, intelligence, and neuroscience....Klingberg writes beautifully, and he is strikingly knowledgeable about a variety of topics in cognition and neuroscience. By the end of the book, Klingberg has made an important and persuasive case for the importance of the systematic training of working memory."--As reviewed in PsycCRITIQUES

"How to measure, train and enhance working memory is the subject of The Overflowing Brain, an absorbing first book by neuroscientist and physician, Torkel Klingberg, who is well known for his studies of young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder...Klingberg's brief book packs a considerable punch."--The Lancet

Publishers Weekly

As the technological environment speeds up to a maddening degree, Klingberg, a professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, warns that the huge burden of information overload and multitasking can exceed the limits of our slowly evolving "stone-age" brain. Using data showing the subtle increase in IQ scores during the last century and its link to educational improvements, Klingberg notes a gap between the rapidity of electronic high-tech devices and the brain's relatively slower capacity to process information, leading to memory malfunctions. The text can be somewhat academic, but the amount of scientific fact translated to something the reader can use is still sizable, including keen writing on the impact on working memory of problem solving, meditation, computer games, caffeine and the existence of attention deficit disorder. Klingberg also reviews the evidence that mental "exercise" can increase the capacity of working memory. A highly sane look at the increasingly insane demands of the information age, this book discusses with precision a subject worthy of attention. B&w illus. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195372885
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/7/2008
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,470,079
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Torkel Klingberg is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Stockholm Brain Institute, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Stone Age Brain Meets the Flood of Information
a. The magical number seven
b. The Stone Age brain
c. Brain plasticity
d. Increases in IQ in the 20th century
e. The future
2. The Information Portal
a. Different types of attention
b. Absent-mindedness
c. Measuring attention in milliseconds
d. The spot-light in the brain
e. Competition between neurons
f. Two parallel systems of attention
3. The Mental Workbench
a. Working memory and short-term memory
b. Long-term memory
c. Control of attention
d. Problem-solving and IQ
4. Models of Working Memory
a. Information in the parietal lobe
b. Attention and memory united
c. How do we encode information?
5. The Brain and the Magical Number 7
a. The developing brain
b. Brain signals and capacity
c. Mechanisms for a capacity limitation
d. The child brain
e. Computer simulations of brain activity
6. Simultaneous Capacity and Mental Bandwidth
a. Driving and talking
b. The cocktail party effect and other distractions
c. What happens in the brain during dual tasking?
d. The unifying capacity hypothesis
7. Wallace's Paradox
a. The evolution of working memory
b. Intelligence as a secondary evolutionary effect
8. Brain Plasticity
a. How brain maps are redrawn
b. The effect of stimulation
c. Music and juggling
d. What is "use" and what is "it"
9. Does ADHD Exist?
a. What is ADHD?
b. The working memory hypothesis
c. Pills and education
10. A Cognitive Gym
a. Computerized training of working memory
b. Effects of training on brain activity
11. The Everyday Exercising of our Mental Muscles
a. The Einstein aging study
b. Mental benchmarks
c. Zen and attention
d. Bompu zen
e. Science and meditation
f. Current and future challenges
12. Computer Games
a. Alarm reports
b. The benefit of computer games
c. Computer games and the future
13. The Flynn Effect
a. Studies of IQ training
b. Everything bad is good for you
14. Neurocognitive Enhancement
a. Mental doping
b. Our daily drugs
15. Information Flood and Flow
a. Info-stress
b. Why we love information
c. Flow
16. References

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