Yet Another Reason to Exercise: It May Make You More Creative

Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki chats about testing out her current hypothesis.

Wendy Suzuki: One of the most fascinating things about creativity is that the most recent studies are showing that it’s not just one side of the brain or the other side of the brain that everybody will tell you. It really is the most creative people are using both sides of the brain together. So this is an important concept that the brain is subdivided into two major hemispheres. We have two of each structure. Almost all the structures of our brain are paired. So the idea is well one side of the brain is for certain things and the other side of the brain is important for other things. And the one thing we can say for sure is yes, language is on the left side of the brain. But for creativity it actually makes more sense to me that with a function so broad as that, you would benefit from having the most cross talk possible between all parts of your brain. In fact that’s exactly what the neuroscience is showing. So then once we start to understand — we’re starting to understand a little bit about the brain circuits involved in creativity, that involves a lot the prefrontal cortex as you might expect. Then the question is, well, how do I up my creativity? That’s what everybody is interested in.

Well there is exciting new evidence that one of the functions of the hippocampus, an area that we know is important for long-term memory is that it’s not only important for long-term memory, but it’s critical for the function of imagination. So people have been testing people with other people, patients with damage to the hippocampi for long periods of time. No surprise they had memory impairments. They were amnesic. But one day an experimenter back in 2007 tested amnesic patients on tasks of imagination. And she asked them can you imagine a situation that you’ve never experienced before. In this case it was imagine a tropical beach. And she compared the responses to people age matched and education matched people without hippocampal damage.

What she found was these hippocampal patients, these amnesic patients who had normal language abilities, were unable to imagine a future scenario. They could say things like well, there’s blue ocean; there might be sand. But they couldn’t elaborate at all. Whereas control patients, or control subjects were able to talk all about, you know, what the beach looked like, the buildings on the beach, the boats going past them. And this led other researchers to image the brains of subjects, normal subjects as they were remembering things. And when they remembered things the hippocampus lit up. But then they asked well imagine something new. And in that situation the hippocampus lit up again. So there’s multiple modes of evidence suggesting the hippocampus is not only involved in memory but is also important for imagination. A key component of creativity. We know that exercise stimulates what we can neurogenesis or the birth of brand-new brain cells in the hippocampus. But because of those brand new brain cells in my hippocampus I’m also enhancing my imagination. So the hypothesis that I’m working on in my lab is: Can exercise actually enhance creativity?

Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki is hard at work in her lab experimenting with a new hypothesis: Can you stimulate creativity through exercise? She thinks so, and she's got a wide array of research backing her up.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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