The Overflowing Brain


balance The Overflowing BrainA thoughtful reader just sent this in, in response to the post and discussion on meditation vs. deep thinking:

“There is general concern about what the fast pace of society is doing to our mental well-being. Books and magazines are full of advice on how we can learn to be less stressed, lower the demands on ourselves, and take life easier: slow cities, slow food, time for reflection, and so forth. But this book sends an opposing and far more optimistic message. It proposes that we must also acknowledge our thirst for information, stimulation, and mental challenges. It is arguably when we determine our limits and find an optimal balance between cognitive demand and ability that we not only achieve deep satisfaction but also develop our brain’s capacity the most.”

From the introduction to “The Overflowing Brain” – Torkel Klingberg, MD, PhD, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Stockholm Brain Institute (Oxford University Press, 2009).

I love the message of balance here. Your thoughts?


share this The Overflowing Brain


  1. Annie Joy on 16.03.2011 at 16:17 (Reply)

    I agree wholeheartedly with the message of balance. The slow down/speed up/coast along process can vary with circumstance and our own internal rhythms. Maybe the tendency is to go too far into the over-stimulated spectrum in our culture, but I think we can go too far in the other direction also.

  2. Diane S. on 16.03.2011 at 20:45 (Reply)

    This book is very interesting! Klingberg’s introduction is titled “The Stone Age Brain Meets the Information Flood.” He says that life is increasingly complex, with phones ringing and texts and a torrent of information and distractions. We can feel like our minds are full to overflowing. Yet our brains are of about the same volume and anatomy as stone age Cro-Magnon humans — almost identical. And they lived largely uncomplicated lives hunting and gathering., surviving in small groups and using only a few simple tools. Klingberg points out that if our brains had some inherent limitation in handling complex information, then humans wouldn’t be functioning well in the digital age. But we are. And he cites studies by sociologist James Flynn showing “the Flynn effect”: that IQ scores rose markedly during the 20th century. Over 2 generations, they rose as much as one standard deviation. So someone from today who tested as average would -– if she time traveled back 60 years –- be way above average. Klingberg says these increases in IQ scores “are corroborated by an overwhelming volume of data from different studies” and thought to be the brain’s response to increased problem-solving activities. He writes, “No single factor has been identified that can explain the Flynn effect. One fascinating possibility is that it is factors in our mental environments that account for much of the change. Could it be the case that the greater flow of information has a training effect and that ever-increasing mental demands are helping to boost people’s intelligence?”

  3. Diane S. on 16.03.2011 at 20:50 (Reply)

    P.S. I believe it’s also been demonstrated that we introverts generally score higher on IQ tests and are found in ever greater numbers the higher up you go in academia.

  4. Jackie on 17.03.2011 at 09:42 (Reply)

    I suspect the gain in IQ is also offset by a simultaneous gain in ADHT and other emotional/behavioral disorders. I find information overload to be anxiety producing and impacts my ability for creative thought.

  5. Susan Cain on 17.03.2011 at 12:15 (Reply)

    Hi Diane and Jackie,

    Funny, I wrote about all this in my book. Here are some relevant sections, if you’re curious:

    “Here are some of the things we know about the relative performance of introverts and extroverts at complex problem-solving. Extroverts get better grades than introverts during elementary school, but introverts outperform extroverts in high school and college. At the university level, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability. One study tested 141 college students’ knowledge of twenty different subjects, from art to astronomy to statistics, and found that the introverts knew more than the extroverts about every single one of them. Introverts receive disproportionate numbers of graduate degrees, National Merit Scholarship finalist positions, and Phi Beta Kappa keys. They outperform extroverts on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal test, an assessment of critical thinking widely used by businesses for hiring and promotion. They’ve been shown to excel at something psychologists call “insightful problem solving.”

    The question is: Why?

    Introverts are not smarter than extroverts. According to IQ scores, the two types are equally intelligent. And on many types of tasks, particularly those performed under time or social pressure, or involving multi-tasking, extroverts do better. Extroverts are better than introverts at handling information overload….”

  6. Jackie on 18.03.2011 at 05:19 (Reply)

    I think it has to do with the ability to focus, not being overscheduled and working regardless of external reward - the work itself being the reward.

Leave a comment

Quiet: The Book

- Wall Street Journal

Bill Gates names "The Power of Introverts" one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.

Best Nonfiction Book of 2012

QUIET has been voted the best nonfiction book of 2012


1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

Read More

Join the Quiet Revolution
Susan on Facebook