Simplicity and the Human Brain

It’s a question that has plagued me for some time. I’ve always known that we live a bit slower than the people around us. It was a conscious choice on the most part, but it’s also something we’ve fallen into. We’re much happier this way.

And this fall, after spending 91 days on the boat, where things are slower still, I’ve really noticed the differences.

We spend a lot of time just hanging out at home, with no television running in the background. We spend far less time connected to electronic devices. We limit our obligations and spend less time at work than most people. And we’re raising our daughter in this lifestyle.

So, how do we know that this is better for us? And, more importantly, for her? She is going to enter school accustomed to a much lower level of stimulation. Are we doing her a disservice by raising her the way we are?

I decided to do some research. Here are my findings.

Excessive Stimulation and the Child’s Brain

Marilyn Price Mitchell, PHD, wrote about various studies on the effects of overstimulation, on her blog, Roots of Action. She focused specifically on studies that examined the effects of television viewing. Shows with frequent scene changes, especially, were linked to attention problems later in childhood. Slower shows, as well as other cognitive stimulation, were likely to improve attentiveness. One study linked playing with blocks to an increase in language development.

Tracey Marks, MD, wrote an article She about overstimulation on the Huffington Post. She cited a study linking overstimulation to impaired executive functioning in children. Executive functioning is a set of skills necessary for beginning and completing tasks. These skills include: problem solving, planning, memory, and inhibition control. The study she cited only looked at fast-paced television, which is defined as shows that change scenes every 30 seconds or less. Sponge Bob is an example of this; Caillou is an example of a slower-paced show, which is less harmful. Excessive fast-paced television has also been linked to sleeping problems.

In the blog, A Perfect Playroom, Natalie, a former teacher, looked at studies investigating the negative effects of having too many toys. The overstimulation caused by a cluttered playroom has been linked to problems with attention span. Limiting toys, in the studies, resulted in better communication and interaction with other children.

Effects on Adults

According to Marks, overstimulation increases the effects of stress in adults. It can also disrupt sleep cycles, which exaserbates the effects of stress as well. Adults who are constantly overstimulated are also more likely to face mental fatigue and burnout.

Susan Mendi, a psychologist, wrote this article. She states that modern life has made it necessary for our brains to quickly shift from one activity to another, which has increased the incidence of ADHD and sensory processing disorder. Being constantly overstimulated can lead to mental and physical symptoms that people often blame on other environmental causes. These symptoms can include feeling constantly overwhelmed and having difficulty following conversations in crowded areas. Decreasing overstimulation, according to Mendi, will decrease these symptoms.

In Conclusion

We are not doing anything wrong by leading a slower, possibly less glamorous lifestyle. Multi-tasking and overbooking our child are not beneficial activities, no matter how respected they are in society. In order to fully access our cognitive abilities, we all would do well to slow down the pace.

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