Your Best Brain

Course No. 1606
Professor John Medina, Ph. D.
University of Washington
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Course Overview

The human brain is the most complex object in the known universe. This amazing organ has unique powers to make predictions about the future, form relationships with other people, adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, and much, much more.

But how does the brain accomplish these astonishing feats? We all have a basic conception of our brain’s role in consciousness, memory, emotion, attention, creativity, and so forth. But what exactly goes on in the brain to make these things happen? And—even more intriguing—what happens when the intricate systems in the brain are not functioning as they should?

In Your Best Brain, Professor Medina walks you through the latest, peer-reviewed neuroscience research in an attempt to shed light on the mysterious world inside your head. Explore what science has discovered about:

  • Memory: Although we tend think of memory systems like hard drives in computers, there are actually many memory systems, and they are nothing like computer hard drives. You'll see exactly how your brain remembers details and events... and the surprising reason it forgets about them all.
  • Senses: Between your senses—like sight and smell—and your perception of those senses sit powerful processing and interpretative filtering systems. You’ll uncover how the brain translates cues from the environment to create what we perceive as reality.
  • Emotions: Fear. Excitement. Happiness. Grief. Anger. From where do all these emotions come? You’ll explore how the brain generates and uses emotions to connect with others, as well as to direct your attention to what’s important.
  • Creativity: Brain scientists don’t really know what “creativity” is, but the cognitive gadget that may come closest to describing it is something called “cognitive disinhibition”. This is a process where the brain stubbornly refuses to rule out information that on the surface seems irrelevant to the task at hand. This fluidity of thought allows for staggering innovation—for example, the production of a designer fabric from discarded sour milk.

Tour the Five Key Aspects of the Brain

The first functional map of the cerebral cortex sprang from research done during the two World Wars. When scientists studied soldiers who sustained shrapnel wounds to the head, an examination of each soldier’s lost—or in some cases, gained—functions told the researchers what the affected cortical region did. Since then, the field of neuroscience has been in a near constant state of disruptive transformation as researchers and doctors continue to discover revolutionary truths about our brains.

In 24 exciting lectures, Professor Medina will lead you on a spirited tour of five key aspects of this lively revolution:

  • The Evolving Brain: Killer whales are smart, but they don’t write novels. Crows are smart, but they can’t design microchips. The evolution of the human brain ensured that we not only survived, we actually conquered the world. You'll examine the physical structure and function of the brain and how it enabled a comparatively weak species to become the planet’s apex predator.
  • The Learning Brain: We survived by being the smartest. But what does it mean to be smart? Take a scientific look into what it means to be intelligent, and uncover the sophisticated way your brain processes and analyzes information about the world around you.
  • The Feeling Brain: Being able to form relationships and societies gave humans a massive survival advantage. Central to that is our ability to imagine how others are thinking and feeling. Investigate the subtle nuances between emotions and feelings, how they occur on a biological level, and their role in forming and sustaining connections with others.
  • The Developing Brain: The first three sections of this course describe the fully developed brain. But how does it get that way? Peer into the development process of the brain—from the early years as an infant, to the turbulent teenage period, to how we age in later life.
  • The Optimized Brain: Wrap up this cerebral tour with an answer to the big question—how do you optimize your brain’s processing performance? Find out what science has to say about the role of sleep, exercise, and more in ensuring that the brain performs at its very best. You'll learn practical, research-backed exercises and tips that you can apply in your life right away.

Optimize Your Brain

A generation ago, we were barely able to map the regions of cerebral cortex. Thanks to rapid advances in technology and in our understanding of the brain, today’s neuroscience research goes far beyond trying to understand how the brain works, and into the search for proven ways to optimize brain performance. You'll learn science-backed strategies for improving your memory, boosting your creativity, and keeping your brain healthy. Examples include:

  • How a simple exercise—created by a leading neuroscientist—can make you more creative. It’s as easy as washing your hands!
  • A practical, three-step guide to remembering nearly anything by tapping into your brain’s deep integration with your senses.
  • A method for getting rid of bad habits by hacking the brain’s internal “pleasure process” to replace a negative habit with a positive one.
  • A simple stress-reduction technique that researchers suggest can boost the effectiveness of therapy by over 60%.
  • Seven tips for parenting and supporting teenagers... even when they’re moody.
  • One critical activity that research suggests will keep your mind sharp as you age.

Best of all, each practical example included in this course is grounded in scientific research. You’ll be investing your time in worthwhile activities that are proven to show results, rather than trusting untested anecdotes and questionable theories whose effectiveness has not been verified.

A Vast and Complex Science Made Clear

From the very first lecture, you'll see just how far-reaching and remarkable the science of the brain is. But while the subject is complex, that doesn't mean that it’s difficult to understand.

Professor Medina is an award-winning molecular biologist at the University of Washington. His research background firmly grounds each lecture in the science. And, as a New York Times best-selling author and leading advocate for brain research, Professor Medina also has a unique ability to translate and communicate the great complexity of the brain in an understandable way to any student motivated to learn.

Yet most of all, the professor brings a deep passion for neuroscience and how knowledge about how our brain works can positively affect our daily lives. His enthusiasm and sense of wonder are clear throughout the course, and each lecture is filled with helpful metaphors, remarkable case studies, and intriguing—and at times, very amusing—ties to popular culture.

You’ll walk away from the course with a greater understanding of just what happens inside your head, and what you can do to ensure that your brain performs at the highest levels possible for years to come.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    How Your Brain Works
    Begin your journey with a "flight map" for your tour of the world's most sophisticated survival organ: the human brain. Establish some common language and principles for understanding and exploring the human brain. x
  • 2
    Your Unique Thinking Abilities
    What makes the human brain so different from the brains of other animals? Explore the brain's evolutionary journey, and discover the unique ability that allowed humans to not only survive in the face of change: but to thrive. x
  • 3
    Damaged Brain, Damaged Function
    The brain is a physical organ whose job is to process information. And if it's damaged, your processing can go haywire. Tour the physical structure of the brain, the three overall regions within it, and the role each part has in keeping you alive (including a look at your brain's internal "consciousness switch". x
  • 4
    Neuroplasticity: Your Flexible Brain
    Dive deeper into the physical structure of the brain and its components. Examine the three primary types of neuron wiring, how they operate on a cellular level, and how the brain is able to create new connections and pathways. x
  • 5
    How Your Brain Uses Memory
    Why are scientists so unsure of the exact definition of intelligence? Explore the challenges of measuring and quantifying intelligence, including the problem with IQ tests. Find out how researchers currently think about intelligence, and the implications these ideas have on the way we design school curriculums. x
  • 6
    The Advantages of Forgetting
    Discover the surprising evolutionary purpose of memory, and why it has nothing to do with recalling the precise details of the past like a computer. Find out what causes our brains to forget facts and data, and why. Then, get three research-based tips to improve your memory. x
  • 7
    Creativity and Fluid Intelligence
    What makes people creative? Scientists believe it may it hinge on two contrasting elements: open-mindedness and deep focus. Tour the neuroscience of creativity, explore the significance of working memory in the creative process, and learn how you can boost your creative output. x
  • 8
    How Your Brain Uses Your Senses
    The objective reality of the world around you and what your body senses are two very different things. Examine the three-step process the body uses to create sensations in response to outside stimuli. Then, learn a simple trick for using your senses to boost your ability to remember facts. x
  • 9
    Seeing with Your Brain: Vision
    We often think of vision being like a video camera: our eyes take a picture, and that's what we see. But that's not how the brain works. Uncover the complex process the brain uses to construct the hallucination that is our sense of vision. x
  • 10
    Feeling with Your Brain: Emotion
    Did you know that if you see a shocking photograph, you'll experience the emotion even before the image registers consciously in your mind? Why is this? What's happening in your brain? Investigate the physical process behind emotions, including the neurological "fast path" that accelerates our reaction to external threats. x
  • 11
    How Emotion Drives Attention
    Your senses bombard your brain with far more information than it can possibly handle at one time. How does your brain prioritize all of the input? Examine the brain's ability to act as a "central executive," and see how it uses emotion like post-it notes to decide what is important. x
  • 12
    Pleasure and Your Brain
    Explore the brain's "pleasure highway" with a tour of what drives the sensation of pleasure in our brains, and understand how video games and other substances hijack this process to create addictions. Then, learn how to harness your brain's craving for pleasure to break nearly any habit. x
  • 13
    What Makes You Happy
    Is happiness sustainable? What makes some people happier than others, despite similar life circumstances? Explore the stories of two lottery winners, one who crashed and another who thrived. Discover two key areas you can focus on to create a happier life. x
  • 14
    How Your Brain Manages Stress
    Though stress is usually considered negative, research reveals it is our perceived inability to control stress that does most of the damage. Unravel how the brain responds to stress on a neurological and chemical level, and survey what neuroscience research has to say about how to reduce stress in your life by learning to control it. x
  • 15
    Your Social Brain
    The social nature of human beings is an evolutionary advantage that put us at the top of the food chain. But our social abilities have the potential for painful or dangerous consequences. Reflect on the joys and risks of relating to others. Consider what a recent business school experiment uncovered about how you can more easily resolve conflicts. x
  • 16
    How Infant Brains Work
    The human brain is not fully functional until adulthood. From birth, an infant's brain is constantly making new connections as it experiences the world. Explore the development stages of an infant from a neuroscientific perspective, including what science recommends to ensure that your kids eat their veggies. x
  • 17
    How Adolescent Brains Work
    Peer into the often-mysterious behavior of a teenager. Why do they take the risks they do? What makes them rebellious? Why are they so moody? Get seven practical tips for relating better to teenagers, whether you're a parent, grandparent, teacher, mentor, or coach. x
  • 18
    Sex and Your Brain
    Dive into the evolutionary roles of sex, arousal, and promiscuity. Discover the fascinating biological and cultural differences between men and women when it comes to sex. Peer inside an enlightening study involving monkeys, naked men on the beach, and naked women doing aerobics. x
  • 19
    How Your Brain Ages
    For many, aging brings memory loss, decreased focus, and mental fogginess. Yet some people seem to be just as sharp at 100 years old as they were at 40. Discover what science has demonstrated about why some age more gracefully than others, and what you can do to keep your mind sharp as you grow older. x
  • 20
    How Your Brain Copes with Grief
    Why do we grieve the loss of loved ones? Is there an evolutionary reason for it? And why does grief leave some people devastated while others move on quickly? Explore these questions and more. Also, learn strategies from brain science for dealing with: and helping others deal with: the pain of great loss. x
  • 21
    How Self-Control Works
    Discover the origins of self-control in your brain. Explore what the research has to say about its role in helping you succeed in life, handle tough situations, and thrive in society. Examine an evolutionary explanation for cases of impaired self-control like ADHD. x
  • 22
    The Power of Exercise
    Decades of research points to exercise as a key for strengthening your brain. Find out how regular movement drastically improves cognitive performance, combats depression, and can even cut the risk of dementia in half. See just how much exercise you need to start seeing these benefits (it's less than you might think). x
  • 23
    Improving Your Memory
    Want to improve your memory? Learn what scientific research indicates is useful for improving memory: and more importantly, what popular beliefs have been debunked. Discover how you can use diet, social interaction, and even certain kinds of video games to increase your ability to remember events and details. x
  • 24
    Why Your Brain Needs Sleep
    You've probably noticed how poor sleep can hinder your ability to think and focus. But why exactly is sleep so important? How does it contribute to a healthy brain? Uncover answers to these questions and more, and get four science-backed tips for sleeping better. x

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Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 224-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 224-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos, illustrations & diagrams
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

John  Medina

About Your Professor

John Medina, Ph. D.
University of Washington
Professor John J. Medina is an Affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Washington State University. In 2004, he was appointed to the rank of Affiliated Scholar at the National Academy of Engineering. His teaching recognitions include the University of Washington's College of Engineering Outstanding Faculty of the Year; the...
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Reviews

Your Best Brain is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 49.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lively Speaker Not only was the professor both informed and informative, but he was a lively speaker. He was very humorous and you could tell he enjoyed speaking and presenting the course.
Date published: 2014-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course This course (the audio version) takes listeners on a fascinating journey across the landscape of brain research and its influences on what we can do about making the most of our brain functions. I found this course interesting, informative and constantly surprising about what we can learn from the research. Dr Medina is an excellent lecturer. At first, I found his exuberance a little too energetic for a set of recorded lectures, but it grows on you after a while. Eventually, his style emerges as a welcome feature of this course. His enthusiasm for the subject matter cannot be denied, and he is very adept at making the science accessible to a generalist audience. His use of anecdotes, metaphors and images to help listeners develop an understanding of the workings of the brain is very effective. This course was the audio equivalent of a page turner, and I found it hard to stop listening. Amazingly, too, there is a lot of practical advice in these lectures.
Date published: 2014-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Meet your brain Prior to hearing this course, I had never heard a formal course on the brain, and my only knowledge in this arena was general. The course was fantastic: it brought a wide array of topics concerning brain physiology, and neurology and its connection to brain function (the connection was shown in the cases in which research has provided clear evidence – not always the case….). One of the things I really appreciated in Professor Medina’s lectures is that he was very methodical about telling us how firm the research of the findings he surveyed is, and who the pioneering investigators were. A thread that runs in the narrative of the whole course is connecting the brain’s physiology and functionality to evolutionary survival: how do our brain’s functionalities help us overcome our other physical inadequacies in relation to other competing species, to such an extent that the human race has undeniably become a super species. The first lecture is dedicated to a general introduction to brain physiology and to the important terms of the field. Next, the major functionalities of the brain are surveyed: how our memory works and the different types of memory we use; the brain mechanisms through which we perceive the external world through our senses; what is this “thing” we call intelligence and how can it be defined and quantified (if indeed it can be)? One particularly fascinating lecture had to do with damaged brains. It turns out that connecting brain physiology to brain functionality was achieved in many cases through people with damaged brains: correlating the damaged areas in the brain to the particular functional deficiencies helped create a functional map of the brain - one which is still evolving. Many cases of such abnormalities were absolutely fascinating; the case of the woman whose left arm regularly tried to strangle her, while her right arm protected her pops to mind as a prime example. The next section deals with emotion. How is emotion generated in our brain? It turns out that research knows quite little about this in general. There are two emotional states of which quite a lot is known: pleasure and depression. Professor Medina walks us through the good and the bad side of pleasure (addiction). Research has shown that we know how to simulate pleasure in a lab by inserting electrodes into a primate brain. These primates could create an electric signal in their brain by pressing an iron bar which created a perception of pleasure. These monkeys demonstrated addictive behavior: they starved because they could not be bothered with anything else other than pressing the iron bars… About other emotions, such as happiness, much less is known physiologically. The following set of lectures talk about the developing brain: infant brain, adolescent brain, and the aging brain. All through the course, the end of each lecture is dedicated to a practical application of what has been learned. For example, one lecture talked about how one can potentially improve memory. The last set of lectures are dedicated wholly to optimizing brain function (hence the name “Your Best Brain”). The message is actually surprisingly clear and simple: to greatly enhance brain function you need to do aerobic exercise and spend a lot of time with your friends – both not to an excessive degree in order to get significant enhancement. There has been enough research apparently on this topic to make these finding a consensus. I have to admit, this was new to me… Professor Medina’s lecturing style is absolutely unique and takes some getting used to (at least for me). He is very animated and casual, and uses highly imaginative metaphors to get his points across. Some of them, at first glance really feel like they’re “out there”. One good example is his metaphor for how the brain processes sight: he used an analogy to production of crusted cereal (?!). His point was that in the production of crusted cereal, the input materials are all crushed and separated to their different components, many new ingredients are added, and finally everything is integrated together to create the crusted product. At first the metaphor seemed ludicrous, but after it was explained and its similarity to the sight perception problem, it actually made sense. Moreover, it helped emphasize the subtle point he was trying to make. After a few lectures I got used to his lecturing style and came to enjoy it. The lectures are very animated and seasoned with lots of humor and colorful anecdotes and stories. Overall this has been a fantastic introduction to brain physiology and function. I am glad I decided to hear it.
Date published: 2014-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Prof. Medina is a wonderful teacher with a very entertaining teaching style. I strongly recommend this course not only to the lay people but also to the doctors to learn more about their patients' brains.
Date published: 2014-11-18
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