Your Best Brain

Course No. 1606
Professor John Medina, Ph. D.
University of Washington
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Course No. 1606
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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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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

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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Your Best Brain is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 49.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clearing Cobwebs I like the presenters approach, he dispels the myths that has been told and generally accepted by the public for so long. It’s like a broom sweeping away the cobwebs in the corners. His argument will make you smile. Please review this course as a possible addition to your collection. EddyG
Date published: 2019-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too many metaphors I liked the course, the material was very interesting and the lecturer knew the subject matter well. Personally, however, I did not like his overuse of metaphors in every lecture. It tended to distract me from the course content. Fortunately, the guide book didn't contain them. A few times I found the metaphors interesting and amusing and I can understand how others may like the style.
Date published: 2019-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Changed my whole outlook I really, really enjoyed this course. It was given to me by my father and mother before she passed away - I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to it until after she was gone. There are a lot of things I didn’t know and new perspectives in an easy and informative approach - I loved the stories. I particularly now better understand the importance of human relationships and how that draws from our brain’s evolution. Thank you Dr. Medina and mom for giving me this gift.
Date published: 2019-01-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not as informative as it could be Informative believable entertaining, hat8hours of real material in 12hours of time
Date published: 2018-06-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Junk This is pure junk and speculation. Mr. Medina is more interested in proving the theory os evolution than the subject of the brain.
Date published: 2018-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Endearing Presenter I'm the satisfied owner of about 45 Great Courses DVDs. This is, for me, the best of them all for excellent and usable information in a delightfully presented format. Dr. Medina's positive, enthusiastic style made watching each lecture an uplifting and absorptive experience. I've run through it twice, recommended it to friends and have my wife currently watching it, as well.
Date published: 2018-02-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A class in basic psychology These lectures are hard to watch. I guess I was hoping for some neuroscience, but only got a rehash of what I learned in Psychology 101 in college. The bigger issue is that the lecturer tries to dumb down the subject for the general public, and spends 20 minutes out of every 30 minute lecture telling irrelevant stories that have very little to do with the subject matter. He takes 30 minutes to explain things that could have been more precisely and understandably explained in 5 minutes.
Date published: 2017-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Your Best Brain Professor Median was a great lecturer. Very entertaining. The course content allowed me to get some insight into how the brain functions and how it evolved to where we are today. Very informative and entertaining.
Date published: 2017-05-13
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