All work and no play makes Jack...dumber?
Curt Rosengren on Passionate Work
I'm always fascinated when science backs up the things we intuitively know. Take this post by Kathy Sierra over at Creating Passionate Users, for example, who riffs off an article in Seed magazine about findings on the effect of our surroundings on our brains.
You always knew that dull, boring cubicles could suck the joy out of work, but now there's evidence that they can change your brain. Not mentally or emotionally, no, we're talking physical structural changes...What the research suggests is that in unstimulating, unenriched, stressful environments, the brain STOPS producing new neurons.
It wasn't so long ago that scientists thought the brain was static, with no ability to develop new neurons at all. Turns out they were wrong, and that the structure of the brain is highly influenced by one's surroundings.
One of the most interesting (and, in hindsight, 'doh!') discoveries was that one of the main reasons researchers kept finding NO evidence of new neuron development in their test primates is because they kept them in an environment which shut that process down. In other words, it was the caged-living that stopped the neurogenesis process. By giving her animals a rich, natural enviornment, Gould 'flipped the switch' back on, allowing their brains to work normally, and sure enough--the happier, more stimulated animals showed a DRAMATIC increase in neurogenesis as well as dendrite density.
Put in absolute layman's terms, a stimulating environment is like going to the gym for your brain. A dull, monotonous environment is like sitting on your couch and eating chips. Or, as Kathy sums it up...
Apparently all work and no play makes Jack not just dull, but dumber. So don't forget to have fun...