May 25, 2020
The Chestermere Anchor
Emily Rogers

Neuroscientist encourages Albertans to take steps in keeping their brains healthy during increase of video calls

Neuroscientist and CEO of Posit Science Dr. Henry Mahncke urges Albertans to take the proper steps to ensure video calls don’t cause additional stress on the brain.

“Video calls can be more taxing than either in-person meetings or ordinary phone calls,” Mahncke said.

Lagging video calls or video calls that use effects can create stress on the brain.

“All of this causes cognitive load. It’s work that your brain has to do in addition to the regular work your brain has to do to pay attention, follow what the other person is saying, remember it, and act on it,” Mahncke said.

“We have thousands of years of evolution that help us understand instantly what a glance or a gesture or an inflection of their tone means about what they are saying and how they feel about us. The richness of that interaction helps us get the most out of and contribute the most to the interaction. That cognitive and social stimulation is also good for our cognitive health, brain resilience, and mood,” he said.

Adding, “Anytime your brain has to do extra work can contribute to a feeling of fatigue.”

Not only is cognitive load concerning for Mahncke but becoming easily distracted while working from home can also cause fatigue.

“When you’re on a video call, everything outside of the video screen is an odd distraction especially at home, you might see your cat reminding you that you need to set food out, or your living room reminding you that you really need to vacuum,” Mahncke said.

“Suppressing these distractions taxes your attention systems, further contributing to cognitive load and fatigue,” he said.

The main side-effect of cognitive load from video calls is fatigue and feeling tired.

“Fatigue can lead to distractibility, irritability, and overall poorer mood and lower cognitive performance,” Mahncke said.

“During these challenging times, it’s important to find time to work on your cognitive health and brain resilience, just like it’s important to find time for physical exercise,” he said.

To ensure Albertans aren’t feeling fatigued, Mahncke encourages regular physical exercise.

“It turns out that the same exercise that helps keep you physically fit can help keep you cognitively fit as exercise improves blood flow to the brain and releases growth factors that sustain brain health,” Mahncke said.

“The second thing you can do is get a good night’s sleep. Your brain is actually quite busy while you sleep repairing itself and building new connections based on what you learned the previous day,” he said.

Learning a new skill can also promote brain health.

“The brain is fundamentally there to learn. While staying at home, see if you can carve out the time to learn a new hobby perhaps it’s time for some new board games, instead of the same old ones, or getting back into an old hobby, getting that guitar out of the closet, or tackling a complex jigsaw puzzle,” Mahncke said.

Adding, “As long as it’s a new learning and not the same-old-same-old, it helps the brain.”

In addition to learning a new skill, brain training programs, such as BrainHQ, can be used to prevent fatigue.

Although it would take years for video-only interactions to make in-person interactions difficult, engaging in more video calls for an extended period of time will become easier.

“Our brains constantly adapt to our world through learning and experience, and our brains will adapt to video calls slowly but surely,” Mahncke said.

“We might voluntarily choose to do fewer video calls and do more telephone calls. Right now, it seems polite to do a video call, since we’re all at home and the technology is available. Perhaps in a few months, we’ll recognize that for many interactions, a voice-only call is more polite and easier on the brain,” he said.

He added, a nice aspect of video calls during the COVID-19 pandemic is that many people have grown accustomed to checking in on the people they are talking to, asking how they are doing, how their families are doing, and how the crisis has impacted them.

“When we get back to more in-person interactions, I think we’ll be helped by keeping up that care and genuine interest in how other people around us are really doing,” Mahncke said.