Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Tower, the Tears, and the Little Dirt Path

Recently, I had a 4 hour long Neuropsych test. Basically, it's a range of tests to determine how your brain is or isn't working in regards to cognitive skills.

The Tower of Hanoi is a series of disks set up like a pyramid on one of three spindles. The idea is that you're supposed to move the tower, piece by piece, from one spindle to another spindle.
 There are a two rules:
- One disk per move
-smaller disks must be on top

When my Dr. presented me with this multicolored wooden object, I immediately relaxed because it reminded me of a toddler's toy. How hard could it be?

Within minutes, I was crying. 
Yeah, that easy. 

photo by Vassil
It was utterly frustrating. The problems started out simple, but quickly got to be what I considered to be unsolvable. I had no idea what move came next, or if the move I was making would be beneficial to the desired outcome.  It was as though the little engine in my head completely seized. Through tears, I tried in vain to move pieces and solve it.

My Dr. cut that part of the test short.  

We moved on to other tests.

 G picked me up and took me to Bedford Farms (we had agreed on this earlier in the day, simply because we knew it was going to be a rough day for me.. ). I ate black raspberry frozen yogurt while G chatted about soccer (I didn't have the brain cells to converse). G drove me home, where I took a very long nap. When I woke, it was apparent that my brain had gone on strike and I had no idea when it would really come back. Watching tv was grating. Trying to figure out dinner was stressful, and G took over the task quickly. He takes good care of me.

The next day, after about 11 hours of sleep, I felt better, but not the best.
Using my google skills, I found out that it is a test of executive functioning.The area of the brain that primarily deals with this is the frontal lobe (or..the part of my head that smacked the pavement). According to Wikipedia, the executive functions are:
"thought to be heavily involved in handling novel situations outside the domain of some of our 'automatic' psychological processes that could be explained by the reproduction of learned schemas or set behaviors. Psychologists Don Norman and Tim Shallice have outlined five types of situations in which routine activation of behavior would not be sufficient for optimal performance

  1. Those that involve planning or decision making
  2. Those that involve error correction or troubleshooting
  3. Situations where responses are not well-rehearsed or contain novel sequences of actions
  4. Dangerous or technically difficult situations
  5. Situations that require the overcoming of a strong habitual response or resisting temptation
A few weeks ago, I asked G to play a game of Chess with me. I knew he was going to slaughter me.  But, I also had the feeling that I needed to work on a puzzle where I had to figure out multiple approaches and predict outcomes of my moves.  My goal was to build neural pathways, and in that way, I might have won a little bit.   It's just apparent that I have built a narrow dirt path through a field, and I need to work on something akin to the "Mixing Bowl" in Virginia .

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