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Ep. 132: George McCloskey, Ph.D. - Evolution of System 2

December 03, 2020 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 132
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 132: George McCloskey, Ph.D. - Evolution of System 2
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Full PreFrontal
Ep. 132: George McCloskey, Ph.D. - Evolution of System 2
Dec 03, 2020 Season 1 Episode 132
Sucheta Kamath

Nobel prize winner behavioral economist, Daniel Kahneman's remarkable work brought the concepts of System 1 and System 2 into the mainstream. Contrary to the conventional wisdom which associates human capacity with rational thought and logical thinking (features of system 2), our system 1 (the autopilot) has a much stronger hold on our psyche. It is only the slower and deliberate System 2, or Executive Function, when engaged in conscious self-regulation can overrule the intuitions and freewheeling impulses of the System 1. So why not focus our attention on building System 2?

On this episode, author, researcher, neuropsychologist, Diplomate of the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology and professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. George McCloskey returns to discuss life-long implications of strong and well-developed Executive Function skills that open up the capacity to override reflexive thoughts and intuitive judgement and transcend personal limitations.  


About George McCloskey, Ph.D.
George McCloskey, Ph.D. is a professor and Director of School Psychology Research in the School of Professional and Applied Psychology of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and holds Diplomate status with the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology. Dr. McCloskey has amassed 40 years of experience in test development, teaching, research, and assessment and intervention work with a wide range of clients and has developed a comprehensive model of executive functions that can be used to guide assessment and intervention.  He frequently presents at international, national, and state conferences and consults with a number of school districts and private schools nationwide on issues related to improving students’ executive functions.

Dr. McCloskey is the lead author of the books Assessment and Intervention for Executive Function Difficulties and Essentials of Executive Functions Assessment.  He also is the author of the McCloskey Executive Functions Scales (MEFS) Teacher (2016) and Parent (2019) Forms that have been standardized and published with Schoolhouse Educational Services.  Dr. McCloskey is co-author with his wife, Laurie McCloskey of the children’s book titled The Day Frankie Left His Frontal Lobes at Home (in Press).

Website:

Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

Nobel prize winner behavioral economist, Daniel Kahneman's remarkable work brought the concepts of System 1 and System 2 into the mainstream. Contrary to the conventional wisdom which associates human capacity with rational thought and logical thinking (features of system 2), our system 1 (the autopilot) has a much stronger hold on our psyche. It is only the slower and deliberate System 2, or Executive Function, when engaged in conscious self-regulation can overrule the intuitions and freewheeling impulses of the System 1. So why not focus our attention on building System 2?

On this episode, author, researcher, neuropsychologist, Diplomate of the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology and professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. George McCloskey returns to discuss life-long implications of strong and well-developed Executive Function skills that open up the capacity to override reflexive thoughts and intuitive judgement and transcend personal limitations.  


About George McCloskey, Ph.D.
George McCloskey, Ph.D. is a professor and Director of School Psychology Research in the School of Professional and Applied Psychology of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and holds Diplomate status with the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology. Dr. McCloskey has amassed 40 years of experience in test development, teaching, research, and assessment and intervention work with a wide range of clients and has developed a comprehensive model of executive functions that can be used to guide assessment and intervention.  He frequently presents at international, national, and state conferences and consults with a number of school districts and private schools nationwide on issues related to improving students’ executive functions.

Dr. McCloskey is the lead author of the books Assessment and Intervention for Executive Function Difficulties and Essentials of Executive Functions Assessment.  He also is the author of the McCloskey Executive Functions Scales (MEFS) Teacher (2016) and Parent (2019) Forms that have been standardized and published with Schoolhouse Educational Services.  Dr. McCloskey is co-author with his wife, Laurie McCloskey of the children’s book titled The Day Frankie Left His Frontal Lobes at Home (in Press).

Website:

Books:

About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to another episode of Full PreFrontal. My mission is to help people understand that their brain's prefrontal cortex at its best, acts as an orchestra conductor, directing actions, guiding emotions, tweaking responses and calibrating decisions in order to create a beautiful, harmonious symphony of a well lived life. And I bring guests who contribute to this process of uncovering the key components that drive and prepare propel this, this fundamental new brain or new cortex into self regulation. Each guest brings their unique perspective and their expertise to help promote the growth and development of this unique cerebral system that is designed to collaborate, communicate and connect. And it's my great pleasure to reinvite I hope he didn't mind my imposition. But he has been on our podcast before and he's graciously accepted to come back. It's my great privilege and honor to welcome you George, George McCloskey.

George McCloskey: Thank you very much, Sucheta. I appreciate it.

Sucheta Kamath: You are a professor and director of psychology research in the School of Professional and Applied Psychology of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and holds diplomat status with the American Academy of pediatric neuropsychology. He has amassed 40 years of experience in test development, teaching research and assessment and intervention with a wide range of clients has developed comprehensive model of executive functions. And he is kind of a leading expert in how to conceptualize these ideas and how to actually apply them to everyday life when particularly clinicians when they're working with clients, but also general philosophy with which he operates is very close to my heart. So it's a great pleasure to be with you.

George McCloskey: It's a real pleasure to be here with you as well. Always, always a lot of fun to talk about these topics. Definitely,

Sucheta Kamath: Truly So, you know, executive function skills have sort of mental skills used to manage our thoughts or feelings or behaviors to achieve goals that are designed by self for self. And my question is today, I wanted to kind of take the time to really talk about lifelong implications of executive function. Now that enough research has been focused in this particular domain. We understand the ramifications particularly I wanted to share this research study by Mophett and Group that talked about like 32 years later, they followed children from age to I think, for 32 years, and they found that self control in childhood was directly related to better jobs, higher income, better health, stronger relationships, fewer run ins with run ins with the law, prevention of teenage pregnancies higher graduation rate. 

So let's dive in what how do you think about executive function when you when you think about at a global scale? And not from like, in our little offices when we are dealing with clients or patients?

George McCloskey: Um, well, I think it's, it's the, you know, we talked about frontal lobe functions in general. I think executive functions are a specific subclass of frontal lobe functions that really tie in with Daniel Kahneman's thinking of a systems system one and system two thinking and system two thinking use conscious effortful, self-reflective, self-aware. And that's more what we're talking about here. When we talk about executive functions, the ability become consciously aware of what you're doing when you're doing how you're doing it. So you can self regulate more effectively. You know, that's, that's how I think of executive capacities. And, you know, you think about our birth in the process of frontal lobe development, and executive developed executive functions over time. We didn't when we start thinking about the human development and how people develop and we didn't have this concept of frontal lobe functions or brain development in mind. So a lot of the constructs and concepts in psychology that we've developed over the years and other things feels to have really been developed without thinking about the brain. Now that we know about frontal functions, and how they're involved, we can rethink a lot of things. For example, we know that we are born with certain temperamental presets. You know, scientific research says there, there are temperamental presets, and some of them are better than others. But then there's this idea that temperament morphs into personality. And that once you have your personality, it's essentially, you know, on immutable, unchangeable. And, of course, that's considered conventional knowledge that wisdom has kind of been debunked, but I tend to think of it this way is you're born with temperamental set. When you're born, though, your front lobe begins to develop. And as it develops, it interacts with the environment. So over time interacting with the environment, your frontal lobe produces what we call a pattern of behaviors or patterns of perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and actions that could be self directed, you know, could be under executive control awareness. So that essentially, all the things that we do are simply external projections of our frontal lobe functions. And so personality is that external projection of what your frontal lobes have learned how to do to that point in time. And if you don't, you know, you're maybe more of the temperamental set, because you is your problem interacts with the environment, you can change that temperamental set, because it's not getting you what you want. It's not being it's not helping you be adaptive. Or maybe it's helping you very adaptive, so you emphasize it. So there are choices here that brains can make as they develop, and that frontal lobes can assist you in creating that way of, of accessing who you want to be, and who you want to become. But if you don't believe that, then you think you're just being influenced by all these forces. It's just personality. It's just who I am. Is my temperament. She was difficult baby, she was difficult child, why do you think she'd be anything but a difficult adult? And so is that temporary morphs into personality? But of course, what we know from people like Walter Mischel, you know, in his, who wrote the marshmallow test the book, right and, and studied self regulation, and four year olds, he said, You know, I've with 40 years in the field of personality research, one thing I can tell you is, personality is not immutable, unchangeable, it changes all the time. And so once you realize that it opened the door of the possibilities of change, no matter what age you are, you say, Well, how do you change? And the answer is, you change by changing your frontal lobe function. You change by taking control with, say, through executive control, consciously developing the capacity to become aware, and understand what you're doing, what you aren't doing, and how you could self regulate differently. But that requires those upper levels of executive control. We've talked about self determination, goal setting, Self Realization, realizing who you are, what you can do well or not, what you need to do to change. So generativity, morals and ethics, right, so these are things these are our frontal lobe functions that we can that will develop, you know, system one thinking, there's moral choice that's happening in a brain, are you aware of the moral choices, you're making that system to think that's executive control frontal lobe functions that enable us to take control that process.

Sucheta Kamath: Let's take a pause here and kind of dive deep into couple of things you're saying which are so profound, and and really meaningful for anybody who wants to either promote the development of executive function or is in business of supporting the development of somebody else's executive function. So what I'm really loving is this idea that the brain and environment interchange exchange interactions and how mostly the brain is changing or getting reshaped or is responding differently based on the environmental demands, or based on environmental pushback or not cooperating environment. And that is that adaptive flexibility. So let's talk about the delay in developing these skills. Certain prefrontal systems are not wired to adapt quickly enough so that they have greater setbacks. So for example, a child who doesn't get a cookie and throws a tantrum, and then the mom can stand to see the child crying, so she gives in and gives the cookie. So now the child can learn to cry loudly so that he gets the cookie or mom can tolerate the crying a little bit longer. And the child continues to cry, but doesn't get the cookie and says, Okay, well, maybe I can do something else. So there's different ways things can go. But some brains are more wired to hang back or tolerate the pain and I love I was reading somewhere this work about executive function, a time management, procrastination, and I heard this great sentence that read this great sentence that said, All Time management is pain management. So if you look at all goal attainment is our failure to attain goals is all about managing the pain of not getting the to the goal fast enough, right. And some people are able to summon Some people are able to push that goal, keep the goal, but push through the obstacles. Some people just give up the goal and move to a new goal. So what are your thoughts about that ability to shape the environment? And some people? Are the some people meeting the barriers or failures immediately kind of give in or not do that?

George McCloskey: Yeah, well, I think that, you know, when I say the the frontal lobe interacts with the environment, part of that environment is the most important is the relationship with others. And it starts with attachment. And, you know, especially to mother and father, the attachments, but also then the modeling and the shaping and the behaviors that occur. The interchanges between the child and the parents, in terms of shaping that frontal lobe. And there's a lot of behave basic, very basic behavior management here, because for younger brains, they are not making their own decisions, they're being guided through that process. So it is a stage of external control, is that stage where we're helping a frontal lobe develop and learn what is good, what are the best strategies for it to use to have positive outcomes, but we're helping it learn that and teach it that. And we're shaping it in very important ways. Consistency being so important, right? You, we know that if you if, if you if it's important for a behavior not to occur, then when that behavior occurs, then you take immediate action, you can give them warning, first warning, second warning, if I go to three, this is what will happen. three columns, you must do it, ah to putting peas up their nose at dinner, out of the restaurant, right? If you do that, again, don't do that. Again, this is your first warning, don't second morning, don't do it. If you do that, again, we will leave the restaurant, my food comes, the child at age two makes this calculation in his brain, dad's food just came, he won't do anything about this, pea goes in the nose, we leave the restaurant. So lesson learned. In other words, don't mess with that consistency is important. If I say this is going to happen, it will happen. There's nothing more important to me than helping you learn what you need to learn, not even my food. So that food will be left at the table and we will leave the restaurant and some parents won't see then they'll go well. And now we got this variable ratio reinforcement where sometimes they do sometimes they don't. So now you just keep pushing, and you've got a kid who's going to push the limits as much as they can. And very often you give in and what is this in. So there's a lot of a lot of very basic behavior management, the parents do have to employ in those younger years to help assist a frontal lobe struggling to get that structure necessary to begin that real learning process. But also, then there's you know, through that process, it's helping them see the possibilities of how they can make choices, and how giving them the opportunity to make choices not simply to be always externally controlling them, but to start pulling back and allow them to take those chances and learn from their mistakes, but also help them shape how to react to those machine mistakes. And just you know, it's a gradual process of letting go of being their you know, their frontal lobe and allowing them to be their own for a living by age 10. That has to happen because the frontal lobe is just, it's it's its own brain, whether you like it or not, but up to that point, we have a lot of influence on it in the modeling and shaping is so important, and how you do it. And we know from studies like the things that I'm losing, you know, my my word finding difficulties these days are getting are getting more pronounced. But I'm thinking of the author of Blink.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, Malcolm Gladwell.

George McCloskey: Malcolm Gladwell discussed in several of his discussions in his books, on how this process of how parents interact with children, shapes how the children begin to interact with the world, and how much authority agency they take in the world, and how much they owe, how much how do how much do parents leave it up to their children to make decisions to talk for themselves, when they go to the doctor's? Just those little subtle things that we begin to do that enable that shift to start occurring? Where we're relying on your frontal lobe to develop and grow, collective questioning. What should I do? What do you think you should do? Just simple questions. Yeah. 

Sucheta Kamath: And to your point, you know, research shows that executive function skills are more important for school readiness than our IQ or entry level reading or math in kindergarten, and much more that that requires two primary skills, impulse control and ability to follow instructions. And so can you talk a little bit about these two particular skills in early age and we can walk through implications like that, but the you know, I mean, it's so profound, yet completely misunderstood is this capacity to follow instructions, that has all the underlying skills of executive function, you know, focus working memory. Do you know conceptually create some kind of roadmap map of execution, organization and planning of thoughts when like don't open the window if the door is closed lowest requires you to restructure, look at the door first, then look at the window. You know what I mean? So sure a little bit about these in the beginning stages of kindergarten. How that matters? 

George McCloskey: Well, yeah, I think I think some things that stymie parents and sometimes even teachers and professionals, is that there seems to be this idea to say, Well, he can't follow the instructions. And it says mindset, they either can follow instructions, or they can't, we don't think of it as a process that needs to be learned. It's a skill, following instructions is a skill that you learn. So how about we teach you how to follow instructions, but how about we do it in a fun way, so that we get your brain to start doing it a lot. And now it's really easy to do it, but you had a lot of fun while you were doing it. So playing Simon says, just playing basic games, freeze tag, other kinds of games that teach brains to follow instructions, the more you do it, the better you get, these are neurons in the brain that need to strengthen and grow and develop and the more they fire together, the more they wire together. And you're getting those brains to work together in an integrated way the way you want them to, to do that thing called following instructions. And the more they do it, the better and more feedback you get about how well you did it. And so structuring it as a game like that is you get lots of practice and rehearsal, and lots of feedback. And again, some very simple things and techniques that can be done. And curriculums like tools, the mind that do this with with year olds, five year old six year olds, to simply begin to strengthen those those basic skills that we think brains need in order to become self regulated, and they do need them. And it's not enough to simply tell the brain do this, you need to do this more, you need to show it how to do it. And then we see that transfer from if you can do it in the game, when I asked you to do it over here, you know, it usually follows that the brain can now do that. But it is that the under utilization of neural networks is a problem. If you don't do it much, you're not doing it, which means your neurons are firing right pattern. So you're under utilizing the capacity that's in your brain. It's not that you have a developmental delay, it's that you haven't done this much. And so children come to school at age for not having been asked to do a lot of the things that we want them to do now to self regulate. And it's a matter of helping them catch up in the sense of getting them to do it more in the first few months of school. So that those neurons that are undeveloped underutilized, can start being used more effectively, start growing, strengthen, and start those connections that leads to just basic appreciate it. If you learn how to do this at age four, or 5, 6, 7, by the time you're eight or nine, it's automatic, you don't have to think you'd have to be consciously aware of of how to do these things, how to inhibit impulse response, how to pay attention, your brain is so good at it, it can just do it. Now you can focus on when should you be doing it, that executive function piece, but the skill piece can be automated. If it's not, and you don't even know how to do it, then we have to teach you how to do it. And some children aged eight haven't learned how yet. And I love what I do. It's our job to do it. Right teach them how to to go ahead.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes, and I really love that the nuance that you pointed out here that following directions is a skill, it is not something inherent to being a human, it is something that

George McCloskey: It's not natural. 

Sucheta Kamath: It's not natural. And it's a marriage between that respect that you have for the person and love and respect maybe, but also, I like to call them as joint goals. You know, in younger years that the one of the responsibilities that parents have as well as educators have is to help children appreciate that your job is to cooperate, that is your job. And your entire premise of early development is cooperation, you have no other goals. Candy may be a secondary goal, but cooperate is a primary goal. So in effort to co cooperate, you need to follow instructions, I am not the boss of you, I am not owning you, but by you following me, you are going to learn and develop. But you have only one goal, your goal is to not follow my directions, your goal is to cooperate with me. And I think if you define it that way, then you can actually not hyper focus on Failure to follow instructions. But you can see that I cannot cooperate because I don't know how it's a different language now, then you're not following directions, then getting the child in trouble for behaviors.

George McCloskey: Well, it's very profound, and you know, the the, the thing they said that was so on. You know, riveting in that is that idea that you your children often want to do it because they love and respect you. And I have seen so many risks between parent and child. When in fact that's absolutely the case the child does love and respect their parent, but the parent is not getting what they expect from the child. Then they're assuming that that means you don't love me or you don't respect but it's simply a matter They don't know how. And, and that's, that's, you know, and it's such an important piece, because the love and respect can often enable a brain to power through in some situation, and you will see what you're looking for. But in other situations, it's not going to happen if the brain doesn't know how. And that child is not conscious enough to be able to say to you, I just don't know how to do that. It's just going to come out in different ways, they're going to act silly, they're going to they're going to avoid you, they're just going to do and you're just going to what's going on here, right. And as we become adolescents, they're going to do all kinds of things, to throw you off the trail, because the last thing they want to do is admit, I don't know how to do that. And it's so it just becomes and there's just just gigantic communication riff that develops because of that inability to just step back and go, you know what, I don't think you know how to do that. And it's just like, I guess I need to teach that or find someone who knows how to teach it, if you mean looked at so we don't always know everything to teach, or how to teach it. But you know, if you at least know what that problem is, you can find the solution.

Sucheta Kamath: I love that. So let's talk about the second implication I often see is that research shows that executive function skill alone predicts both math and reading competence throughout the school years from kindergarten to graduation, from high school. And it's not a particular, you know, math class, it's not science ability. It's not language arts abilities to executive function, which is your ability to manage your learning, and your ability to fulfill expectations. Others have a few, which is a way of measuring how well you understood and learned something. So talk to that. What is your experience about this particular implication, that has profound impact on graduation? from high school?

George McCloskey: Yeah, and I think if you just think about the different self regulation capacities, and how they developed through the elementary, middle and high school years, here's your reading, here's your math. But if you if you're able to pay attention, and sustain attention, as long as you need to, probably going to benefit both of those, isn't it, if you are able to inhibit impulse responding to be able to shift, be flexible, when you're thinking discontinue ongoing activity, when necessary, you're probably gonna do better in math and reading, if you can, if you can find your errors, and correct them. If you can monitor yourself to make sure you find them. If you can monitor yourself to make sure you're paying attention when you need to, you know, if you can find the right balance in all the things that you do, if you can learn that you have a memory system and learn how to use it and manage it, and you can learn how to plan and organize and make decisions and generate solutions when all of those things benefits your reading and your and your math. And so we realized there's this, this these aspects that that developed that are not part of the curriculum in terms of content or subject area, that but they're a hidden curriculum, we expect you to be able to do more of these as you go through school. And yet, we don't teach them we don't tell you about them. We just noticed that in fact, if you have them you do better in reading or math. Isn't that interesting, right? The best students do seem to have really good executive functions. In fact, as parents and teachers to rate students executive functions, and also to rate them and how good a student they think they are, it's no surprise that the students that parents and teachers rate as being very good students have the highest executive function ratings. And students that are rated by their parents and teachers and not very good students have extremely poor executive functions are rated as having poor executive functions, because they go together in an adult's minds. But what they don't see is that they don't just naturally grow together. And you don't develop self regulation simply because you're learning how to read or how to write, or how to do math. But if you do learn how to self regulate, you'll be able to do all those other things so much better.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, what I another important point that you're making about this is that in order to know, in order to do well, let's say it in math, the best way rather, others know I'm doing well in math is when I'm tested. And the best way I can show what I know is to apply my understanding on paper to produce, but to show what you know, his executive function. And let's say I'm really good at doing math in my head, but I don't show my math work. I'm losing points. So now I'm looking that I have met trouble but in fact, I don't have that trouble. I have not that difficulty knowing how to show that I can do math in the head. And I can do math on paper just for you. So that requires the student to adjust output based on the demand going back to this following instructions. And I feel it following instructions is the most critical executive function or is like the telling sign of Somebody's having good executive function skills. If you ask any educator, how well does this to student follow directions, and they're like now, you know, I asked him to choose one of the three topics and he chose something on his own that was not even listed as a topic. He wrote a paper. It wasn't even something I asked. I'll tell you one funny story that when recently in my in my trips to India, Indian environmental also becomes academic environment has become extremely competitive. So the kids are getting tutored after school in individual subjects. So imagine the kid is in school for eight hours, comes home. And in India, they call it tuition. So every kid in order to perform well on formal tests, they are getting tutored. For another four hours every day.

George McCloskey: Yes. The generous the general education model in Japan to come home and go to school for four more hours. Yes. Okay. That's the norm. 

Sucheta Kamath: You're familiar with that? Oh, yeah. so fascinating to me, that by doing that, so one, one difference between American education and Indian Education since I was born and raised there, a lot of there's an incredible pressure to respect education, whether you like it or not, educational process, and you that seems to be an avenue to get a break from life. And in America, there is a lot of like, like, my parents would have freaked out, if I had said, I'm going to take a little sabbatical, I want to take a year off, they would have chopped my head off. But I think what I found that, for some kids this to tutoring, was, in fact, filtering information by somebody else who's doing one on one training so that they don't have to follow directions. They were removing all the executive function demands from that student that impeded that student's ability to comprehend, so that they understood information better, and then they could perform better. But that's not life sustaining. That's like having no life. What do you think about this?

George McCloskey: And there's lots of things in there that you that you discuss, you know, and one of the largest ones being motivation, the connection of motivation to self regulation, lots of connections, they're going both ways in the brain. When you are you will do, you will use your self regulation. And you'll see, I'll see you at your best when you're doing something you like. So students that say, you know, here are the four things you want me to write about. But I don't write about any of those, this is what I'd like to write about, at least they wrote something for you. So for me, like we're getting in the right direction, right? You are at least producing now I need to get you to understand that in certain situations, is not going to be about what you want to produce, it's going to be about what you're being asked to produce on demand by others. Otherwise, you could lose your job, you could, you know, get demoted on your grades, whatever the case may be, there will be consequences. But sometimes that connection with motivation, if you don't first establish it, we never get in the door with those students. So sometimes modifying modifying our demands to enable them to be motivated, enable them to self regulate. So because they're motivated and get something done is step one. Now let's modify that so that you can respond to external demands and bring those because that's internal, you know, internal demand system, right. That's the internal internal command versus external demand, or internal desire. And when you when you desire things, by yourself regulation on it, you know it right, of course, it can lead to addictions, too. And you can get very good with your self regulation, and getting more of that substance you want and hiding it from everyone. So many individuals with substance use disorders aren't completely devoid of executive control or self regulation is that they're using it in service of a lower motivation, self gratification system that's motivating them. And now it's hijack their frontal lobes, and they're responding to it. And that's what's calling the shots and of course, motivational interviewing techniques, detox, then motivational interviewing to disconnect from that immediate gratification, and reconnect to self to delay gratification and pull yourself toward goals, you know, that are not just those things that are fun and you like to do, but that's a process of learning how to you know how to abandon that immediate gratification desire, because I can get that self regulation charged from that I'm looking for and find ways to get that self regulation charged from yourself to meet goals that are in the future. You know, that will do that that will serve you well and parents answer that is just listen to me schools important. Don't you dare try not to go not to do Yes, like no, you understand, we're taking over till 25 then you can make your own decisions after that. You know, you have the frontal lobe to do it, but we're not going to trust you till then. And the reality is after the age 10 The brain is its own machine. know its own his own boss, and it's listening to those things that parents are saying is considering them to some degree. Some brains are going to consider that listening, but others just tune it out and do whatever they feel like doing And then there's there's a lot of difficulty in that. And sometimes how that's handled, produces more pain and strife for the family, accepting the fact that this brain is not just going to buy the standard, you do it or else, it's really important. So get on board, and you need to connect with that individual to find out what is motivating you. And what is it you think is so important that you should pursue? If it's not education? And if you pursued that, would it really turn out? Okay? Are you sure? In other words, those those persistent dialogues over time, that help the brain through iterations, kind of developing a more sophisticated sense of self determination is more realistic about what the future holds, and what the world is like, than these these things are thinking about at age 10 to 14, writer, or even 25, that's just probably won't lead anywhere. But we have to help them with that process. It's not sort of like, you know, just listen to us until you're 25. Yeah, because most brains don't want to do.

Sucheta Kamath: Because I mean, the the next lifelong implications are failures that you were just talking about not transferring agency, from a child, from parents to child, or from educators to child is what average graduation rate has expanded to six years now, or at least five years. And second thing is poor executive function skills lead to poor productivity, difficulty in finding jobs, and then keeping them so so it's such a profoundly important thing to remember that Yeah, maybe you can get the kid graduated. I mean, I guess what I was reading some somewhere that I college degree now is equivalent to high school degree 40 years ago. So it's really not going to guarantee any type of like, a ladder, or you're not going to be on the third rung of the ladder. Well, I guess you graduated from Yeah,

George McCloskey: It's well, I think I think that's there's there's a lot of truth to that, that there's a there's a degree of education that we are forcing individually to go through to be at the minimum level of acceptance to get in the door to some jobs. But at the same time, there are studies that, you know, came out of Harvard a few years ago about, you really need to think about this college thing, because it's an investment in a lot of money. That doesn't always pay off. Because some of those jobs that you get in the door on are never going to pay back what you just spent. And and also, there are many things that people do. We are we are 40 plumbers down in Berks County here where I live, there are not enough there, we should call a plumber to come and fix your pipes. Right? It's you got to wait a long time. And and I was talking to our plumber, and he said, yeah, it's just there's people just not training. This is good money. This is a stable job that will never go away. And there are jobs out there. And the problem is that we do not we do not give to those jobs, the dignity that they deserve. We are now beginning to understand what it means to be an essential worker, like the people that bag groceries and do things, you know, at grocery stores that you would you some people don't give a second thought, but here's the thing. Those are essential jobs, they need to be done because we'll need food. And the system needs to deliver food to people and you know, in certain ways, you think there's all kinds of jobs you can do. We need to restore dignity to work, not dignity to college education. And one of the most disappointing things was for me to hear a president several several years ago, say you know, college is the ticket, everyone should go to college. No, everyone shouldn't go to college. In fact, you know, what the graduation rate is for college right now? What? In United States 29% Oh my god, 29% of Americans have college degrees, four year degrees or better. 40% try 29% succeed. So and you'd think it was much higher the way we talked about college, that it's this thing you have to have or you're no one. And see, that's a problem. When we when we communicate that way to people, it starts a riff and it begins this concept of elitism. And it's kind of led to some of the things that we see today but yes, the idea of you know, it's it doesn't it's not about whether you're college educated, it's about what do you want to do? What do you have to do to get there on and you know, now there are multiple paths and some of them involve college and some of them don't, and one is not better than the other it's what do you prefer? Let's think about that. Let's talk about I love the book was published a few years ago called now a decade ago, Shop Class as Soul Craft.

 It's the idea that, you know, construction trades, electrical individuals who work you know, electricians, plumbers, others, who just have manual trades and skills that the rest of us don't have. That's not something that should be you know, denigrated in any way. Because we all need I always joke you know, I I can read the manual, but I can't fix my car. This isn't about how well you read, it's about whether you can fix cars. And if you're really good at that, where do you learn that? You're really good at that? And where do you start valuing that about yourself until you leave high school. Because up until the end of high school, it's all about the Reading, Writing in the math that you're not doing very well. And for some people, we'd not give them any pass to dignity before they graduate high school. In fact, we just communicate them there's winners and there's losers, you're a loser because you're not on the path where think you should be on. And I think that's a major problem. We really, you know, it's it doesn't mean you don't have good executive functions, either. It's really that that it's a values issue. What do you value in education has trumped work? Yeah. And I think we need to we need to return dignity to work. 

Sucheta Kamath: Oh really? You know, McArthur Genius Grant winner, Will Allen. I don't know if you know his foundation

George McCloskey:  I'm not familiar with the work.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh my god, you're gonna love it. He's got a nonprofit called Growing Power. And he has such an interesting story of growing up on a tiny farm I think in Pennsylvania, if I'm correct. And he he said since age five, I was hauling, you know, chopped wood. And then when I was a teenager, I was like digging and and sowing seeds and single seed becoming a tree. I watched that. But I was ashamed of it. I was embarrassed by it. And I used to kind of really hate it. So when I left high school, and he was actually, it was so funny, because he said that at age 12. For the first time his older brother got hold of a basketball, he had not even seen a basketball, he had never stepped on a basketball court. So on their farm, they put a little like makeshift a basketball hoop. And they practice and he said if you missed that shot, the ravine It was like a such a slow recovery going straight to the river. So you had to be really good at that.

George McCloskey: So danger response cost

Sucheta Kamath: They both practiced. And then he turned out to be an amazing basketball player, went to college as a but basketball star, and then eventually, but what he said that number one thing that he learned from his experience is to work with his hands. And when he and he swore he's never going to return to the farm. He's like, I can't stand it. Nobody does it. I'm a loser. I'm doing that. And then suddenly, one of the days one of his teammates said, Hey, this weekend, I'm going to work on this little, you know, I have like a little not farm, but even like garden in the backyard, would you help me planting. And he says it rekindled my love for for planting. And then he in the urban area. He's kind of in Wisconsin, he's gotten a big farm and he employs now in our youth to learn farming. And the reason I'm telling you this is I think just to your point that we undervalue skilled workers, because we think all workers need to be knowledge workers. That is absolutely a myth. But second thing, if you think about the motor strip, which is right next to prefrontal cortex, entire coordination, your execution in doing comes from having to move your muscles to produce. It's not just thinking it's producing if you don't produce, it's not executive function. So to me, I feel not enough training at home happens where to how to change a light bulb, how to actually take the fix the lid of a trash bin, you know how to fix the wheel of a bin that's not rolling down or it's like, toppled one way. Those are the things that I feel not enough attention is paid. And and not in a value. We are literally we're taking lamps and throwing them away instead of fixing them at home. And I just feel that such a lost cause that you know, you remember trade school you probably are also like,

George McCloskey: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah,

Sucheta Kamath: They got rid of it, which is such a loss. A lot of people I worked with after brain injury, they couldn't do the jobs that they were designed originally, but there was no training to do something else.

George McCloskey: So it's a profound it's coming back vo-techs are coming back in certain parts of the country recognizing we have a population that needs jobs. And employment is more important than education. And in that sense of you know, empowering you to be able to to fend for yourself. We need to ensure that there's that people have access to to jobs and and there are jobs out there. And and I think you know, in some places to Bucks County there, they have an overflow of electricians, right. There's lots of because there's so many people, but here in Burks, there's not and interestingly, in order to get into the technical institute here, you need to be you need to be a good student. So it's you need to be academically capable to get into the votec. So that you're that group of students does not so academically capable, but really needs employment is being disenfranchised from that possibility of employment, because they're losing the seats in the votec. And I think that's that thinking that's just, we it's muddled thinking, right, we really need to figure out how to help all of our students grow and develop some set of skills that's usable. And the earlier the better. I just love those stories. And I, I can relate to so much of it. Absolutely. I mean, there's just things and that's, that's those life experiences that we seek out that teach us so much. I, you know, my first year in high school, I had, I had, basically the conglomeration of seven paper routes. So I did the job of what seven different paper boys would do. But I had hired two people to do it with me. And but I do ninth grade average, but a 1.9 grade average. So you get well, you know, there's just things you focus your attention on, and things that you'd rather do in ways you'd rather do them. And there's just easy to learn and doing that to getting up at 5am every morning. You know, and, and doing what you need to do every day of the week, because it was a seven day and Sunday papers as well. And, you know, and managing that whole process was something that taught me a lot. But I didn't it's not something I learned in the classroom. It's something that I wanted to learn and know how to do and think about, and how to grow and, and how to get as big as I wanted to get because I have a certain number in mind, right, of what I wanted to hit. And so it's just you Yeah, so the things we do, when once we complete become self determined, the things that we choose to do that sometimes are undervalued by teachers, by parents, that's a signal to you this is this is something you should be encouraging. And help find ways to kind of balance that out. You know, after freshman year, I figured that one out, you know, but then getting more 1.9. But for a while there, it was just it was some other things happening, too, that I had to deal with that were, you know, the most children didn't have to deal with. And so you realize there's just things that you that life throws at you. And you, you know, and you look to your parents for assistance, and, or to yourself, and if your parents are not thinking that that's something they want to give assistance to, or your teachers or whoever you look to, that can be a real problem for you. Yeah, and it's just that we missed the opportunity to connect, and to strengthen self regulation and follow functions with individuals, when we turn away from the things that they are most interested in. 

Sucheta Kamath: You you say something that just struck a chord with me. I think when I was growing up in my house, we were three siblings and no matter rain shine, you have may have final exams. It may be first day at school, you may have broken your arm didn't matter. And that sounds a little bit brutal of my parents. But we were required to set the table clean the table, clean the house, do the chores, including mopping folding clothes. And this is old fashioned. We didn't have a washer or dryer we would hand the clothes on the clothesline. And in the in the rain in the Mahal monsoon which is four months, you would have to transfer the clothes. You you find a glimmer of Sunshine, sunshine, you bring them out, take them in. And I'm telling you this, which used I used to find it very annoying, because I used to tell my parents that so and so Susie Q. This will be you know, Indian Susie Q, doesn't have to do any of this if she has a final exam and my father and mother would say so. We don't care. They don't live in our house. So, we are required to balance this studentship which was like having to study and read. But your life did not wait for you. You are nobody special. You are nothing like spectacularly obliging the family by studying and getting good grades. They would kick your butt if you didn't, but also, you're not excused from living life. And I so deeply appreciate that. I find that I and this is a hilarious story. You're going to fall out of your chair but a friend of mine we recently were talking like last year, and she also grew up in another part of India and she said to me that when I would be studying, my mother would be putting my shoes on and tying shoelaces my father would be feeding me a bowl. This is 12th grader, okay, I'm not talking about like a toddler. And her brother would be holding her book. Well, so she can read. This is to make her most efficient student. I'm like, what were What what? So yes, I think she she's very smart and talented. But absolutely. That is affecting her parenting the way She's raising, she's doing the same thing to her kids, that agency that you're talking about? Well, I cannot believe we have yap and yap and still not managed to finish the lifelong implications. But, George, you're just an incredible wealth of knowledge and wisdom. And I am so grateful to be able to banter like this with you. As we close, do you have your favorite two favorite books that you recommend to our listeners? Last time, you all you get amazing recommendations?

George McCloskey: Oh, wow. Yeah, we talked about that a little beginning. And I was thinking about that. And I, you know, on my list, right now, I just really enjoy the writings of Stanislas Dehaene, and his Consciousness and the Brain is a great book for for reading, but also, he just has a new one I called How We Learn, Why Brains Learn Better Than Any Machine . . . for Now. And it's a great, it's a great read on, on, you know, learning and the brain. And, and so there's a lot of things we talked about here may not be directly referred to as executive functions, or executive control. In fact, there's probably a little different perspective on that, this specialist, and he has, but then than I do, but it's a great read, I would recommend that, you know, to anyone, and I do, I do think that, you know, in these times right now, you know, Joseph LeDoux's book  called Anxious, you know, which came out a few years ago is a good read. And I've been doing a number of workshops recently, on anxiety and stress, especially given the times, you know, that we're living in and the way we're living them. And, you know, just finding time to, you know, to understand the emotional system, how it acts, reacts itself, but then also, you know, the cognitive system can be involved in emotions as well, in a positive and negative way. And so you can negatively influence your emotions with your thoughts, or you can possibly influence your emotions with your thought. And so, you know, taking control that process of what you're thinking and how you're thinking, and understanding those connections between the frontal lobes and the, and the amygdala and the hippocampus, are really critical. And, you know, for understanding, you know, how to how to how to really take control the emotions and how to deal with them. And also the idea of, you know, self talk the things you say to yourself and taking control of that externalizing it and talking to worry, and the deep breathing that you can do, that's so critical, and that and the body relaxation, body scans, you know, just techniques for calming the mind. So that you can, you can strengthen that capacity for, you know, for executive functions to take over and assist you in that time, when you feel starting to feel anxious, and worried and fearful, you know, it's that is this a process that can come under conscious control. And, and you can get good at regulating it and you can get good at it, you know, turning it in a way that enables you to kind of like, take advantage of it and use it as a motivating factor to to increase your self regulation to achieve what you want. So these are two, two pretty good books, and I just, you know, long lists of things to read, and you just gave me two more I get a look at it. This is great. I just love getting recommendations for reading. You know, I've so many over the years, I can reflect back on so many things that I've read because someone said to me, this is a really good book, you should read it. And while they were right. So it's really, really good.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, I can proudly say I have read 50% of the recommendation. Dehaene is one of my favorite favorite neuroscientists in the numbers of the brain is the only one I have read I've kind of slipped I guess I need to catch up and pick up on

George McCloskey: You know, he has four now Reading in the Brain, the Number Sense Consciousness in the Brain. And now this one How We Learn four tremendous books, you know, well worth reading, if anyone drastic what we get a deeper take on neuroscience related to reading and reading and math, and just how the brain functions. He's got great stuff.

Sucheta Kamath: Love it. Well, thank you for tuning in, everyone. Thank you, George, very much. And that's all the time we have to stay tuned for next week's conversation and do share if you love what you're listening to, and let's collectively make this society better. And let's champion for the development of the prefrontal cortex. So thank you for joining in and have a fabulous day.

George McCloskey: Thanks very much. You say it was it was a pleasure being with you today. I love it. I just love talking with you. And thanks for doing this podcast. You know, think a labor of love, I'm sure but I hope that it reaches lots of people and the idea of spark lots of growth and lots of lots of good things for me.

Sucheta Kamath: Thank you very much.

George McCloskey: You're welcome.