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Review of "The Overflowing Brain"

By Torkel Klingberg
Oxford University Press, 2008
Review by G.C. Gupta, Ph.D. on Sep 8th 2009
The Overflowing Brain

Klingberg's book, small in size (xiv plus 202 pages), spans over 15 chapters plus notes and index, each chapter not exceeding 15 pages. The title given to each chapter tells a story, in itself. In fact, the informed reader will form a good perspective of the chapter's theme just by scanning the listed chapter titles in the contents listing. The chapter size does not tire the reader memory. In fact, each story has been so woven and presented such that whether the author is telling about different kinds of attention as in the second chapter on ' The Information Portal', concluded by a discussion on 'Competition Between Neurons',  a reader will find that he is better informed now after reading through the chapter's contents so parsimoniously presented..

In chapter 6 on 'Simultaneous Capacity and Mental Bandwidth' , the author begins  enunciating a discussion on 'driving and Talking on the Phone', 'The Cocktail party Effect and Other Distractions', 'What happens in the Brain When We Do Two Things at Once',  and 'The Unifying Capacity Hypothesis' displaying his  presentation strategy and style maturity.

Through out the entire text, one will notice the use of a strategy of parsimonious presentation, and skillful use of language whether interweaving the 'discussion of evolution, history of neuroscience, cutting edge research methodologies, information theory, recent insights into neuroplasticity, and a thoughtful review of various neurodevelopmental disorders'(p. xi) defining simultaneously the 'overflowing' feature of the brain.

When one runs through the titles of the subsequent chapters of the book, Brain Plasticity, Does ADHD Exist?, A Cognitive Gym, The Everyday Exercising of Our Mental Muscles, Computer Games,  and The Flynn Effect, one can notice author's concern to build up a case for maximally developing attention, working memory, and improving and sharpening one's  brain.  He even goes to suggest building of 'Mental Yardsticks', enhancing one's power of concentration by training in 'Zen and the Art of Concentrating'. His comments on Computer Games and The Flynn Effect are equally worth noticing which are crystallized in the concluding chapter paragraphs. According to this reviewer one will find reading each chapter's concluding paragraph to be very informative in the wider frame of each chapter's discussion.

There are some interesting issues built in too. For instance, whether working memory is trainable, and whether working memory is likely to be adversely affected when subjected to a high information pressure consequent to mind boggling stream of various information loads? The concept of telescoping working memory presents a similar scenario. Will the working memory process cave in as a consequence of panic building pressure on it?

The last two chapters on 'Neurocognitive Enhancement' and The Information Flood and Flow' together provide an interesting discussion. 'Neuocognitive Enhancement' is an article by Farah et al., (2004) referred to by the author in Notes and References(p. 194). The issue at stake is Neurocognitive enhancement in 'Mental Doping' and 'Our Daily Drugs'.  The chapter on 'The Information Flood and Flow' concerns 'Infostress', 'Why We Love Stimulation' and 'Flow'? The chapter concludes by a suggestion recommending the operations to be considered in the training for enhancement of the working memory.

Many of the schools in psychology/cognitive psychology may easily adopt the book for undergraduate and graduate programs. The informed faculty and the student will find the book to be information packed within one's working memory range.


© 2009 G.C. Gupta


G.C. Gupta, Formerly Professor of Psychology, University of Delhi, Delhi, India