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Optimizing Learning and Quality of Life throughout the Lifespan: A Global Framework for Research and Application

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This overview surveys the new optimism about the aging mind/brain, focusing on the potential for self-regulation practices to advance research in stress-protection and optimal health. It reviews recent findings and offers a research framework. The review links the age-related biology of stress and regeneration to the variability of mind/brain function found under a range of conditions from trauma to enrichment. The framework maps this variation along a biphasic continuum from atrophic dysfunction to peak performance. It adopts the concept of allostatic load as a measure of the wear-and-tear caused by stress, and environmental enrichment as a measure of the use-dependent enhancement caused by positive reinforcement. It frames the dissociation, aversive affect and stereotyped reactions linked with stress as cognitive, affective and behavioral forms of allostatic drag; and the association, positive affect, and creative responses in enrichment as forms of allostatic lift. It views the human mind/brain as a heterarchy of higher intelligence systems that shift between a conservative, egocentric mode heightening self-preservation and memory and a generative, altruistic mode heightening self-correction and learning. Cultural practices like meditation and psychotherapy work by teaching the self-regulation of shifts from the conservative to the generative mode. This involves a systems shift from allostatic drag to allostatic lift, minimizing wear-and-tear and optimizing plasticity and learning. For cultural practices to speed research and application, a universal typology is needed. This framework includes a typology aligning current brain models of stress and learning with traditional Indo-Tibetan models of meditative stress-cessation and learning enrichment.
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Keywords: imagery; learning; longevity; meditation; mindfulness; psychotherapy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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