Sex, chocolate and a better, brainier world

January 4, 2008

Profile: Terry Horne senior lecturer, University of Central Lancashire Business School.

Terry Horne has two rather ambitious goals in life: to boost the world's brain power and to help eradicate global poverty.

And the business studies lecturer believes that chocolate could play a significant role in both goals.

Horne, a senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire's Business School, says he has developed the world's most advanced model of the way the brain works. Controversially, he claims cognitive capacity is largely based on lifestyle choice. He says his research, which draws together the work of many other academics, not only has profound implications for all levels of education policy but can also be translated into down-to-earth lifestyle advice.

His latest book, written with biochemist Simon Wootton, is called Teach Yourself: Training Your Brain . It contains a series of mental exercises intended to improve brain power, as well as lifestyle tips designed to boost mental abilities. These include having regular sex and eating dark chocolate, which is said to contain the chemicals needed to boost brain power.

The book is intended as a practical guide for a lay audience, but Horne says the science has been peer reviewed by Susan Greenfield, professor of physiology at Oxford University and director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain.

"The development of brain scanners in hospitals has been crucial," he explains. "They have allowed us to see what is happening inside the brain to a much greater extent - how it thinks critically, creatively and reflectively - and to work towards a neurological model of intelligence and cogitative capacity."

As a business studies specialist, he began his work looking specifically at the "social and cognitive skills that are so important in business".

"They seemed to be distinct from scientific or philosophical thought and needed to be acquired and practised. We termed it 'applied thinking'.

"We started by assuming that the brain is like a computer, but Dr Greenfield's research has revealed that the reactions in the brain are chemical. If neurotic transmission in the brain were electrical then there would be a billion routes it could run, all with an equal probability. But, as brain reactions are chemical, it means well-worn routes are far more likely to be run again.

"This is the neurochemical basis of learning. Once humans have this basis, they are able to do unrelated problems, increasing their cogitative capacity."

Horne says he has achieved shifts in IQ of up to 14 points by using his techniques on his students.

"Brain research has tended to exist because it can lead to drugs that can solve problems such as dementia and Parkinson's. But I wanted to know what happens in normal brains when they think. Simon (Wootton, his co-author) has gone through much of the research produced for medical reasons to make sense of it in this context.

"Ours is, of course, a very practical book. We tell you the effects that blowing your nose, cleaning your teeth or eating particular foods have on brain chemistry. You can choose to optimise your lifestyle."

Horne is keen for his research to have an impact on education policy. "In schools, brains are ceasing to develop," he says. "It is vital that students do a whole range of subjects, that they do geography and art and science. If you compress the range you leave voids in the brain. Regardless of exam results, the students coming into universities today are not as able as they once were.

"This is especially crucial now as half the population of secondary schools is coming into universities, and for the most part they are ill prepared."

He is also adamant that older people should benefit from his work. "It's an urban myth that intelligence peaks at 17," says Horne, who is 65. "Older people have better long-term memories and many other areas (of the brain) improve. No one should be put off by claims that the old are less capable."

Horne has always been keen to apply his academic work in the real world. He has taken several breaks to start up businesses. He says his most recent venture, Equitrade, is based on his model of applied thinking and has the potential to revolutionise poverty relief.

Developed in concert with the Madagascan Government, it attempts to offer a fair deal to Third World producers by allowing them to process as well as grow chocolate and other crops.

"When we showed our business model to economists we were told it was a good idea but it wouldn't work because the Madagascans would not understand Western systems. But with applied thinking we proved them wrong."

The firm has since secured contracts to supply Fortnum and Mason and other retailers. Horne says he hopes the scheme can eradicate poverty in Madagascar in ten years.

I graduated from Queen Mary, University of London, with a BSc in chemistry in 1967 and from Lancaster University with an MA in computer science in 1984

My first job was using my polymer chemistry knowledge in a company that made hose. But I was horrified that the process we were using to cure the polymers wasn't safe. I was soon labelled a troublemaker

My main challenge is to design academic programmes that develop the cogitative capacity of students and don't just assess it

What I hate most is any social injustice, anywhere, in any circumstances

In ten years I hope to establish a system for eliminating poverty in the world based on Equitrade

My favourite joke
A psychology lecturer wants to illustrate how sex makes you happy. He turns to his class and asks anyone who has sex every day to stand up. Some students do so, grinning and laughing. He then identifies those who have sex once a week and those who do once a month, and each time the students standing up are less boastful and more subdued. He thinks his point is proved. But what about once a year? One guy jumps to his feet and is ecstatic. The lecturer can't understand and asks why. "Because," the student explains, "tonight's the night!"

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