It was inevitable that Todd Sampson would be up for being a crash test dummy, yet again, for the second series of Redesign My Brain.
He described Cape Breton Island, in Canada, where he grew up as a place of extremes. “ I grew up in a small town. I had this urge not be there, to want more. I always wanted to see more than my town – I wanted to see the world.”
This sense of adventure, coupled with what scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) explained as his extreme Optimism Bias, makes him more prone to tackling situations other people would probably recoil from.
“I tend to look at really complicated, hard challenges and just do it. If I get knocked down I just get up again.”
The second series of Redesign My Brain shows this bias in spades as Sampson re-examines the meaning of fear. He scales a rock-face blindfolded, and attempts a death defying wire walk between two skyscrapers, 22 stories above the ground, despite being severely injured. He says fear has had a bad rap.
“Our amigdala (part of the brain involved in fear and aggression) is like an emergency response unit. Fear’s okay – it’s actually fine to feel fear’, he said. “We don’t have to be completely controlled by it. Emotional regulation, the ability to acknowledge fear and push through it is key.”
Sampson continues his mission to shatter the old theory that your brain development stops at an early age. He said, “In your 20’s then 30’s your brain starts to decline, but we all have the ability to train our brains. It’s a very helpful message.”
The good news is that ageing does not necessarily mean you’re in for a downhill slide, as long as you continue to work on your brain’s plasticity.
“You need to constantly train your brain and your body,’ he said. “ It’s a combination of a whole bunch of things, better sleep, cognitive and physical training. It’s not just one thing, if you want to see a dramatic improvement you have to work on all those areas.”
So what’s next for Sampson? He says he’ll be doing another series, perhaps not specifically looking at the brain. “What I might do is look at addiction, depression and dementia. I’d like to look at brain drugs. I find all that stuff interesting,” he said.
The second series of Redesign My Brain is released today on DVD.
Sampson will also return to the advertising panel show, now re-named Gruen for the forthcoming season along with fellow team captain Russel Howcroft and host Will Anderson.