Curled up with a blanket, laptop and cup of tea, I checked my e-mails from the dating Web site I had recently joined. I had high hopes: much as I might hunt online for a new neighborhood café to try, I could now search for love just as systematically.
The messages I received told a different story. One suitor wrote: “Hey miss, dug your toe tag.” (What!) Another: “You're asking for a lot in your profile (which is a bit boring I might add).” A third: “I stand out from the rest!! Reason 1 I am normal hehe LOL.” My account did not stay active for long. “Dating in a Digital World,” by Eli J. Finkel et al. on page 26, demystifies this psychological minefield, explaining the art of message writing and the ways online dating toys with our expectations. One tip for navigating these sites: strictly limit the time spent perusing profiles.
Reading numerous dating profiles taxes our working memory—a capacity that correlates with intelligence. New research shows that we can strengthen this ability to keep many items in mind. See “Building Better Brains,” by John Jonides et al. on page 59, part of this issue's special report on education. Training working memory is one of several new approaches for improving learning. In “The Education of Character,” on page 48, Scientific American Mind's Ingrid Wickelgren visits a school that aims to augment children's academic skills by cultivating their self-control. Helping families manage chronic stress, which can harm young brains, also makes a difference, as Clancy Blair writes in “Treating a Toxin to Learning,” on page 64.
Not all mental toxins can be countered with training. Unfortunately, many promising psychiatric drugs never reach the market. Gabriella Rosen investigates the common practices that may be causing clinical trials to fail in “Studying Drugs in All the Wrong People,” on page 34.
Optimal mental health begins with self-knowledge. Whether seeking to crack the code for love or puzzling out a cipher in math class, let brain science be your guide.