Inspirational day 2023

Here you can see film clips and a summary of the lectures on the inspirational day organised by the departments of HR and Communications and Education and Learning on behalf of the KI management in 2023. The theme was "Brain, heart, body - how to equip ourselves to face a changing and challenging world". The purpose of the day was to strengthen the feeling of "One KI" and provide insights into some of the exciting research and education of KI.

Stronger and healthier - how?

Jessica Norrbom, FyFa and Maria Ahlsén, MedS talked about health and sustainability related to exercise and diet. 

Preventing and managing fatigue

Walter Osika, NVS, spoke about how we can go from everyday chaos to flow. 

The individual, the team and the goal – using football as an example 

Predrag Petrovic, CNS, cognitive neuroscientist drew parallels between KI and team sports, specifically football. 

Played by almost 300 million people, football (soccer) is the world’s most popular sport. Billions of others watch it and enjoy a good match. Psychologist Torbjörn Vestberg came to me ten or fifteen years ago and said that football is fascinating from a brain perspective. It is a sport in which we can really measure how cognitive functions relate to behaviour. I said that there must be a thousand articles about it. We looked into what was there and found – nothing. No research at all on football and general cognition. That was where our journey began. 

Our idea was that football, which is an incredibly fast sport that requires players to attend to many different things, such as their opponents’ positions and movements, and their team-mates positions and open passing lanes. This means one quickly reaches a kind of capacity limit, and it is this that makes it so interesting to measure. Executive functions – how we can adapt to an ever-changing environment – are especially interesting. We often measure such functions in people with challenges, but we have taken little interest in the other end of the behavioural bell curve. What does the cognition of an elite sportsperson look like?

In the first study from 2012, we were able to show that players in the Swedish Allsvenskan league were much better in terms of executive functions than division one players, both male and female, who, in turn, are better than the average Swede. Those who have played or play in the national team are better than those who have not. The tests also showed a corelation between ball sense/tactical intelligence and the trainer’s ratings of player abilities. This says something about how good others think a player is. These studies have garnered a great deal of publicity; the first study was even reported in the largest newspapers, at times in full-page articles. 

The very top international players should demonstrate even better abilities. The dream situation was therefore to examine the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, winner of the 2010 Ballon d’Or award. In second and third place that year came his team-mates Xavi and Iniesta. They are also interesting since they have played together for so long and their entire game is based on cooperation. One day, Japan’s public service broadcaster NHK called to ask if we wanted to go to Barcelona to test players’ cognitive abilities for a football documentary. And who were we going to test? Xavi and Iniesta! It was a dream come true. These tests were being done for TV and not as part of a real scientific study, but were more fun to do! Xavi and Iniesta performed better than the normal population on all cognitive tests. But what is much more interesting is that their profiles are completely dissimilar. For example, Xavi is superior when it comes to scanning his surroundings and taking in information, as any observant spectator can see. Perhaps he has to keep himself updated as he has a slightly worse working memory. As for finding creative solutions, on the other hand, Iniesta is one in a thousand. These two very different profiles are the foundation of their successful cooperation – it is not their similarities that made them such an effective duo, but their differences.  

Working with Professor Alberto Filguieras from Brazil, we have tested 150 elite Brazilian football players and 50 Swedish. We are starting to show in new, as yet unpublished results that a player’s roll depends on his or her position in the team. Individual cognitive profiles are, then, interesting to us in terms of reaching our goals, and they can be assayed in various ways, such as in tests of executive function. This is tomorrow’s precision medicine in psychiatry. Current diagnoses say little and patients do not even have to fulfil the same criteria to be given the same diagnosis. With the exact cognitive profile, however, and knowing the individual’s strengths and problems, we will one day be able to offer the best possible treatment.  

We have also tested thirty extremely successful entrepreneurs. They have greater abilities than the average Swede, especially on more complex functions. However, many of them are partnered with people who are good or not so good at other things, and this can be exploited. A profile that has very poor impulse control – a typical ADHD profile – can be a person who gushes ideas and visions but who is not so good at dealing with them. He or she might work with someone with complementary skills that can manage the ideas and follow them through. This is how I believe we need to think about ourselves and show humility towards.

Our brains operate in an integrated system that cognitive neuroscience is gradually proving able to reveal. We can show how brains work together when doctors treat a patient and how similar systems are activated in both their brains. I recommend to the interested Two heads – a graphic exploration of how our brains work with other brains by Uta and Chris Frith and others.  
Global and local environments also matter, as the socionomics field shows. What happens on a macro scale can change how entire populations think and feel. We have looked at UK Biobank with its data on almost 500,000 individuals and how they rate their health, relative to how the country is faring as measured by the stock market. The healthier the stock market, the higher the people’s emotional self-rating and the lower their blood pressure and alcohol consumption.

So the group environment we create has a direct impact on every individual in the group, even in a smaller group than the UK population. And here I am thinking of Karolinska Institutet. If we can establish a positive environment in which we utilise individual strengths and form teams of complementary individuals, we will obtain a group effect. Let us work towards that.

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