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Salon.com on Brain Fitness: Tree or Forest?

Salon.com pub­lished yes­ter­day a thought-provoking arti­cle focused on Posit Science’s Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram, titled Buff Up Your Brain, that com­bined a) some pretty good analy­sis and great points about that spe­cific pro­gram and jus­ti­fi­able (to a point) crit­i­cism of the com­mer­cial tone of a recent PBS Spe­cial, with b) the error of con­fus­ing a tree with the for­est, that led the author to make sev­eral unwar­ranted claims regard­ing the field.

Com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing has been around since way before Posit Sci­ence, and will be here way beyond Posit Sci­ence (and Sharp­Brains, and Salon.com), and their audi­tory pro­cess­ing product-featured in the PBS Spe­cial– is not, in our view, the most par­tic­u­larly impres­sive exam­ple. Well-directed cog­ni­tive exer­cise can enhance men­tal skills and trans­fer to real-life out­comes, act­ing as a good com­ple­men­tary tool, when used prop­erly, to other lifestyle options and tools.

For exam­ple, we read that “At present, the only way a brain fit­ness pro­gram can demon­strate its value is through tra­di­tional “neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing.”” and that “But it isn’t easy to cre­ate a double-blind study for a com­put­er­ized brain exer­cise program.”

I sus­pect the author is not famil­iar with Dr. Torkel Klingberg’s work, for one, sum­ma­rized in this list of sci­en­tific papers: http://www.klingberglab.se/pub.html,

or many of the oth­ers men­tioned in the End Notes of our recent report, such as

- 4*Willis et al: “Long-Term Effects of Cog­ni­tive Train­ing on Every­day Func­tional Out­comes in Older Adults.” Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion. Vol­ume 296, 23: 2805–2814, 2006.
– 6*Green & Bave­lier. “Action video game mod­i­fies visual selec­tive atten­tion”. Nature 423:534–537, 2003.

- 22*Kasten et al. Computer-based train­ing for the treat­ment of par­tial blind­ness. Nature Med­i­cine, 4, 10831087, 1998.

- 23*Cicerone: “Evidence-Based Cog­ni­tive Reha­bil­i­ta­tion: Updated Review of the Lit­er­a­ture From 1998 Through 2002″. Arch Phys Med Reha­bil. 2005. Cicerone: “Evidence-based cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion: rec­om­men­da­tions for clin­i­cal prac­tice.” Arch Phys Med Reha­bil. 2000.

- 24*Olesen et al: Increased pre­frontal and pari­etal brain activ­ity after train­ing of work­ing mem­ory. Nature Neu­ro­science, 7(1): 75–79, 2004.

- 37*Gopher et al:“Transfer of skill from a com­puter game trainer to flight”, Human Fac­tors 36, 1–19, 1994.
– 38*Hart & Battiste:“Flight test of a video game trainer.“Proceedings of the Human Fac­tors Soci­ety 26th Meet­ing (pp. 1291–1295).
– 39*Shebilske et al: “Revised Space Fortress: A val­i­da­tion study”. Behav­ior Research Meth­ods, 37, 591–601. 2005.

Or the ones we review in more detail, from researchers such as John Gabrieli and Kar­lene Ball.

So, please, let’s clar­ify: are we talk­ing about a tree, or per­haps even sev­eral trees, or the forest?

And, when talk­ing about one spe­cific tree, can we please clearly state what tacit hypoth­e­sis is being refuted: whether it is  a “gen­eral solu­tion” or not (in our view, no pro­gram is) or a spe­cific tool, that, like any tool, can be use­ful in the proper context?

And now, good night!-as we saw recently, sleep is a much needed, inex­pen­sive yet time-consuming, brain fit­ness pro­gram

A cou­ple related posts

- It is Not Only Cars That Deserve Good Main­te­nance: Brain Care 101

- 10-Question Pro­gram Eval­u­a­tion Checklist

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