Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Update: Expo Day; Top 15 Articles of 2009

In this January issue of our eNewsletter, we will first neuronsbrief you on the enlightening demos that will take place on Wednesday, January 20th, as part of the SharpBrains Summit, and then present the 15 most stimulating SharpBrains articles of 2009.

Expo Day

If you want to see and discuss the latest programs and technologies for brain fitness, presented by Summit Sponsors, Wednesday January 20th is your day. Each demo will last 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A.

9am. Baycrest/ Cogniciti will introduce the new Memory@Work workshop, designed to teach what memory is, how lifestyle factors such as distraction and stress can affect memory, and how to enhance memory performance at work with the use of enabling strategies.

10am. CogniFit will demo CogniFit Personal Coach and CogniFit Senior Driver, two online programs designed to assess and main cognitive functions for healthy living and safe driving, respectively.

11am. Posit Science will demo InSight, a software-based cognitive training package designed to sharpen brain’s visual system. This is the program being tested by Allstate for safer driving.

Noon. Happy Neuron will introduce HAPPYneuron PRO, a new platform for professionals for the effective delivery and management of cognitive remediation and rehabilitation programs in a patient centric manner.

1pm. SharpBrains will help navigate this growing field by discussing The State of the Brain Fitness Software 2009 report and The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness consumer guide, and summarizing key Summit take-aways.

Learn more and register HERE. Please remember that registration closes on January 17th.

We want to thank our most recent sponsor, the Arrowsmith Program, a comprehensive suite of cognitive programs for students with learning disabilities available in public and private schools in Canada and the U.S. More information here.

And now, let’s review the (in our view) 15 most stimulating articles of 2009.

The Big Picture

100 is the new 65: Why do some people live, and well, to 100? Researchers are trying to find out, reports Meera Lee Sethi at Greater Good Magazine.

Learning about Learning: an Interview with Joshua Waitzkin: Scott Barry Kaufman interviews “child prodigy” Joshua Waitzkin on The Art of Learning.

Debunking 10 Brain Health Myths: Does your brain have a “Brain Age”? Is a Magic Pill to prevent memory problems right around the corner?  Check out the facts to debunk 10 common myths.

Why is working memory relevant to reading and mathematics: A recent large UK study identified 1 in 10 students as having working memory difficulties. Dr. Tracy Alloway elaborates why this matters.

Change Your Environment, Change Yourself: Dr. Brett Steenbarger explains why new environments  force us to exit our routines and actively master unfamiliar challenges.”

Tools

Retooling Use it or lose it: Alvaro Fernandez discusses why routine, doing things inside our comfort zones, is the most common enemy of the novelty, variety and challenge our brains need.

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?): Dr. Pascale Michelon, dissects a couple of recent press releases and the underlying studies to clarifying what they mean – and what they don’t mean.

New Study Supports Neurofeedback Treatment for ADHD: Dr. David Rabiner reports the promising findings from the first well-designed controlled trial on the effect of neurofeedback treatment for ADHD.

Do Art Classes Boost Test Scores? Is there a “Mozart Effect?”: Some researchers suggest so; others are not convinced. Karin Evans offers a  thoughtful review of the evidence and asks, “Now, is this the right question?”

Does coffee boost cognitive functions over time? Dr. Pascale Michelon reports good news (long-term effects seem more positive than negative, so coffee leads to no clear harm) and bad ones (no clear beneficial effects on general brain functions).

Industry

Brain fitness heads towards its tipping point: How do you know when something is moving towards a Gladwellian tipping point? When insurance companies and policy makers pay attention, Dr. Gerard Finnemore reports.

Visual Representation of the State of the Market 2009: Paul Van Slembrouck beautifully presents the main findings of our 150-page market report, The State of the Brain Fitness Market 2009.

Michael Merzenich on brain fitness: neuroscientist Michael Merzenich discusses neuroplasticity, technology, safe driving, mental health, and the need for standards, automated assessments and “personal brain trainers”.

Brain Teaser

Stimulate your Concentration Skills: when one really wants to memorize a fact, it is crucial to pay attention. Dr. Pascale Michelon challenges you to count a few simple letters.

Resolution

Finally, an article that may inspire some New Year Resolutions. In Yes, You Can Build Willpower, Daniel Goleman discusses how the brain makes about 10,000 new cells every day, how they migrate to where they are needed, and how each cell can make around 10,000 connections to other brain cells. Implication? Meditate, mindfully, and build positive habits.

Wishing you a Happy and Productive 2010, and looking forward to meeting many of you (200 so far) at the inaugural SharpBrains Summit!

Brain Scientists Identify Links between Arts, Learning

Arts education influences learning and other areas of cognition and may deserve a more prominent place in schools, according to a wave of recent neuroscience research.One recent study found that children who receive music instruction for just 15 months show strengthened connections in musically relevant brain areas and perform better on associated tasks, compared with students who do not learn an instrument.

A separate study found that children who receive training to improve their focus and attention perform better not only on attention tasks but also on intelligence tests. Some researchers suggest that arts training might similarly affect a wide range of cognitive domains. Educators and neuroscientists gathered recently in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to discuss the increasingly detailed picture of how arts education changes the brain, and how to translate that research to education policy and the classroom. Many participants referred to the results of Dana Foundation-funded research by cognitive neuroscientists from seven leading universities over three years, released in 2008.

“Art must do something to the mind and brain. What is that? How would we be able to detect that? asked Barry Gordon, a behavioral neurologist and cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, who spoke May 8 during the “Learning and the Brain” conference in Washington, D.C. “Art, I submit to you without absolute proof, can improve the power of our minds. However, this improvement is hard to detect.”

Study links music, brain changes

Among the scientists trying to detect such improvement, Ellen Winner, a professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, a professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, presented research at the “Learning, Arts, and the Brain summit May 6 in Baltimore. Their work measured, for the first time, changes to the brain as a result of music training.

For four years, Winner and Schlaug followed children ages 9 to 11, some of whom Read the rest of this entry »

Arts and Smarts: Test Scores and Cognitive Development

(Editor’s Note: we are pleased to bring you this article thanks to our collaboration with Greater Good Magazine.)

At a time when educators are preoccupied with standards, testing, and the bottom line, some researchers suggest the arts can boost students’ test scores; others aren’t convinced. Karin Evans asks, What are the arts good for?


When poet and national endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia gave the 2007 Commencement Address at Stanford University, he used the occasion to deliver an impassioned argument for the value of the arts and arts education.

“Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world,” said Gioia. “There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions.”

For years, arts advocates like Gioia have been making similar pleas, stressing the intangible benefits of the arts at a time when many Americans are preoccupied with a market–driven culture of entertainment, and schools are consumed with meeting federal standards. Art brings joy, these advocates say, or it evokes our humanity, or, in the words of my 10–year–old daughter, “It cools kids down after all the other hard stuff they have to think about.”

Bolstering the case for the arts has become increasingly necessary in recent years, as school budget cuts and the move toward standardized testing have profoundly threatened the role of the arts in schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, the federal government started assessing school districts by their students’ scores on reading and mathematics tests.

As a result, according to a study by the Center on Education Policy, school districts across the United States increased the time they devoted to tested subjects—reading/language arts and math—while cutting spending on non–tested subjects such as the visual arts and music. The more a school fell behind, by NCLB standards, the more time and money was devoted to those tested subjects, with less going to the arts. The National Education Association has reported that the cuts fall hardest on schools with high numbers of minority children.

And the situation is likely to worsen as state budgets get even tighter. Already, in a round of federal education cuts for 2006 and 2007, arts education nationally was slashed by $35 million. In 2008, the New York City Department of Education’s annual study of Read the rest of this entry »

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking applied brain science. Explore our most popular resources HERE.

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