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Working Memory Training can Influence Brain Biochemistry

I wanted to alert you to a very interesting finding published in a recent issue of Science, one of the world’s leading scientific journals.

The study was led by Dr. Torkel Klingberg and his colleagues from the Karolinska Institute Torkel Klingbergin Sweden. The goal was to learn whether Working Memory Training is associated with changes in brain biochemistry, thus suggesting a mechanism by which training may lead to enhanced working memory capacity and a reduction in attention problems. Thus, although Working Memory Training has previously shown promising results as a treatment for working memory and attention difficulties, this was a basic science study rather than a treatment study.

The major finding was that increased working memory capacity following training was associated with changes in brain biochemistry. Specifically, the researchers found changes in the density and binding potential of cortical D1 dopamine receptors in brain regions that are activated during working memory tasks.

Results from this study suggest a biological basis for the improvement in working memory capacity and reductions i Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Training (Cogmed) Changes the Brain More Than We Thought

Cognitive Training Can Alter Biochemistry Of The Brain (Science Daily)

– “Researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute have shown for the first time that the active training of the working memory brings about visible changes in the number of dopamine receptors in the human brain.”

– “”Brain biochemistry doesn’t just underpin our mental activity; our mental activity and thinking process can also affect the biochemistry,” says Professor Torkel Klingberg, who led the study.”

– “Changes in the number of dopamine receptors in a person doesn’t give us the key to poor memory,” says Professor Lars Farde, one of the researchers who took part in the study. “We also have to ask if the differences could have been caused by a lack of memory training or other environmental factors. Maybe we’ll be able to find new, more effective treatments that combine medication and cognitive training, in which case we’re in extremely interesting territory.”

Comment:  couldn’t agree more with “Maybe we’ll be able to find new, more effective treatments that combine medication and cognitive training, in which case we’re in extremely interesting territory.” This study adds a very important angle to the growing literature on working memory training, showing a more fundamental, structural impact, that once thought (such as the well-known effect that “cells that fire together wire together”). The computerized cognitive program used in the study was Cogmed working memory training.

More on Torkel Klingberg’s research:

– Article written by Torkel Klingberg on The Overflowing Brain & Information Overload

– His recent book, which was The SharpBrains Most Important Book of 2008: The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory

– 2006 Interview with Dr. Klingberg: Working Memory Training and RoboMemo: Interview with Dr. Torkel Klingberg

Use It or Lose It, and Cells that Fire together Wire together

Everyone has heard of “Use It or Lose It.” Now…what is “It”?

Last week I gave a talk at the Italian Consulate in San Francisco, and one of the areas attendees seemed to enjoy the most was learning about what our brains are and how they work, peaking into the “black box” of our minds. Without understanding a few basics, how can we make good decisions about brain health?

At a quick glance:, the brain is composed of 3 “brains” or main sub-systems, each named after the evolutionary moment in which the sub-system is believed to have appeared. Read the rest of this entry »

Darwin’s adult neuroplasticity

Charles Darwin 1880Charles Darwin (1809-1882)’s autobiography (full text free online) includes some very insightful refections on the evolution of his own mind during his middle-age, showcasing the power of the brain to rewire itself through experience (neuroplasticity) during our whole lifetimes-not just when we are youngest.

He wrote these paragraphs at the age of 72 (I have bolded some key sentences for emphasis, the whole text makes great reading):

“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did. On the other hand, novels which are works of the imagination, though not of a very high order, have been for years a wonderful relief and pleasure to me, and I often bless all novelists. A surprising number have been read aloud to me, and I like all if moderately good, and if they do not end unhappily– against which a law ought to be passed. A novel, according to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if a pretty woman all the better.

This curious and lamentable loss of the higher aesthetic tastes is all the odder, as books on history, biographies, and travels (independently of any scientific facts which they may contain), and essays on all sorts of subjects interest me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with Read the rest of this entry »

Information Overload? Seven Learning and Productivity Tips

We often talk in this blog about how to expand fundamental abilities or cognitive functions, like attention, or memory, or emotional self-regulation. Think of them as muscles one can train. Now, it is also important to think of ways one can use our existing muscles more efficiently.

Let’s talk about how to manage better the overwhelming amount of information available these days.

Hundreds of thousands of new books, analyst reports, scientific papers published every year. Millions of websites at our googletips. The flow of data, information and knowledge is growing exponentially, stretching the capacity of our not-so-evolved brains. We can complain all day that we cannot process ALL this flow. Now, let me ask, should we even try?

Probably not. Why engage in a losing proposition. Instead, let me offer a few strategies that can help manage this flow of information better.

1. Prioritize: strategic consulting firms such as McKinsey and BCG train their staff in the so-called 80/20 rule: 80% of effects are caused by the top 20% of causes. In a company, 80% sales may come from 20% of the accounts. Implication: focus on that top 20%; don’t spend too much time on the 80% that only account for 20%.

2. Leverage a scientific mindset. Scientists shift through tons of data in efficient, goal-oriented ways. How do they do it? By first stating a hypothesis and then looking for data. For example, an untrained person could spend weeks “boiling the ocean”, trying to read as much as possible, in a very fragmentary way, about how physical exercise affects our brain. A trained scientist would first define clear hypotheses and preliminary assumptions, such as “Physical exercise can enhance the brain’s ability to generate new neurons” or “Those new neurons appear in the hippocampus”, and then look specifically for data that corroborates or refutes those sentences, enabling him or her to refine the hypotheses further, based on accumulated knowledge, in a virtuous learning cycle.

3. Beat your enemies-like excessive TV watching. Watching TV five hours a day has an effect on your brain: it trains one’s brain to become a visual, usually unreflective, passive recipient of information. You may have heard the expression “Cells that fire together wire together”. Our brains are composed of billions of neurons, each of which can have thousand of connections to other neurons. Any thing we do in life is going to activate a specific networks of neurons. Visualize a million neurons firing at the same time when you watch a TV program. Now, the more TV you watch, the more those neurons will fire together, and therefore the more they will wire together (meaning that the connections between them become, physically, stronger), which then creates automatic-like reactions. A heavy TV-watcher is making himself or herself more passive, unreflective, person. Exactly the opposite of what one needs to apply the other tips described here. Continue Reading

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