Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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

Who has not heard “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 atten­dants 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 at least the basics, how can we make good deci­sions about our own brain health and fitness?

Let’s review at a glance:

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The brain is com­posed of 3 main sub-systems

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

Brain Fitness and SharpBrains.com in the Press

Fitness TrainerGrow­ing media atten­tion on the brain fit­ness field. At least on the “Healthy Aging” seg­ment (I pre­dict the media with catch up soon with devel­op­ments in other areas, from cog­ni­tive train­ing for kids and adults with ADD/ ADHD to stroke and TBI reha­bil­i­ta­tion, to peak per­for­mance for cor­po­rate training).

First, a superb arti­cle by Leslie Walker at the Wash­ing­ton Post: Cross-Training Your Brain to Main­tain Its Strength

Quotes:  “A grow­ing body of research sug­gests that men­tal activ­ity in mid­dle age and ear­lier can help later in life. As a result, Web sites such as HappyNeuron.com are spring­ing up to offer online games to peo­ple of all ages, while blogs like SharpBrains.com pro­vide com­men­tary on the fledg­ling indus­try.” (Note: we can also pro­vide com­men­tary on the commentary!)

Peo­ple who engage in very chal­leng­ing tasks — not just in work but dur­ing leisure activ­i­ties such as read­ing, cross­word puz­zles, bridge, chess and travel — tend to slow down their men­tal aging process very sig­nif­i­cantly,” says Breznitz, who is also a mem­ber of Israel’s leg­is­la­ture and has devel­oped a brain-training pro­gram called MindFit.”

Also con­tribut­ing to the brain work­out boom are state-of-the-art imag­ing tech­niques that have allowed sci­en­tists to val­i­date a the­ory devel­oped decades ago. By tak­ing detailed pic­tures of brain neu­rons, sci­en­tists watch parts of the brain that had seemed dor­mant light up and assume new respon­si­bil­i­ties in response to stim­uli. The­o­ret­i­cally, this means brain decay can be halted or even reversed.”

The brain is con­stantly rewiring and recal­i­brat­ing itself in response to what you do,” says Henry Mah­ncke, whComputer Classroomo holds a PhD in neu­ro­science and is vice pres­i­dent of Posit Sci­ence, the San Fran­cisco devel­oper of the Brain Fit­ness soft­ware. “It remakes itself into a more effi­cient oper­a­tion to do the things you ask it to do.”

Com­ments: the arti­cle touches many key points. I espe­cially enjoy the quote “To be effec­tive, sci­en­tists say men­tal activ­ity must become pro­gres­sively more chal­leng­ing. Oth­er­wise, the brain adjusts and learns to per­form repet­i­tive tasks with less effort”, a key mes­sage I make often in my lec­tures to explain why well-designed pro­grams can be more effec­tive than doing cross­word puz­zle num­ber 512,789. The arti­cle also relates how many retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties and senior cen­ters and indi­vid­u­als are try­ing out the new brain fit­ness pro­grams com­ing to mar­ket, and shows some healthy skep­ti­cism on the state of the research. Now, this is an invi­ta­tion to the reporter to inter­view neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg to get the full pic­ture of the sci­ence behind the field, since these pro­grams haven’t appeared in a vac­uum. Our 10-Question Eval­u­a­tion Check­list can pro­vide use­ful guid­ance to any­one con­sid­er­ing a program.

Boomers use online brain games to stave off demen­tia (AccountingWeb)

Quotes: “The Inter­net offers a plethora of brain games for those who don’t sub­scribe to a daily news­pa­per or don’t want to pur­chase games. AARP, for exam­ple, offers plenty of free games on its site. More games appear at SharpBrains.com, includ­ing a page that con­tains the Top Ten Neu­ro­science Brain­teasers, and you can sign up to have the Col­lege Board e-mail you the SAT ques­tion of the day.”

The gen­er­a­tion that refuses to age is not going to sit back and wait for Alzheimer’s Dis­ease and other signs of demen­tia to take hold. Instead, savvy Baby Boomers are expand­ing their minds (no, not the way they did in the 60s) with the aid of the com­puter, puz­zles, and games. A brain health move­ment is sweep­ing Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Exercise and Brain Fitness July Monthly Digest

We often are told that we offer too much con­tent for you to read given var­i­ous time pres­sures… but it is tough for us to write less given the wealth of areas we cover around cog­ni­tive and emo­tional training.

To make your life eas­ier (and please feel free to give us feed­back!), what we will do is to offer a Monthly Digest of Most Pop­u­lar Blog Posts. Today, August 1st, we will list the most pop­u­lar July posts. Con­sider it your monthly Brain Exer­cise Mag­a­zine :-)

(Also, remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive our RSS feed, check our Top­ics sec­tion, and sub­scribe to our monthly newslet­ter at the top of this page).

News you can use

Trad­ing per­for­mance psy­chol­ogy and self-talk

Stress Man­age­ment for Lawyers

Men­tal Train­ing for Grat­i­tude and Altruism

Brain Fitness/ Train­ing Mar­ket News

Mar­ket­Watch on Beat­ing for­get­ful­ness and boost­ing the brain

Nin­tendo BrainAge, Lumos­ity, Happy Neu­ron, MyBrainTrainer…

Brain Health through Seri­ous Games and Brain Exercise

Brain Fit­ness Workshops

Osher Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute Brain Fit­ness class at UC Berkeley

Healthy Aging

Inter­view with Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Yaakov Stern: Build Your Cog­ni­tive Reserve

Jud­son Laipply’s Danc­ing Brain

Jack and Elaine LaLanne and Brain Health

Exer­cise Your Brain! Enjoy Learning!

Atten­tion Deficits

Read the rest of this entry »

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Jour­nal, CNN and more, Sharp­Brains is an inde­pen­dent mar­ket research firm track­ing health and well­ness appli­ca­tions of brain science.
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