Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Update: Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age, and Industry Webinar

Here you have the August edi­tion of our monthly newslet­ter cov­er­ing cog­ni­tive health and Brain Fitnessbrain fit­ness top­ics. Please remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive this Newslet­ter by email, using the box at the top of this page.

Sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tion Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science recently pub­lished a spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion, and invited me to con­tribute with an arti­cle titled Prepar­ing Soci­ety for the Cog­ni­tive Age. Ground­break­ing brain research has occurred over the last 20 years. The oppor­tu­nity to improve brain health and per­for­mance is immense, but we need to ensure the mar­ket­place matures in a ratio­nal and sus­tain­able man­ner, both through health­care and non-healthcare chan­nels. Click Here to read my article.


In May 2009 Sharp­Brains pub­lished The State of the Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Mar­ket 2009, the main indus­try report for lead­ing orga­ni­za­tions prepar­ing their mem­bers, their clients, and their patients for the cog­ni­tive age. 150-pages long, the report includes a mar­ket sur­vey with 2,000+ respon­dents, detailed analy­sis of 20+ ven­dors, research briefs writ­ten by 12 lead­ing sci­en­tists and data and trends for 4 major cus­tomer segments.webinar

Below we share the full Exec­u­tive Sum­mary of the report and announce an exclu­sive webi­nar on Sep­tem­ber 29th to dis­cuss the State of the Mar­ket in more depth with buy­ers of the report.

To order the report and access both the report and the webi­nar, you can click Here. (Only $975 –a 25% dis­count– using Dis­count Code Frontiers2009 before Sep­tem­ber 28th).

State of the Mar­ket

The brain fit­ness field holds excit­ing promise for the future while pre­sent­ing clear oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges today. The good news is that there are more tools avail­able than ever before to assess and train a vari­ety of cog­ni­tive skills. The bad news is that there are no magic pills and that con­sumers, while sat­is­fied over­all, seem con­fused by com­pet­ing claims on how to reduce one’s “brain age.” We do see signs that this early-stage mar­ket can mature in a more ratio­nal, struc­tured man­ner; but there is much work to be done. We esti­mate that the size of the U.S. brain fit­ness soft­ware (i.e., appli­ca­tions designed to assess or enhance cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties) mar­ket in 2008 was Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article!)

(Editor’s note: this arti­cle belongs to the excel­lent May 2009 spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting CognitionCog­ni­tion of sci­en­tific jour­nal Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science, Vol­ume 3, Issue 1. You can order this issue, for 50 euros, here. Highly rec­om­mended for sci­en­tists and tech­ni­cal read­ers inter­ested in the sci­ence. This arti­cle, an indus­try overview, is repro­duced here with autho­riza­tion by the Fron­tiers Research Foun­da­tion).

Prepar­ing Soci­ety for the Cog­ni­tive Age

- By Alvaro Fernandez

Ground­break­ing cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science research has occurred over the last 20 years — with­out par­al­lel growth of con­sumer aware­ness and appro­pri­ate pro­fes­sional dis­sem­i­na­tion. “Cog­ni­tion” remains an elu­sive con­cept with unclear impli­ca­tions out­side the research community.

Ear­lier this year, I pre­sented a talk to health care pro­fes­sion­als at the New York Acad­emy of Med­i­cine, titled “Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware: Help­ing Con­sumers Sep­a­rate Hope from Hype”. I explained what com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive assess­ment and train­ing tools can do (assess/enhance spe­cific cog­ni­tive func­tions), what they can­not do (reduce one’s “brain age”) and the cur­rent uncer­tain­ties about what they can do (i.e., delay Alzheimer’s symp­toms). At the same sym­po­sium, Dr. Gary Kennedy, Direc­tor of Geri­atric Psy­chi­a­try at Mon­te­fiore Med­ical Cen­ter, pro­vided guid­ance on why and how to screen for exec­u­tive func­tion deficits in the con­text of dementia.

I could per­ceive two emerg­ing trends at the event: 1) “Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion” research is most com­monly framed as a health­care, often phar­ma­co­log­i­cal topic, with the tra­di­tional cog­ni­tive bias in med­i­cine of focus­ing on detec­tion and treat­ment of dis­ease, 2) In addi­tion, there is a grow­ing inter­est in non-invasive enhance­ment options and over­all lifestyle issues. Research find­ings in Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion are only just begin­ning to reach the main­stream mar­ket­place, mostly through health­care chan­nels. The oppor­tu­nity is immense, but we will need to ensure the mar­ket­place matures in a ratio­nal and sus­tain­able man­ner, both through health­care and non-healthcare channels.

In Jan­u­ary 2009, we polled the 21,000 sub­scribers of Sharp­Brains’ mar­ket research eNewslet­ter to iden­tify atti­tudes and behav­iors towards the “brain fit­ness” field (a term we chose in 2006 based on a num­ber of con­sumer sur­veys and focus groups to con­nect with a wider audi­ence). Over 2,000 decision-makers and early adopters responded to the survey.

One of the key ques­tions we asked was, “What is the most impor­tant prob­lem you see in the brain fit­ness field and how do you think it can be solved?”. Some exam­ples of the sur­vey free text answers are quoted here, together with my suggestions.

Most impor­tant prob­lems in the brain fit­ness field

Pub­lic aware­ness (39%): “To get peo­ple to under­stand that hered­ity alone does not decide brain func­tion­ing”. We need to ramp up efforts to build pub­lic aware­ness and enthu­si­asm about brain research, includ­ing estab­lish­ing clear links to daily liv­ing. We can col­lab­o­rate with ini­tia­tives such as the Dana Foundation’s Brain Aware­ness Week and use the recent “Neu­ro­science Core Con­cepts” mate­ri­als devel­oped by the Soci­ety for Neu­ro­science to give talks at schools, libraries and workplaces.

Claims (21%): “The lack of stan­dards and clear def­i­n­i­tions is very con­fus­ing, and Read the rest of this entry »

Distracted in the Workplace? Meet Maggie Jackson’s Book (Part 2 of 2)

Today we con­tinue the con­ver­sa­tion with Mag­gie Jack­son, author of Dis­tracted: The Ero­sion of Atten­tion and the Com­ing Dark Age.

You can read part 1 here.

Q — In your Har­vard Man­age­ment Update inter­view, you said that “When what we pay atten­tion to is dri­ven by the last email we received, the triv­ial and the cru­cial occupy the same plane.” As well, it seems to be that a prob­lem is our culture’s over-idealization of “always on” and “road war­rior” habits, which dis­tract from the impor­tance of exec­u­tive func­tions such as pay­ing atten­tion to one’s envi­ron­ment, set­ting up goals and plans, exe­cut­ing on them, mea­sur­ing results, and inter­nal­iz­ing learn­ing. How can com­pa­nies bet­ter equip their employ­ees for future suc­cess? Can you offer some exam­ples of com­pa­nies who have pos­i­tive cul­tures that encour­age and reward employ­ees fully put their frontal lobes into good use?

A.  As I men­tioned above, we are work­ing and liv­ing in ways that under­mine our abil­ity to strate­gize, focus, reflect, inno­vate. Skim­ming, mul­ti­task­ing and speed all have a place in 21st-century life. But we can’t let go of deeper skills of focus and think­ing and relat­ing, or we’ll cre­ate a soci­ety of mis­un­der­stand­ing and shal­low thinking.

To cre­ate work­places that fos­ter strate­gic think­ing, deep social con­nec­tion and inno­va­tion, we need to take three steps:

First, ques­tion the val­ues that ven­er­ate McThink­ing and under­mine atten­tion. Recently, my morn­ing paper car­ried a front-page story about efforts in an age of impa­tience to cre­ate a quick-boot com­puter. It’s ridicu­lous to ask peo­ple to wait a cou­ple of min­utes to start up their com­puter, explained one tech exec­u­tive. The first hand up in the class­room, the hyper business-man or woman who can’t sit still, much less lis­ten  these are icons of suc­cess in Amer­i­can soci­ety. Still, many of us are begin­ning to ques­tion our ado­ra­tion of instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and hyper-mobility.

Sec­ond, we need to set the stage for focus indi­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively by rewrit­ing our cli­mate of dis­trac­tion and inat­ten­tion. To help, some com­pa­nies and busi­ness lead­ers are exper­i­ment­ing with white space the cre­ation of phys­i­cal spaces or times on the cal­en­dar for unin­ter­rupted, unwired think­ing and Read the rest of this entry »

Distracted in the Workplace? Meet Maggie Jackson’s Book

Today we’ll dis­cuss some of the cog­ni­tive impli­ca­tions of “always on” work­places and lifestyles via a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view with Mag­gie Jack­son, an award-winning author and jour­nal­ist. Her lat­est book, Dis­tracted: The Ero­sion of Atten­tion and the Com­ing Dark Age, describes Distracted by Maggie Jacksonthe impli­ca­tions of our busy work and life envi­ron­ments and offers impor­tant reflec­tions to help us thrive in them.

This is a 2-part inter­view con­ducted via e-mail: we will pub­lish the con­tin­u­a­tion on Thurs­day March 12th.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez: New York Times colum­nist David Brooks said last year that we live in a Cog­ni­tive Age, and encour­aged read­ers to be aware of this change and try and adapt to the new real­ity. Can you explain the cog­ni­tive demands of today’s work­places that weren’t there 30–40 years ago?

Mag­gie Jack­son: Our work­places have changed enor­mously in recent decades, and it’s easy to point to the Black­berry or the lap­top as the sources of our cul­ture of speed and over­load and dis­trac­tion. But it’s impor­tant to note first that our 24/7, frag­mented work cul­ture has deeper roots. With the first high-tech inven­tions, such as the cin­ema, phono­graph, tele­graph, rail, and car, came rad­i­cal changes in human expe­ri­ence of time and space. Dis­tance was shat­tered  long before email and red-eye flights. Tele­graph oper­a­tors  not online daters  expe­ri­enced the first vir­tual love affairs, as evi­denced by the 1890s novel Wired Love. Now, we wres­tle with the effects of changes seeded long ago.

Today, the cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal demands on work­ers are steep. Con­sider 24/7 liv­ing. At great cost to our health, we oper­ate in a sleep­less, hur­ried world, ignor­ing cues of sun and sea­son, the Indus­trial Age inven­tions of the week­end and vaca­tion, and the rhythms of biol­ogy. We try to break the fet­ters of time and live like per­pet­ual motion machines. That’s one rea­son why we feel over­loaded and stressed con­di­tions that are cor­ro­sive to problem-solving and clear thinking.

At the same time, our tech­nolo­gies allow us access to mil­lions of infor­ma­tion bites pro­duc­ing an abun­dance of data that is both won­drous and dan­ger­ous. Unless we have the will, dis­ci­pline and frame­works for turn­ing this infor­ma­tion into wis­dom, we remain stuck on the sur­face of Read the rest of this entry »

The Overflowing Brain: Most Important Book of 2008

We have tracked for sev­eral years the sci­en­tific stud­ies pub­lished by Torkel Kling­berg and col­leagues, often won­der­ing aloud, “when will edu­ca­tors, health pro­fes­sion­als, exec­u­tives and main­stream soci­ety come to appre­ci­ate the poten­tial we have in front of  us to enhance our brains and improve our cog­ni­tive functions?”

Dr. Kling­berg has just pub­lished a very stim­u­lat­ing the Overflowing Brain by Torkel Klingsbergpop­u­lar sci­ence book, The Over­flow­ing Brain, that should help in pre­cisely that direc­tion. Given the impor­tance of the topic, and the qual­ity of the book, we have named  The Over­flow­ing Brain: Infor­ma­tion Over­load and the Lim­its of Work­ing Mem­ory The Sharp­Brains Most Impor­tant Book of 2008, and asked Dr. Kling­berg to write a brief arti­cle to intro­duce his research and book to you. Below you have. Enjoy!

Research and Tools to Thrive in the Cog­ni­tive Age

By Dr. Torkel Klingberg

Do we all have atten­tion deficits?

The infor­ma­tion age has pro­vided us with high tech­nol­ogy which fills our days with an ever increas­ing amount of infor­ma­tion and dis­trac­tion. We are con­stantly flooded with on-the-go emails, phone calls, adver­tise­ments and text-messages and we try to cope with the increas­ing pace by multi task­ing. A sur­vey of work­places in the United States found that the per­son­nel were inter­rupted and dis­tracted roughly every three min­utes and that peo­ple work­ing on a com­puter had on aver­age eight win­dows open at the same time. There is no ten­dency for this to slow down; the amount and com­plex­ity of infor­ma­tion con­tin­u­ally increases

The most press­ing con­cerns with this envi­ron­ment are: how do we deal with the daily influx of infor­ma­tion that our inun­dated men­tal capac­i­ties are faced with? At what point does our stone-age brain become insuf­fi­cient? Will we be able to train our brains effec­tively to increase brain capac­ity in order to Read the rest of this entry »

The Age of Mass Intelligence?

We’ve all heard about dumb­ing down. But there is plenty of evi­dence that the oppo­site is also true. Is this, in fact, the age of mass intelligence?”

Fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle in Intel­li­gent Life, a pub­li­ca­tion by The Economist:


- “Mil­lions more peo­ple are going to muse­ums, lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals and operas; mil­lions more watch demand­ing tele­vi­sion pro­grammes or down­load serious-minded pod­casts. Not all these activ­i­ties count as mind-stretching, of course. Some are down­right fluffy. But, says Donna Ren­ney, the chief exec­u­tive of the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­vals, audi­ences increas­ingly want “the buzz you get from work­ing that lit­tle bit harder”. This is a dra­matic yet often unrecog­nised devel­op­ment. “When peo­ple talk and write about cul­ture,” says Ira Glass, the cre­ator of the riv­et­ing public-radio show “This Amer­i­can Life”, “it’s apoc­a­lyp­tic. We tell our­selves that every­thing is in bad shape. But the oppo­site is true. There’s an abun­dance of really inter­est­ing things going on all around us.”

- “Third, what does all this say about the wide­spread view that soci­eties are dumb­ing down, edu­ca­tional stan­dards are crum­bling and people’s abil­ity to con­cen­trate is col­laps­ing? The reply must be that it can­not be true across the board and that for a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber, the oppo­site is the case: peo­ple want more intel­lec­tu­ally demand­ing things to see and hear, not fewer. Surely both things are hap­pen­ing at once: part of the pop­u­la­tion is dumb­ing down, part is wis­ing up.”


For a related blog arti­cle: Exer­cise your brain in the Cog­ni­tive Age

Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg

Dr. Andrew New­berg is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­ogy and Psy­chi­a­try and Adjunct Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Reli­gious Stud­ies at theAndrew Newberg Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. He has pub­lished a vari­ety of neu­roimag­ing stud­ies related to aging and demen­tia. He has also researched the neu­ro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal cor­re­lates of med­i­ta­tion, prayer, and how brain func­tion is asso­ci­ated with mys­ti­cal and reli­gious experiences.

Dr. New­berg, thank you for being with us today. Can you please explain the source of your inter­ests at the inter­sec­tion of brain research and spirituality?

Since I was a kid, I had a keen inter­est in spir­i­tual prac­tice. I always won­dered how spir­i­tu­al­ity and reli­gion affect us, and over time I came to appre­ci­ate how sci­ence can help us explore and under­stand the world around us, includ­ing why we humans care about spir­i­tual prac­tices. This, of course, led me to be par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in brain research.

Dur­ing med­ical school I was par­tic­u­larly attracted by the prob­lem of con­scious­ness. I was for­tu­nate to meet researcher Dr. Eugene D’Aquili in the early 1990s, who had been doing much research on reli­gious prac­tices effect on brain since the 1970s. Through him I came to see that brain imag­ing can pro­vide a fas­ci­nat­ing win­dow into the brain.

Can we define reli­gion and spir­i­tu­al­ity –which sound to me as very dif­fer­ent brain processes-, and why learn­ing about them may be help­ful from a purely sec­u­lar, sci­en­tific point of view?

Good point, def­i­n­i­tions mat­ter, since dif­fer­ent peo­ple may be search­ing for God in dif­fer­ent ways. I view being reli­gious as par­tic­i­pat­ing in orga­nized rit­u­als and shared beliefs, such as going to church. Being spir­i­tual, on the other hand, is more of an indi­vid­ual prac­tice, whether we call it med­i­ta­tion, or relax­ation, or prayer, aimed at expand­ing the self, devel­op­ing a sense of one­ness with the universe.

What is hap­pen­ing is that spe­cific prac­tices that have tra­di­tion­ally been asso­ci­ated with reli­gious and spir­i­tual con­texts may also be very use­ful from a main­stream, sec­u­lar, health point of view, beyond those con­texts. Sci­en­tists are research­ing, for exam­ple, what Read the rest of this entry »

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