Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


To treat depression, we will likely combine neuroplasticity-based brain training games with antidepressants

BrainTrainingCom­puter Games Bet­ter Than Med­ica­tion in Treat­ing Elderly Depres­sion (Live Science):

Com­puter games could help in treat­ing older peo­ple with depres­sion who haven’t been helped by anti­de­pres­sant drugs or other treat­ments for the disorder…In a study of 11 older patients, researchers found play­ing cer­tain com­puter games was just as effec­tive at reduc­ing symp­toms of depres­sion as Read the rest of this entry »

Learning with Video Games: A Revolution in Education and Training?

In recent years, we have wit­nessed the begin­nings of a rev­o­lu­tion in edu­ca­tion.  Tech­nol­ogy has fun­da­men­tally altered the way we do many things in daily life, but it is just start­ing to make head­way in chang­ing the way we teach.  Just as tele­vi­sion shows like Sesame Street enhanced the pas­sive learn­ing of infor­ma­tion for kids by teach­ing in a fun for­mat, elec­tronic games offer to greatly enhance the way kids and adults are taught by actively engag­ing them in the process. Read the rest of this entry »

Serious Games: Developing a Research Agenda for Educational Games and Simulations

(Editor’s Note: the recent trade book Com­puter Games and Instruc­tion brings together the lead­ing edge per­spec­tives of over a dozen sci­en­tists in the area of videogames and learn­ing, includ­ing a very insight­ful analy­sis –excerpted below– by Harvard’s Chris Dede. Please pay atten­tion to his thoughts on scal­a­bil­ity below, and enjoy!)

The research overview pro­vided by Tobias, Fletcher, and Dai (this vol­ume) is very help­ful in sum­ma­riz­ing stud­ies to date on var­i­ous dimen­sions of edu­ca­tional games and sim­u­la­tions. The next chal­lenge for the field is to move beyond iso­lated research in which each group of inves­ti­ga­tors uses an idio­syn­cratic set of def­i­n­i­tions, con­cep­tual frame­works, and meth­ods. Instead, to make fur­ther progress, we as schol­ars should adopt com­mon research strate­gies and models—not only to ensure a higher stan­dard of rigor, but also to enable stud­ies that com­ple­ment each other in what they explore.   Read the rest of this entry »

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?)

The grow­ing field of cog­ni­tive train­ing (one of the tools for brain fit­ness) can appear very con­fus­ing as the media keeps report­ing con­tra­dic­tory claims. These claims are often based on press releases, with­out a deeper eval­u­a­tion of the sci­en­tific evidence.

Let’s take a cou­ple of recent exam­ples, in suc­ces­sive days:

It doesn’t work!” type of head­line:
Reuters (Feb. 10, 2009)  For­mal brain exer­cise won’t help healthy seniors: research
Healthy older peo­ple shouldn’t bother spend­ing money on com­puter games and web­sites promis­ing to ward off men­tal decline, the author of a review of sci­en­tific evi­dence for the ben­e­fits of these “brain exer­cise” pro­grams says.

It works! type of head­line:
Sci­enceDaily (Feb. 11, 2009)  “Com­puter Exer­cises Improve Mem­ory And Atten­tion, Study Sug­gests“
Accord­ing to the researchers, par­tic­i­pants who used the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram also scored as well as those ten years younger, on aver­age, on mem­ory and atten­tion tests for which they did not train.

So, does struc­tured brain exer­cise / cog­ni­tive train­ing work or not?

The prob­lem may in fact reside in ask­ing this very ques­tion in the first place, as Alvaro pointed out a while ago in his arti­cle Alzheimer’s Dis­ease: too seri­ous to play with head­lines.

We need a more nuanced set of questions.

Why? Because:
1. Cog­ni­tion is made of sev­eral dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties (work­ing mem­ory, atten­tion, exec­u­tive func­tions such as decision-making, etc)
2. Avail­able train­ing pro­grams do not all train the same abil­i­ties
3. Users of train­ing pro­grams do not all have the same needs or goals
4. We need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between enhanc­ing cog­ni­tive func­tions and delay­ing the onset of cog­ni­tive deficits such as Alzheimer’s.

Let’s illus­trate these points, by Read the rest of this entry »

Are videogames good for YOU? Depends on who YOU are

Two recent sci­en­tific stud­ies pub­lished by Dr. Arthur Kramer and col­leagues present Rise of Nations Arthur Kramerfas­ci­nat­ing results. The two stud­ies are:

1) Basak C, et al “Can train­ing in a real-time strat­egy video game atten­u­ate cog­ni­tive decline in older adults?” Psy­chol Aging 2008; DOI: 10.1037/a0013494.

2) Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Simons, D. J., Fabi­ani, M. & Grat­ton, G. (2008) The effects of video game play­ing on atten­tion, mem­ory, and exec­u­tive con­trol. Acta Psy­cho­log­ica, 129, 387–398.

Let’s first review the first study, a sig­nif­i­cant exper­i­ment in that it showed wide cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits in adults over 60 years old who played a strat­egy videogame (Rise of Nations) for 23 hours.

Play­ing com­puter games improves brain power of older adults, claim sci­en­tists (Telegraph)

- The team at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois recruited 40 adults over 60 years old, half of whom were asked to play a com­puter game called Rise of Nations, a role-playing game in which you have to build your own empire.

- Game play­ers have to build cities, feed and employ their peo­ple, main­tain an ade­quate mil­i­tary and expand their territory.

- Both groups were assessed before, dur­ing and after the video game train­ing on a vari­ety of tests.

- As a group, the “gamers” became sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter and faster at Read the rest of this entry »