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 »

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