Last Monday, NPR (very good US-based radio station) had a program on “do brain training programs work?” that reflected very old-fashioned thinking. In short, the guest speakers talked and talked about the importance of nutrition and physical exercise (both very important, as we have covered in this blog multiple times), and expressed skepticism about the concept of exercising our brains to improve attention, memory and other skills…I guess it takes a while to change old mental paradigms (And yes, some programs work better than others).
Neuroscientists have finally debunked that old thinking that our brains decline inexorably after a certain age with little each of us can do to “exercise” or “train our brains”. But don’t trust me. During the last year I have had the fortune to interview 11 cutting-edge neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists on their research and thoughts. Here are some of my favorite quotes (you can read the full interview notes by clicking the links):
“Today, thanks to fMRI and other neuroimaging techniques, we are starting to understand the impact our actions can have on specific parts of the brain.”- Dr. Judith S. Beck, Director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, and author of The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person. Full Interview Notes.
“Learning is physical. Learning means the modification, growth, and pruning of our neurons, connections called synapses and neuronal networks, through experience…When we do so, we are cultivating our own neuronal networks. We become our own gardeners — Dr. James Zull, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry at Case Western University. Full Interview Notes.
“Exercising our brains systematically is as important as exercising our bodies. In my experience, “Use it or lose it” should really be “Use it and get more of it”.- Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, neuropsychologist, clinical professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine, and disciple of the great neuropsychologist Alexander Luria. Full Interview Notes.
“What research has shown is that cognition, or what we call thinking and performance, is really a set of skills that we can train systematically. And that computer-based cognitive trainers or“cognitive simulations are the most effective and efficient way to do so. — Dr. Daniel Gopher, Director of the Research Center for Work Safety and Human Engineering at Technion Institute of Science. Full Interview Notes.
“Individuals who lead mentally stimulating lives, through education, occupation and leisure activities, have reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms. Studies suggest that they have 35–40% less risk of manifesting the disease– Dr. Yaakov Stern, Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Sergievsky Center at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York. Full Interview Notes.
“It is hardly deniable that brains enchant Japanese people. We love brain training. Dentsu, the biggest advertising agency, announced the No.1 Consumer-chosen 2006 Product was game software and books for brain training.”- Go Hirano, Japanese executive, founder of NeuWell. Full Interview Notes.
“Elite performers are distinguished by the structuring of their learning process. It is important to understand the role of emotions: they are not “bad”. They are very useful signals. It is important to become aware of them to avoid being engulfed by them, and learn how to manage them. — Dr. Brett Steenbarger, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, SUNY Medical University, and author of Enhancing Trader Performance. Full Interview Notes.
“We have shown that working memory can be improved by training…I think that we are seeing the beginning of a new era of computerized training for a wide range of applications. Dr. Torkel Klingberg, Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at Karolinska Institute. Full Interview Notes.
“Training is very important: attentional control is one of the last cognitive abilities to develop in normal brain development…I can easily see the relevance in 2 fields. One, professional sports. Two, military training. Professor Bradley Gibson is the Director of the Perception and Attention Lab at University of Notre Dame. Full Interview Notes.
“I don’t see that schools are applying the best knowledge of how minds work. Schools should be the best place for applied neuroscience, taking the latest advances in cognitive research and applying it to the job of educating minds. — Dr. Arthur Lavin, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western School of Medicine, pediatrician in private practice. Full Interview Notes.
“Cognitive training rests on solid premises, and some programs already have very promising research results. Some of the most are promising areas are: neurofeedback, which as a whole is starting to present good research results, and working memory training. — Professor David Rabiner, Senior Research Scientist and the Director of Psychology and Neuroscience Undergraduate Studies at Duke University: Full Interview Notes.
There is much we can do everyday to literally exercise our brains. No matter our age. So much to Learn…so Good to Learn! Let’s see when this story makes it into NPR.