Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Virtual “Brain Games” roundtable: Why we can, and SHOULD, train our brains

brainGames_new seasonIn preparation for the new season of National Geographic’s Brain Games, starting this Sunday February 14th, their producers asked us to participate in a virtual roundtable around this thought-provoking question:

Do you think individuals can train their brain to respond in a particular way to certain situations, or do you think our brain’s innate “startle response” is too hardwired to alter?

Short answer: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Study Links Emotional Self-Regulation and Math Performance

Brain Study Points to Potential Treatments for Math Anxiety (Education Week):

  • “The study, published this morning in the journal Cerebral Cortex, is a continuation of work on highly math-anxious people being conducted by Sian L. Beilock, associate psychology professor at the University of Chicago, and doctoral candidate Ian M. Lyons. In prior research, Beilock has found that just the thought of doing math problems can trigger stress responses in people with math anxiety, and adult teachers can pass their trepidation about math on to their students.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Says This is The Classroom of the Future?

The New York Times has recently published several very good and seemingly unrelated articles…let’s try and connect some dots. What if we questioned the very premise behind naming some classrooms the “classrooms of the future” simply because they have been adding technology in literally mindless ways? What if the Education of the Future (sometimes also referred to as “21st Century Skills”) wasn’t so much about the How we educate but about the What we want students to learn and develop, applying what we know about mind and brain to the needs they are likely to face during the next 50-70 years of their lives? Read the rest of this entry »

Debunking 10 Brain Training/ Cognitive Health Myths

Think about this: How can anyone take care of his or her brain when every week brings a new barrage of articles and studies which seem to contradict each other?

Do supplements improve memory? Do you need both physical and mental exercise or is one of them enough? Which brain training approach, if any, is worth one’s time and money?

We tried to address these questions, and many others, in our recent book, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain FitnessSharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. The Book (182 pages, $24.95), that we presented at Games for Health Conference last week. The book is the result of over two years of extensive research including more than a hundred interviews with scientists, professionals and consumers, and a deep review of the scientific literature, led by neuropsychologist Elkhonon Goldberg and myself with the help of cognitive scientist Pascale Michelon. As we wrote in the Introduction, what we wanted to do first of all was to debunks these 10 myths on brain health and brain training:

Myth 1. Genes determine the fate of our brains.
Facts: Lifelong neuroplasticity allows our lifestyles and actions to play a meaningful role in how our brains physically evolve, especially given longer life expectancy.

Myth 2. Aging means automatic decline.
Facts: There is nothing inherently fixed in the precise trajectory of how brain functions evolve as we age.

Myth 3. Medication is the main hope for cognitive enhancement.
Facts: Non-invasive interventions can have comparable and more durable effects, side effect-free.

Myth 4. We will soon have a Magic Pill or General Solution to solve all our cognitive challenges.
Facts: A multi-pronged approach is recommended, centered around nutrition, stress management, and both physical and mental exercise.

Myth 5. There is only one “Use It or Lose it”.
Facts: The brain is composed of a number of specialized units. Our life and productivity depend on a variety of brain functions, not just one.

Myth 6. All brain activities or exercises are equal.
Facts: Varied and targeted exercises are the necessary ingredients in brain training so that a wide range of brain functions can be stimulated.

Myth 7. There is only one way to train your brain.
Facts: Brain functions can be impacted in a number of ways: through meditation, cognitive therapy, cognitive training.

Myth 8. We all have something called “Brain Age”.
Facts: Brain age is a fiction. No two individuals have the same brain or expression of brain functions.

Myth 9. That “brain age”‚ can be reversed by 10, 20, 30 years.
Facts: Brain training can improve specific brain functions, but, with research available today, cannot be said to roll back one “brain age”‚ by a number of years.

Myth 10. All human brains need the same brain training.
Facts: As in physical fitness, users must ask themselves: What functions do I need to improve on? In what timeframe? What is my budget?

Do you have other myths in mind you would like  us to address?

We have started to receive great feedback from the healthcare community, such as this email from a neurosurgeon in Texas:

“I really like the book, it is comprehensive without being too technical. I have recommended it to several patients. There are some other books that I expected would be greeted with enthusiasm, but were too complex for most of my patients. I think this book is right in the sweet spot”.

A short, sweet, entertaining read of a complex topic, with timely (written in 1/09) reviews of 21 top technology products, as well as informed and expert predictions of where this burgeoning brain-fitness field is headed. More importantly, after you read it, you’ll have a good, detailed sense of where you, personally, can act to improve your own couch-potato brain – and how to keep it fit and flexible your whole life. The SharpBrains Guide To Brain Fitness reminds of us all why books (and not just googling a topic) can be well worth your time and money. Two Stethoscopes Up – check it out. life.”

And this great book review by an Internist Physician and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow, titled Is Your Brain A Couch Potato?:

Doc Gurley, book review for SFGate.com (06/08/09)

The bookThe SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (available via Amazon.com Here, review copies available upon request).

Description: While most of us have heard the phrase “use it or lose it,” very few understand what it means, or how to properly ‚“use it”‚¬ in order to maintain brain function and fitness. The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness is an invaluable guide that helps readers navigate growing brain research and identify the lifestyle factors and products that contribute to brain health and fitness. By gathering insights from eighteen of the world’s top scientists and offering tools and detailed descriptions of over twenty products, this book is an essential guide to the field of brain fitness, neuroplasticity and cognitive health. An accessible and thought-provoking read, The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness educates lifelong learners and professionals in healthcare, education, business, etc., on emerging trends and forecasts of what the future will hold.

Products Reviewed (we reviewed scientific studies published before January 2009, when the manuscript text was closed):

– Overall brain maintenance: Brain Age series (Nintendo), BrainWare Safari (Learning Enhancement Corporation), FitBrains.com (Vivity Labs), Happy-Neuron.com (Scientific Brain Training), Lumosity.com (Lumos Labs), MindFit (CogniFit), (m)Power (Dakim)

– Targeted brain workout: Classic and InSight (Posit Science), Working Memory Training JM and RM (Cogmed), DriveFit (CogniFit), Earobics (Houghton Mifflin), Fast ForWord (Scientific Learning), IntelliGym (Applied Cognitive Engineering), Vision Restpration Therapy (NovaVision)

– Emotional self-regulation: emWave PC and Personal Stress Reliever (HeartMath), Journey to the Wild Divine (Wild Divine), RESPeRATE (InterCure), StressEraser (Helicor)

ETech09: on Life Hacking and Brain Training

Here you have the presentation I delivered on Tuesday at ETech 2009 (this year’s O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference):

Emerging Research and Technology for Life Hacking/ Brain Training

(click to open presentation in new window)

Description: Life hacking. Brain training. They are one and the same. The brain’s frontal lobes enable our goal-oriented behavior, supporting executive functions, such as decision-making, attention, emotional self-regulation, goal-setting, and working memory. These functions can be enhanced with targeted practice  such as life hacking. This session will provide an overview of the cognitive neuroscience underpinning life hacking, and review the state-of-the-art of non-invasive tools for brain training: neurofeedback, biofeedback, software applications, cognitive simulations, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, and plain-old meditation.

It was great to meet fellow bloggers and presenters, such as Shelley Batts of Of Two Minds and Chris Patil of Ouroboros, and very inquisite and throughful audience members. Getting ready to speak at ASA/ NCOA and IHRSA next week!

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 »

Lie to Me, Paul Ekman and Biofeedback

You may have watched the new series Lie To Me, with Tim Roth, based on the work of Paul Ekman.

The second episode, which you can watch for free via Hulu.com Here, is pretty interesting, but the best part happens in the beginning, so you only need to watch a few minutes to learn why what are called “lie detectors” are nothing but biofeedback systems that measure physiological anxiety.

Biofeedback can be a very effective training tool for emotional self-regulation and stress management, precisely because it enables a faster feedback-based learning loop. Indeed, we are seeing a growing number of applications in the market, with names such as EmWave, StressEraser, RESPeRATE, Journey to the Wild Divine, and others.

Simply, don’t believe the technology is an effective lie detector.

Caroline and I wrote an article on Paul Ekman’s work a couple of years ago – let me republish it now, given his work has made it all the way to mainstream TV!

braintop Paul Ekman has conducted extensive research on identifying emotions through facial expressions. As part of that research, and as part of the power of discipline and training, he learned how to consciously manipulate 42 facial muscles, including many that in most of us are beyond our control, and even awareness.

In the 60s and 70s when Ekman began looking into the universality of facial expressions, all the major contemporary social scientists, like Margaret Mead, believed that expressions were culturally learned, not innate. He traveled all over the world with pictures of people making distinct facial expressions and found people in cultures everywhere, from modern to stone age, agreed on the emotion behind the expression. He then turned to Read the rest of this entry »

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