Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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 (06/08/09)

The bookThe Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (avail­able via 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), (Viv­ity Labs), (Sci­en­tific Brain Train­ing), (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 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 »

Cognitive News November-December 2008

Here you have sev­eral recent arti­cles and devel­op­ments wor­thy of attention:Brain Health News

1) Boom times for brain train­ing games (CNN)
2) Nav­i­gat­ing the brain fit­ness land­scape: do’s and don’ts (McKnight’s Long Term Care News)
3) USA Hockey and Intel­li­gym (press release)
4) Brain Fit­ness at New York Pub­lic Library (NYPL blog)
5) McDon­nell Foun­da­tion grant har­nesses cog­ni­tive sci­ence to improve stu­dent learn­ing (press release)
6) Health insur­ance firms offer­ing online cog­ni­tive ther­apy for insom­nia (Los Ange­les Times)
7) Head­Min­der Cog­ni­tive Sta­bil­ity Index: Com­put­er­ized Neu­rocog­ni­tive … (Press release)
8) THE AGE OF MASS INTELLIGENCE (Intel­li­gent Life)
9) Work­ing Later in Life May Facil­i­tate Neural Health (Cere­brum)
10) The Cool Fac­tor: Never Let Them See You Sweat (New York Times)

Links, selected quotes and com­men­tary: Read the rest of this entry »


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