Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Why Both Aerobic and Cognitive Exercise Promote Brain Health

USC Davis researcher Liz Zelin­ski just brought to our atten­tion a very insight­ful meta-analysis  (sys­tem­atic analy­sis of pre­vi­ous sci­en­tific stud­ies) titled Extended prac­tice and aer­o­bic exer­cise inter­ven­tions ben­e­fit untrained cog­ni­tive out­comes in older adults: a meta-analysis.

Research on ‘Chemo Brain’: MRI Shows Brain Changes After Chemotherapy

‘Chemo Brain’: MRI Shows Brain Changes After Chemother­apy (Medscape):

- “Breast can­cer sur­vivors who have been treated with chemother­apy show sig­nif­i­cant changes in brain activ­ity, mea­sured by func­tional mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI), accord­ing to a study pub­lished in the Novem­ber issue of the Archives of Neu­rol­ogy.”

- “The find­ing val­i­dates patients’ claims of reduced cog­ni­tive func­tion after receiv­ing chemother­apy, a phe­nom­e­non referred to as “chemo brain,” said lead author Shelli R. Kesler, PhD, from Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity School of Med­i­cine in California.”

Link to study Pre­frontal Cor­tex and Exec­u­tive Func­tion Impair­ments in Pri­mary Breast Can­cer (Archives of Neu­rol­ogy): Read the rest of this entry »

Update: How Stress and Emotions Impact Brain Performance

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Time for the Octo­ber edi­tion of the monthly Sharp­Brains eNewslet­ter, fea­tur­ing this time sev­eral arti­cles on the impact of stress, emo­tions, and self-regulation, on our brain’s struc­ture and performance.

We are pleased to bring to Sharp­Brains read­ers a new 6-part series on the Neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy of Stress, based on a recent book by Sharp­Brains con­trib­u­tor Dr. Jerome Schultz. The first two parts are already avail­able: Part 1 — The Human Brain and How It Responds to Stress and Part 2 — Gray Mat­ters.

Brain Study Links Emo­tional Self-Regulation and Math Per­for­mance: A new study strongly sug­gests the need to “help stu­dents reap­praise the sit­u­a­tion and con­trol emo­tions before they even get into a task”. While the study focused on math anx­i­ety and per­for­mance, the impli­ca­tions are rel­e­vant out­side the class­room too.

Reminder: Brain Fit­ness Q&A Ses­sions in Novem­ber: As we announced a few weeks ago, we are hon­ored to present an upcom­ing Brain Fit­ness Q&A Series. The first ses­sion, fea­tur­ing Dr. Gary Small, will take place Novem­ber 1st, 2011, 2-3pm US Eeast­ern Time. Please mark your cal­en­dar and join us at then! (no need to do any­thing prior to the session).

Music Train­ing Can Enhance Ver­bal Intel­li­gence and Exec­u­tive Func­tion: Very inter­est­ing new study pub­lished in Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence on the value of music train­ing (vs. sim­ply lis­ten­ing to music).

Gam­ing and Neu­ro­science: Oppor­tu­ni­ties and Chal­lenges: A sum­mary of impres­sions by researcher  Aki Niko­laidis based on his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the recent con­fer­ence Enter­tain­ment Soft­ware and Cog­ni­tive Neu­rother­a­peu­tics Con­fer­ence (ESCoNS) at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Francisco.

Fam­i­lies’ Per­spec­tives on ADHD and its Treat­ment: Dr. David Rabiner presents new data on fam­i­lies’ expe­ri­ence with ADHD and its treatment.

Brain Games and Opti­cal Illu­sions @ National Geo­graphic: Sev­eral Sharp­Brains friends rec­om­mend this recent 3-part National Geo­graphic TV mini-series.

Math Brain Teaser for Kids and Adults: Archimedes Grave: A fun puz­zle to exer­cise our brains a bit, sub­mit­ted by new con­trib­u­tor Maria Lando. Enjoy!

Study: Music Training Can Enhance Verbal Intelligence and Executive Function

Very inter­est­ing new study pub­lished in Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence: Short-Term Music Train­ing Enhances Ver­bal Intel­li­gence and Exec­u­tive Func­tion.

Abstract: Researchers have designed train­ing meth­ods that can be used to improve men­tal health and to test the effi­cacy of edu­ca­tion pro­grams. How­ever, few stud­ies have demon­strated broad trans­fer from such train­ing to per­for­mance on untrained cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties. Here we report the effects of two inter­ac­tive com­put­er­ized train­ing pro­grams devel­oped for preschool chil­dren: one for music and one for visual art. After only 20 days of train­ing, Read the rest of this entry »

Study Links Obesity and Cognitive Fitness — In Both Directions

Obe­sity linked to Cog­ni­tion (Health­Canal):

- “Obese peo­ple tend to per­form worse than healthy peo­ple at cog­ni­tive tasks like plan­ning ahead, a lit­er­a­ture review has found, con­clud­ing that psy­cho­log­i­cal tech­niques used to treat anorex­ics could help obese peo­ple too.” Read the rest of this entry »

Needed: funding for innovative research on slowing cognitive decline via cognitive training

I was really inter­ested in the recent cri­tique of the BBC brain train­ing exper­i­ment by Dr. Eliz­a­beth Zelin­ski. I think Owens et al (2010) was a crit­i­cal piece of research which was not con­ducted in the right way and was focus­ing on the wrong sam­ple pop­u­la­tion.  I totally agree with the com­ments by Dr. Zelin­ski regard­ing the poten­tial for sam­ple bias and the use of some ques­tion­able cog­ni­tive mea­sures. How­ever, I would like to take this cri­tique fur­ther and ques­tion whether the study was value for money when there are other stud­ies which can­not achieve fund­ing but would, in my opin­ion, show the criticism/scepticism of the use-it-or-lose-it theory.

I think there is not enough crit­i­cism about the age of the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion used in Owens et al. (2010). We have con­clu­sive cog­ni­tive and neu­ro­log­i­cal evi­dence that cognitive/neurological plas­tic­ity exists in young adults. There is also ade­quate evi­dence that neu­ro­plas­tic­ity is evi­dent in older adults. The crit­i­cal point which I want to make about the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion in Owens et al. study is that it did not tar­get the cor­rect sam­ple pop­u­la­tion, that is, older adults who are at risk of cognitive/neuronal atro­phy. It does not mat­ter if younger adults improve on brain train­ing tasks, or if skills picked up by younger adults from brain train­ing are not trans­ferred to other cog­ni­tive domains, sim­ply because younger adults are good at these skills/cognitive func­tions. There­fore there is a pos­si­bil­ity that ceil­ing or scal­ing effects mask the true find­ings in Owens et al. (2010), as indi­cated by Zelinski.

The recruit­ment of the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion is also very con­cern­ing and I do not feel that their con­trol group was appro­pri­ate. Read the rest of this entry »

Comparing Working Memory Training & Medication Treatment for ADHD

Work­ing mem­ory (WM) is the cog­ni­tive sys­tem respon­si­ble for the tem­po­rary stor­age and manip­u­la­tion of infor­ma­tion and plays an impor­tant role in both learn­ing and focus­ing atten­tion. Con­sid­er­able research has doc­u­mented that many chil­dren and adults with ADHD have WM deficits and that this con­tributes to dif­fi­cul­ties asso­ci­ated with the dis­or­der. For an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to the role of WM deficits in ADHD, click here.

A sim­ple exam­ple illus­trates the impor­tance of WM for par­tic­u­lar aca­d­e­mic tasks. Try adding 3 and 9 in your head. That was prob­a­bly easy for you. Now try­ing adding 33 and 99. That was prob­a­bly more dif­fi­cult. Finally, try adding 333 and 999. This is quite chal­leng­ing for most adults even though each cal­cu­la­tion required is triv­ially easy. The chal­lenge occurred because you need to store infor­ma­tion — the sum of 3+9 in the one’s col­umn and then ten’s col­umn — as you process the remain­ing part of the prob­lem, i.e., 3+9 in the hundred’s col­umn, and this taxed your WM. If your WM capac­ity was exceeded, you could not com­plete the prob­lem successfully.

This sim­ple prob­lem also illus­trates the dif­fer­ence between short-term mem­ory (STM) and WM. Short-term mem­ory sim­ply involves retain­ing infor­ma­tion in mind for short peri­ods of time, e.g., remem­ber­ing that the prob­lem you need to solve is 333+999. Work­ing mem­ory, in con­trast, involves men­tally manip­u­lat­ing — or ‘work­ing’ with — retained infor­ma­tion and comes into play in a wide range of learn­ing activ­i­ties. For exam­ple, to answer ques­tions about a sci­ence chap­ter, a child not only has to cor­rectly retain fac­tual infor­ma­tion but must men­tally work with that infor­ma­tion to answer ques­tions about it. Thus, when a child’s WM capac­ity is low rel­a­tive to peers, aca­d­e­mic per­for­mance is likely to be com­pro­mised in mul­ti­ple areas.

Because WM deficits play an impor­tant role in the strug­gles expe­ri­enced by many indi­vid­u­als with ADHD, it is impor­tant to con­sider how dif­fer­ent inter­ven­tions address this aspect of the dis­or­der. In this study, the authors were inter­ested in com­par­ing the impact of Work­ing Mem­ory Train­ing and stim­u­lant med­ica­tion treat­ment on the WM per­for­mance of chil­dren diag­nosed with ADHD.

Par­tic­i­pants were 25 8–11 year-old chil­dren with ADHD (21 boy and 4 girls) who were Placebo effect, mind hacksbeing treated with stim­u­lant med­ica­tion. Children’s mem­ory per­for­mance was assessed on 4 occa­sions using the Auto­mated Work­ing Mem­ory Assess­ment (AWMA), a com­put­er­ized test that mea­sures ver­bal short-term mem­ory, ver­bal work­ing mem­ory, visuo-spatial short-term mem­ory, and visuo-spatial work­ing memory.

At time 1, the assess­ment was con­ducted when chil­dren had been off med­ica­tion for at least 24 hours. The sec­ond assess­ment occurred an aver­age of 5 months later and when chil­dren were on med­ica­tion. The third assess­ment occurred after chil­dren had com­pleted 5 weeks of Cogmed Work­ing Mem­ory Train­ing using the stan­dard train­ing pro­to­col (see below). The final assess­ment occurred approx­i­mately 6 months after train­ing had ended. This design enabled the researchers to make the fol­low­ing comparisons:

- WM per­for­mance on med­ica­tion vs. off med­ica­tion (T1 vs T2)
– WM per­for­mance on med­ica­tion vs. after train­ing (T2 vs. T3)
– WM per­for­mance imme­di­ately after train­ing ended vs. 6 months fol­low­ing train­ing (T3 vs. T4)

This final com­par­i­son pro­vided infor­ma­tion on whether any ben­e­fits pro­vided by the train­ing had endured.

In addi­tion to mea­sur­ing STM and WM at each time point, mea­sures of IQ were col­lected at times 1, 2, and 3.

- Work­ing Mem­ory Train­ing -

WM train­ing was con­ducted using the stan­dard Cogmed train­ing pro­to­col with each child Cogmed working memory trainingcom­plet­ing 20–25 train­ing ses­sions within a 25 day period. The train­ing requires the stor­age and manip­u­la­tion of sequences of ver­bal, e.g., repeat­ing back a sequence of dig­its in reverse order, and/or visuo-spatial infor­ma­tion, e.g., recall­ing the loca­tion of objects on dif­fer­ent por­tions of the com­puter screen.

Dif­fi­culty level is cal­i­brated on a trial by trial basis so the child is always work­ing at a level that closely matches their per­for­mance. For exam­ple, if a child suc­cess­fully recalled three dig­its in reverse order, on the next trial he had to recall four. When a trial was failed, the next trial was made eas­ier by reduc­ing the num­ber of items to be recalled. This method of ‘adap­tive train­ing’ is thought to be a key ele­ment because it requires the child to ‘stretch’ their WM capac­ity to move through the program.

- Results -

- Impact of Short-Term Mem­ory and Work­ing Mem­ory -

Med­ica­tion vs. no med­ica­tion — When tested on med­ica­tion, Read the rest of this entry »

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