Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

Is the Internet Good or Bad for Your Brain?

“The controversy itself is superficial; as the obvious reality is the internet and technology are not only here to stay, but constantly evolving and permeating more of our lives…The real conversation should be how we can best use the Internet in smarter ways that help us to monitor and enhance the brain, and how can we actively prepare to manage information overload.” Keep reading over at WIRED

Brains shape technology as technology shapes brains

Is Your Brain Being Wired By Technology? (Center for BrainHealth at UT-Dallas):

“…Research shows we are exposed to three times more information today as compared to four decades ago. This information overload leads to more multitasking and forces us to push our brain to do things it was not built to do. Technology is allowing us, pushing us to Read the rest of this entry »

Study: Working memory training can improve fluid intelligence

Very interesting new study on computerized cognitive training (or brain training), well summarized in LA Times article Memory training improves intelligence in some children, report says. Quote:

The training program used by Jaeggi and co-workers focused on ramping up working memory: the ability to hold in mind a handful of information bits briefly, and to update them as needed. Cognitive scientists consider working memory a key component of intelligence. But they have Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Update: Best of 2008

Dear reader and member of SharpBrains’ community,
We want to thank you for your attention and support in 2008, and wish you a Happy, brain fitness and health newsletterProsperous, Healthy and Positive 2009!

Below you have the December edition of our monthly newsletter. Enjoy:

Best of 2008

Announcing the SharpBrains Most Important Book of 2008: Neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg has written a very stimulating and accessible book on a crucial topic for our Information Age: The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory. We have named it The SharpBrains Most Important Book of 2008, and asked Dr. Klingberg to write a brief article to introduce his research and book to you. Enjoy it here.

Top 30 Brain Fitness Articles of 2008: We have compiled SharpBrains’ 30 most popular articles, written by thirteen Expert Contributors and staff members for you. Have you read them all?

November-December News: No month goes by without significant news in the field of cognitive fitness. Summarized here are 10 recent developments worthy of attention, including an upcoming brain training product for ice hockey players, my lecture at New York Public Library, and more.

Interviews: Videogames, Meditation

Are videogames good for your brain?: A landmark study by Dr. Arthur Kramer and colleagues has shown that playing a strategy videogame can bring a variety of significant mental benefits to older brains. Another recent study, also by Kramer and colleagues, does not show similar benefits to younger brains (despite playing the same game). How can this be? Dr. Kramer, who has kindly agreed to serve on SharpBrains’ Scientific Advisory Board, elaborates.

Meditation on the Brain: Dr. Andrew Newberg provides an excellent overview of the brain benefits of practices such as meditation. He recommends, “look for something simple, easy to try first, ensuring the practice is compatible with one’s beliefs and goals. You need to match practice with need: understand the specific goals you have in mind, your schedule and lifestyle, and find something practical.”

The Need for Objective Assessments

Cognitive screenings and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America just released a thoughtful report advocating for widespread cognitive screenings after the age of 65 (55 given the right conditions). SharpBrains readers, probed by Dr. Joshua Steinerman, seem to agree.

Quantitative EEG for ADHD diagnosis: Dr. David Rabiner reports on the findings from a recent study that documents the utility of Quantitative EEG as an objective test to assist in the diagnosis of ADHD. If this procedure were to become more widely used, he suggests, the number of children and adolescents who are inappropriately diagnosed and treated for the disorder would diminish substantially.

Shall we question the brand new book of human troubles?: The fights over the new version of the psychiatric diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, are starting to come to light. Dr. Vaughan Bell wonders why the public debate avoids the key question of whether diagnosis itself is useful for mental health and why psychometrics are simply ignored.

Resources for Lifelong Learning

Education builds Cognitive Reserve for Alzheimers Disease Protection: Dr. Pascale Michelon reviews a recent study that supports the Cognitive Reserve hypothesis – mentally stimulating experiences throughout life, such as formal education, help build a reserve in our brains that contributes to a lower probability of developing Alzheimer’s symptoms.

5 Tips on Lifelong Learning & the Adult Brain: Laurie Bartels asks us to please please 1) challenge ourselves with new learning, 2) remember that neuroplasticity and neurogenesis are hallmarks of our brains, 3) check for mis-learning on an ongoing basis, 4) more visuals, less text, 5) move it, move it – start today!

Neuroscience Core Concepts: We all have heard “Use It or Lose It”. Now, what is “It”? The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has just released a user-friendly publication titled Neuroscience Core Concepts, aimed at helping educators and the general public learn more about the brain.

Torkel Klingberg helps with Overflowing Brain & Information Overload

Karolinska Institute’s Dr. Torkel Klingberg has just released in the US his excellent book The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory the Overflowing Brain by Torkel Klingsberg

The title was first released in Sweden with great success, and our co-founder Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg gave a Foreword to the new US edition.

Dr. Klingberg will be writing an essay for SharpBrains readers soon, so we can discuss the importance of this topic and his work in depth. Let me now link to two thought-provoking reviews of the book:

Attention Must Be Paid (Inside Higher Ed)

– “The weak link in the information age seems to be our human hard-wiring. So one gathers from The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory (Oxford University Press) by Torkel Klingberg, who is a professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the Stockholm Brain Institute. A review of recent research on how attention and memory actually function within our gray matter, it is a work of scientific popularization rather than a handbook on how to minimize the cognitive drain of distraction.”

– “To simplify Klingberg’s already pared-down analysis, we can distinguish between two kinds of attention. One is controlled attention: the directed effort to apply ones concentration to a particular task. The other is stimulus-driven attention, which is an involuntary response to something happening in the environment. (You can tune out the conversations going on around you in a restaurant. But if a waiter drops a tray full of dishes, it is going to impose itself on your awareness.)”

– “Klingberg reports that a two-year study in his lab showed that it was possible to increase working-memory capacity Read the rest of this entry »

Information Overload? Seven Learning and Productivity Tips

We often talk in this blog about how to expand fundamental abilities or cognitive functions, like attention, or memory, or emotional self-regulation. Think of them as muscles one can train. Now, it is also important to think of ways one can use our existing muscles more efficiently.

Let’s talk about how to manage better the overwhelming amount of information available these days.

Hundreds of thousands of new books, analyst reports, scientific papers published every year. Millions of websites at our googletips. The flow of data, information and knowledge is growing exponentially, stretching the capacity of our not-so-evolved brains. We can complain all day that we cannot process ALL this flow. Now, let me ask, should we even try?

Probably not. Why engage in a losing proposition. Instead, let me offer a few strategies that can help manage this flow of information better.

1. Prioritize: strategic consulting firms such as McKinsey and BCG train their staff in the so-called 80/20 rule: 80% of effects are caused by the top 20% of causes. In a company, 80% sales may come from 20% of the accounts. Implication: focus on that top 20%; don’t spend too much time on the 80% that only account for 20%.

2. Leverage a scientific mindset. Scientists shift through tons of data in efficient, goal-oriented ways. How do they do it? By first stating a hypothesis and then looking for data. For example, an untrained person could spend weeks “boiling the ocean”, trying to read as much as possible, in a very fragmentary way, about how physical exercise affects our brain. A trained scientist would first define clear hypotheses and preliminary assumptions, such as “Physical exercise can enhance the brain’s ability to generate new neurons” or “Those new neurons appear in the hippocampus”, and then look specifically for data that corroborates or refutes those sentences, enabling him or her to refine the hypotheses further, based on accumulated knowledge, in a virtuous learning cycle.

3. Beat your enemies-like excessive TV watching. Watching TV five hours a day has an effect on your brain: it trains one’s brain to become a visual, usually unreflective, passive recipient of information. You may have heard the expression “Cells that fire together wire together”. Our brains are composed of billions of neurons, each of which can have thousand of connections to other neurons. Any thing we do in life is going to activate a specific networks of neurons. Visualize a million neurons firing at the same time when you watch a TV program. Now, the more TV you watch, the more those neurons will fire together, and therefore the more they will wire together (meaning that the connections between them become, physically, stronger), which then creates automatic-like reactions. A heavy TV-watcher is making himself or herself more passive, unreflective, person. Exactly the opposite of what one needs to apply the other tips described here. Continue Reading

11 Neuroscientists Debunk a Common Myth about Brain Training

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):

Judith Beck “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.

James Zull“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.

Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg“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.

Picture of Daniel Gopher “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.

Yaakov Stern“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.

Go Hirano“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.

Picture of Brett Steenbarger “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.

torkel_s.jpg“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.

Bradley S. Gibson, Ph.D.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.

Arthur LavinI 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.

David Rabiner“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.

Learn more & Register today at early-bird rates

2016 SharpBrains Virtual Summit: Reinventing Brain Health

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking applied brain science. Explore our most popular resources HERE.

Search for anything brain-related in our article archives

Enter Your Email to receive Sharp­Brains free, monthly eNewslet­ter:
Join more than 50,000 Sub­scribers and stay informed and engaged.