Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Arts and Smarts: Test Scores and Cognitive Development

(Editor’s Note: we are pleased to bring you this arti­cle thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine.)

At a time when edu­ca­tors are pre­oc­cu­pied with stan­dards, test­ing, and the bot­tom line, some researchers sug­gest the arts can boost stu­dents’ test scores; oth­ers aren’t con­vinced. Karin Evans asks, What are the arts good for?

When poet and national endow­ment for the Arts Chair­man Dana Gioia gave the 2007 Com­mence­ment Address at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, he used the occa­sion to deliver an impas­sioned argu­ment for the value of the arts and arts education.

Art is an irre­place­able way of under­stand­ing and express­ing the world,” said Gioia. “There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as sto­ries, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, con­soles. It edu­cates our emotions.”

For years, arts advo­cates like Gioia have been mak­ing sim­i­lar pleas, stress­ing the intan­gi­ble ben­e­fits of the arts at a time when many Amer­i­cans are pre­oc­cu­pied with a market–driven cul­ture of enter­tain­ment, and schools are con­sumed with meet­ing fed­eral stan­dards. Art brings joy, these advo­cates say, or it evokes our human­ity, or, in the words of my 10–year–old daugh­ter, “It cools kids down after all the other hard stuff they have to think about.”

Bol­ster­ing the case for the arts has become increas­ingly nec­es­sary in recent years, as school bud­get cuts and the move toward stan­dard­ized test­ing have pro­foundly threat­ened the role of the arts in schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment started assess­ing school dis­tricts by their stu­dents’ scores on read­ing and math­e­mat­ics tests.

As a result, accord­ing to a study by the Cen­ter on Edu­ca­tion Pol­icy, school dis­tricts across the United States increased the time they devoted to tested subjects—reading/language arts and math—while cut­ting spend­ing on non–tested sub­jects such as the visual arts and music. The more a school fell behind, by NCLB stan­dards, the more time and money was devoted to those tested sub­jects, with less going to the arts. The National Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion has reported that the cuts fall hard­est on schools with high num­bers of minor­ity children.

And the sit­u­a­tion is likely to worsen as state bud­gets get even tighter. Already, in a round of fed­eral edu­ca­tion cuts for 2006 and 2007, arts edu­ca­tion nation­ally was slashed by $35 mil­lion. In 2008, the New York City Depart­ment of Education’s annual study of Read the rest of this entry »

Are Schools (Cognitively) Nutritive for Children’s Complex Thinking?

Today we host a very stim­u­lat­ing essay on the impor­tance of problem-solving and encour­ag­ing com­plex game-playing for children’s com­plete “cog­ni­tive nutri­tion”. Enjoy!


Children’s Com­plex Thinking

– By Tom O’Brien and Chris­tine Wallach

Pop over to your neigh­bor­hood school and visit some class­rooms. Is what’s hap­pen­ing cog­ni­tively nutri­tive? That is, does it sat­isfy present needs and pro­vide nour­ish­ment for the future health and devel­op­ment of children’s thinking?

Or is it puni­tive, with lit­tle con­cern for present nour­ish­ment and future health and development?

The Genevan psy­chol­o­gist and researcher Her­mina Sin­clair said, Read the rest of this entry »

Learning & The Brain Conference: discount for SharpBrains readers

San Francisco Golden Gate BridgeCon­text: Last Feb­ru­ary we had the chance to attend a great con­fer­ence on how brain research is influ­enc­ing edu­ca­tion. Highly rec­om­mended. Car­o­line wrote our impres­sions, sum­ma­rized as “It was a fas­ci­nat­ing mix of neu­ro­sci­en­tists and edu­ca­tors talk­ing with and lis­ten­ing to each other. Some top­ics were meant to be applied today, but many were food for thought — insight on where sci­ence and edu­ca­tion are headed and how they influ­ence each other”. See some of our take-aways below.

Announce­ment: the 2008 edi­tion of this con­fer­ence, titled Using Brain Research to Enhance Learn­ing, Atten­tion & Mem­ory For Edu­ca­tors, Par­ents and Clin­i­cians, will take place in San Fran­cisco, on Feb­ru­ary 7-9th, 2008. The orga­niz­ers have kindly invited me to deliver a lec­ture on Inter­ven­tions to Sharpen Minds, as part of the Brain Plas­tic­ity & Atten­tion track. I will pro­vide an overview of the sci­ence behind computer-based cog­ni­tive train­ing inter­ven­tions and dis­cuss a num­ber of research-based pro­grams that are being used today. Let me know if you are plan­ning to attend!

Reg­is­tra­tion fees: the gen­eral reg­is­tra­tion fees are $495 per per­son, if you reg­is­ter before Jan­u­ary 25th, 2008.

Spe­cial Dis­count for Sharp­Brains read­ers: you can reg­is­ter for $450 before that date,  mak­ing sure to write
SharpBrains1 in the com­ments sec­tion of How did you hear about the con­fer­ence? in this Reg­is­tra­tion Page.

To learn more about the con­fer­ence: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Exercise and Fitness: September Monthly Digest

Crossword PuzzleFol­low­ing our July and August edi­tions, here you have our Monthly Digest of the Most Pop­u­lar Blog Posts. Today, Octo­ber 2nd, we will list the most pop­u­lar Sep­tem­ber posts. You can con­sider it your monthly Brain Exer­cise Magazine.

(Also, remem­ber that you can sub­scribe to receive our RSS feed, check our Top­ics sec­tion, and sub­scribe to our monthly newslet­ter at the top of this page).

Mar­ket News

Edu­ca­tion, Train­ing, Health events: some events I will blog about/ speak at over the next 2-weeks.

Brain Fit­ness and in the Press: includ­ing a great Wash­ing­ton Post article.

Brains Way Smarter Than Ours (and yours, prob­a­bly): roundup of rel­e­vant news, includ­ing some Awards.

News you can use

10 (Sur­pris­ing) Mem­ory Improve­ment Tips: on the rela­tion­ship between stress and memory.

Judith Beck: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Per­son: a cog­ni­tive ther­apy pio­neer tells us about the lat­est appli­ca­tion of brain train­ing: diets.

Brain Well­ness: Train Your Brain to Be Hap­pier: our essay to par­tic­i­pate in LifeTwo’s Hap­pi­ness week.


11 Neu­ro­sci­en­tists Debunk a Com­mon Myth about Brain Train­ing: sum­mary of our 11 orig­i­nal inter­views with lead­ing neu­ro­sci­en­tists and cog­ni­tive psychologists.

Neu­ro­plas­tic­ity 101 and Brain Health Glos­sary: no one is born know­ing it all…check this sum­mary of con­cepts and key­words that can help nav­i­gate through the brain fit­ness field.

Work­ing Mem­ory: an image that says much: bad and good news.

Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can: review of this great book.

An online appli­ca­tion sys­tem is now open for the AAAS Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy Pol­icy Fellowships.

Cor­po­rate Train­ing & Leadership

Car­ni­val of the cap­i­tal­ists with a brain: we hosted this busi­ness blog car­ni­val with a brain spice.

Exec­u­tive Func­tions and Google/ Microsoft Brain Teasers: exam­ples of what our exec­u­tive func­tions are.

Soft­ware Prod­uct News

Mind­Fit by Cog­niFit, and Baroness Susan Green­field: a brain fit­ness pro­gram start­ing to get trac­tion in Europe.

Penn Treaty First To Offer Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram: today’s press release on another brain train­ing soft­ware (Posit Science)‘s deal with an insur­ance provider.

Visu­al­iza­tion Soft­ware of IBM for the Future of Med­i­cine: Inter­view: “It’s like Google Earth for the body”. Hope­fully it will include the brain.

Brain Teasers

Brain Teasers with a Neu­ro­science angle: enjoy.

Sharp­Brains Announcements

Ser­vices: we will for­mally announce soon how we “help com­pa­nies, health providers, investors, and pol­i­cy­mak­ers under­stand and profit from the emerg­ing brain fit­ness field.” But now you know.

Speak­ing: if your orga­ni­za­tion needs a good speaker and brain fit­ness expert, please con­tact us.

Finally, we are start­ing to look for qual­i­fied guest blog­gers to add their per­spec­tive. If you are inter­ested, please con­tact us and let us know about what you would like to write about, and include a brief bio or links to sam­ples. Thank you.

Best of the Brain from Scientific American

Best of Brain, Scientific American

The Dana Foun­da­tion kindly sent us a copy of the great book Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can, a col­lec­tion of 21 superb arti­cles pub­lished pre­vi­ously in Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can mag­a­zine. A very nicely edited and illus­trated book, this is a must for any­one who enjoys learn­ing about the brain and spec­u­lat­ing about what the future will bring us.

Some essays, like the ones by Eric Kan­del (The New Sci­ence of Mind), Fred Gage (Brain, Repair Your­self), Carl Zim­mer (The Neu­ro­bi­ol­ogy of the Self) and that by Steven Hol­lon, Michael Thase and John Markowitz (Treat­ing Depres­sion: Pills or Talk), are both intel­lec­tual feasts and very rel­e­vant to brain fit­ness. And finally start­ing to per­co­late into main­stream consciousness.

Let me quote some quotes and reflec­tions as I was read­ing the book a cou­ple of days ago, in the court­yard of a beau­ti­ful French cafe in Berkeley:

1) On Brain Plas­tic­ity (the abil­ity of the brain to rewire itself), Fred Gage says: “Within the past 5 years, how­ever, neu­ro­sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that the brain does indeed change through­out life-…The new cells and con­nec­tions that we and oth­ers have doc­u­mented may pro­vide the extra capac­ity the brain requires for the vari­ety of chal­lenges that indi­vid­u­als face through­out life. Such plas­tic­ity offers a pos­si­ble mech­a­nism through which the brain might be induced to repair itself after injury or dis­ease. It might even open the prospect of enhanc­ing an already healthy brain’s power to think and abil­ity to feel”

2)  and How Expe­ri­ence affects Brain Struc­ture: Under the sec­tion title “A Brain Work­out”, Fred Gage says “One of the mot strik­ing aspects of neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (Note: the cre­ation of new neu­rons) is that expe­ri­ence can reg­u­late the rate of cell divi­sion, the sur­vival of new­born neu­rons and their abil­ity to inte­grate into the exist­ing neural circuits…The best way to aug­ment brain func­tion might not involve drugs or cell implants but lifestyle changes.”

3) Biol­ogy of Mind: Eric Kan­del pro­vides a won­der­ful overview of the most Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroplasticity 101 and Brain Health Glossary

Given the grow­ing num­ber of arti­cles in the pop­u­lar press men­tion­ing words such as “neu­ro­plas­tic­ity”, “fMRI” and “cog­ni­tive reserve”, let’s review some key find­ings, con­cepts and terms.

First, a pre­scient quote by Span­ish neu­ro­sci­en­tist San­ti­ago Ramon y Cajal (1852–1934): “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor his own brain”.

fmri.jpgThanks to new neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, regarded “as impor­tant for neu­ro­science as tele­scopes were for astron­omy, neu­ro­sci­en­tists and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists have been find­ing that the brain has a num­ber of “core capac­i­ties” and “men­tal mus­cles” that can be exer­cised through nov­elty, vari­ety and prac­tice, and that exer­cis­ing our brain can influ­ence the gen­er­a­tion of new neu­rons and their con­nec­tions. Brain exer­cise is being rec­og­nized, there­fore, as a crit­i­cal pil­lar of brain health, together with nutri­tion, phys­i­cal exer­cise and stress management.

Pre­vi­ous beliefs about our brain and how it works have been proven false. Some beliefs that have been debunked include claims that adult brains can not cre­ate new neu­rons (shown to be false by Berke­ley sci­en­tists Mar­ian Dia­mond and Mark Rosen­zweig, and Salk Institute’s Fred Gage), notions that work­ing mem­ory has a max­i­mum limit of 6 or 7 items (debunked by Karolin­ska Insti­tute Torkel Kling­berg), and assump­tions that the brain’s basic processes can not be reor­ga­nized by repeated prac­tice (UCSF’s Drs. Paula Tal­lal and Michael Merzenich). The “men­tal mus­cles” we can train include atten­tion, stress and emo­tional man­age­ment, mem­ory, visual/ spa­tial, audi­tory processes and lan­guage, motor coor­di­na­tion and exec­u­tive func­tions like plan­ning and problem-solving.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion is impor­tant if done in the right sup­port­ive and engag­ing envi­ron­ment. Stanford’s Robert Sapol­sky has proven that chronic stress and cor­ti­cal inhi­bi­tion, which may be aggra­vated due to imposed men­tal stim­u­la­tion, may prove coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Hav­ing the right moti­va­tion is essential.

A sur­pris­ing and promis­ing area of sci­en­tific inquiry is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduc­tion (MBSR). An increas­ing num­ber of neu­ro­sci­en­tists (such as Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin-Madison’s Richard David­son) are inves­ti­gat­ing the abil­ity of trained med­i­ta­tors to develop and sus­tain atten­tion and visu­al­iza­tions and to work pos­i­tively with pow­er­ful emo­tional states and stress through the directed men­tal processes of med­i­ta­tion practices.

And now, some keywords:

Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram: struc­tured set of brain exer­cises, usu­ally computer-based, designed to train spe­cific brain areas and processes in tar­geted ways.

Chronic Stress: ongo­ing, long-term stress, which blocks the for­ma­tion of new neu­rons and Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Fitness Program 2.0, MindFit, and much more on Brain Training

Let’s quickly review 4 recent arti­cles in both “Times” news­pa­pers: the New York Times and the UK-based Times, on brain fit­ness and a cou­ple of programs. 

1) Cal­is­then­ics for the Older Mind, on the Home Com­puter: good overview of one of the grow­ing areas for cog­ni­tive train­ing, “healthy aging”.emWave for Stress Management

  • Quotes:
  • - “In the past year, some half-dozen pro­grams, with names like Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram 2.0, Mind­Fit and Brain Age2, have aimed at aging con­sumers eager to keep their men­tal edge. Read the rest of this entry »

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