Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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To Harness Neuroplasticity, Start with Enthusiasm

We are the architects and builders of our own brains.

For millennia, however, we were oblivious to our enormous creative capabilities. We had no idea that our brains were changing in response to our actions and attitudes, every day of our lives. So we unconsciously and randomly shaped our brains and our latter years because we believed we had an immutable brain that was at the mercy of our genes.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Brain on Music: We need to do more than listen

.What’s The Size Of The Mozart Effect? The Jury Is In.

In a now well-known 1993 paper in Nature called “Music and spatial task performance”, Frances H. Rauscher and her colleagues report that participants who were exposed to the first movement “allegro con spirito” of the Mozart Sonata KV 448 for Two Pianos in D major scored significantly higher on standardized tests of abstract/spatial reasoning ability than those who were instructed to relax or those who just sat there in silence.

Even though the participants in Rauscher et al.’s study were college students, and they didn’t administer a full battery of cognitive tests to properly assess general intelligence, their findings translated into “play Mozart to your children and they will grow up smart.” A cottage industry was born. Read the rest of this entry »

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?)

The growing field of cognitive training (one of the tools for brain fitness) can appear very confusing as the media keeps reporting contradictory claims. These claims are often based on press releases, without a deeper evaluation of the scientific evidence.

Let’s take a couple of recent examples, in successive days:

“It doesn’t work!” type of headline:
Reuters (Feb. 10, 2009)  Formal brain exercise won’t help healthy seniors: research
Healthy older people shouldn’t bother spending money on computer games and websites promising to ward off mental decline, the author of a review of scientific evidence for the benefits of these “brain exercise” programs says.

It works! type of headline:
ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2009)  “Computer Exercises Improve Memory And Attention, Study Suggests”
According to the researchers, participants who used the Brain Fitness Program also scored as well as those ten years younger, on average, on memory and attention tests for which they did not train.

So, does structured brain exercise / cognitive training work or not?

The problem may in fact reside in asking this very question in the first place, as Alvaro pointed out a while ago in his article Alzheimer’s Disease: too serious to play with headlines.

We need a more nuanced set of questions.

Why? Because:
1. Cognition is made of several different abilities (working memory, attention, executive functions such as decision-making, etc)
2. Available training programs do not all train the same abilities
3. Users of training programs do not all have the same needs or goals
4. We need to differentiate between enhancing cognitive functions and delaying the onset of cognitive deficits such as Alzheimer’s.

Let’s illustrate these points, by Read the rest of this entry »

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