Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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 sharpbrains.com 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 »

Playing Music as a Protection Against Dementia

In a recent post we saw that music may help peo­ple with demen­tia learn new facts. This arti­cle explores another rela­tion­ship between music and demen­tia: play­ing a musi­cal instru­ment, even as an ama­teur, may pro­tect the brain later on against dementia-related damages.

Researchers had 70 peo­ple ages 60 to 83 per­form a vari­ety of tests to mea­sure visu­ospa­tial mem­ory, abil­ity to name objects, the brain’s abil­ity to adapt to new infor­ma­tion […] those who had engaged in musi­cal activ­ity for 10 years or longer scored sub­stan­tially bet­ter than those with no musi­cal activ­ity in their past.

the longer peo­ple play instru­ments, the more ben­e­fits they may derive.

All were ama­teurs who had started play­ing when they were 10 years old. Read the rest of this entry »

Music: Another Pillar of Brain Fitness?

Musi­cians’ brains are often used as mod­els of neu­ro­plas­tic­ity. Indeed, numer­ous stud­ies to date have shown that musi­cal train­ing can change the brain. Musi­cians have larger brain vol­ume in areas that are impor­tant for play­ing an instru­ment: motor, audi­tory and visuo-spatial regions.

A recent Nature Review Neu­ro­science arti­cle shows that music train­ing can ben­e­fit the brain beyond music. Specif­i­cally, musi­cians may have an advan­tage for pro­cess­ing speech in chal­leng­ing lis­ten­ing envi­ron­ments com­pared with non-musicians Read the rest of this entry »

Do we need more music education?

We recently pub­lished an arti­cle exam­in­ing the “Mozart effect” and the con­clu­sions were that there is very lit­tle evi­dence that lis­ten­ing to music does boost men­tal func­tions. How­ever learn­ing to play an instru­ment does seem to do the trick.

In this recent Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can arti­cle, the edi­tors point out that: Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Scientists Identify Links between Arts, Learning

Arts edu­ca­tion influ­ences learn­ing and other areas of cog­ni­tion and may deserve a more promi­nent place in schools, accord­ing to a wave of recent neu­ro­science research.One recent study found that chil­dren who receive music instruc­tion for just 15 months show strength­ened con­nec­tions in musi­cally rel­e­vant brain areas and per­form bet­ter on asso­ci­ated tasks, com­pared with stu­dents who do not learn an instrument.

A sep­a­rate study found that chil­dren who receive train­ing to improve their focus and atten­tion per­form bet­ter not only on atten­tion tasks but also on intel­li­gence tests. Some researchers sug­gest that arts train­ing might sim­i­larly affect a wide range of cog­ni­tive domains. Edu­ca­tors and neu­ro­sci­en­tists gath­ered recently in Bal­ti­more and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to dis­cuss the increas­ingly detailed pic­ture of how arts edu­ca­tion changes the brain, and how to trans­late that research to edu­ca­tion pol­icy and the class­room. Many par­tic­i­pants referred to the results of Dana Foundation-funded research by cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tists from seven lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties over three years, released in 2008.

Art must do some­thing to the mind and brain. What is that? How would we be able to detect that? asked Barry Gor­don, a behav­ioral neu­rol­o­gist and cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist at Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity, who spoke May 8 dur­ing the “Learn­ing and the Brain” con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “Art, I sub­mit to you with­out absolute proof, can improve the power of our minds. How­ever, this improve­ment is hard to detect.”

Study links music, brain changes

Among the sci­en­tists try­ing to detect such improve­ment, Ellen Win­ner, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Boston Col­lege, and Got­tfried Schlaug, a pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­ogy at Beth Israel Dea­coness Med­ical Cen­ter and Har­vard Med­ical School, pre­sented research at the “Learn­ing, Arts, and the Brain sum­mit May 6 in Bal­ti­more. Their work mea­sured, for the first time, changes to the brain as a result of music training.

For four years, Win­ner and Schlaug fol­lowed chil­dren ages 9 to 11, some of whom Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Learn about the 2014 SharpBrains Summit in 2 minutes

Watch Larry King’s interview

» Click HERE in the USA, or HERE else­where (opens 28-min program)

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