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 »

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