Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


European neuroscientists challenge the Human Brain Project as is

pyramidalcellsNeu­ro­sci­en­tists attack ‘off-course’ human brain project (BBC News):

Senior neu­ro­sci­en­tists have attacked the Human Brain Project, a billion-pound Euro­pean Com­mis­sion ini­tia­tive aim­ing to sim­u­late the human brain. An open let­ter to the EC from over 200 sci­en­tists says the project is “not on course”, Read the rest of this entry »

The Science of Optimism: a Conversation on ‘The Optimism Bias’ with neuroscientist Tali Sharot

I like to think of myself as a pos­i­tive and opti­mistic per­son. It seems to me to make for an eas­ier and more enjoy­able jour­ney through life. So I was intrigued when I read of neu­ro­sci­en­tist Tali Sharot’s research into the Opti­mism Bias, which has shown that despite all the bad news sto­ries we are bom­barded with on a daily basis: war, vio­lence, wrong-doing and finan­cial melt­down, the major­ity of us are opti­mistic by nature; our brains are hard­wired to be so. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing con­cept and one I had to find out more about, so I bought the book and met with Tali in her office at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don for an enthralling dis­cus­sion. Read the rest of this entry »

Peace Among Primates (Part 3)

A few days ago we pub­lished the first and sec­ond install­ments of this Peace Among Pri­mates series, by neu­ro­sci­en­tist Robert Sapol­sky. Today we pub­lish the third and final one.

Peace Among Pri­mates (Part 3)

Any­one who says peace is not part of human nature knows too lit­tle about pri­mates, includ­ing ourselves.

–By Robert M. Sapolsky

Nat­ural born killers?

Read the rest of this entry »

Peace Among Primates (Part 2)

(Editor’s Note: A few days ago we pub­lished the first install­ment of this Peace Among Pri­mates series, by neu­ro­sci­en­tist Robert Sapol­sky. Today we pub­lish the sec­ond install­ment. Next Sat­ur­day, April 19th, you can come back and read the third and final part in the series.)

Peace Among Pri­mates (Part 2)

Any­one who says peace is not part of human nature knows too lit­tle about pri­mates, includ­ing ourselves.

–By Robert M. Sapolsky

Left behind

In the early 1980s, “For­est Troop,” a group of savanna baboons I had been studying—virtually liv­ing with—for years, was going about its busi­ness in a national park in Kenya when a neigh­bor­ing baboon group had a stroke of luck: Read the rest of this entry »

Peace Among Primates– by Robert Sapolsky

(Editor’s Note: One of the most orig­i­nal minds we have ever encoun­tered is that of Robert Sapol­sky, the Stanford-based neu­ro­sci­en­tist, pri­ma­tol­o­gist, author of A Primate’s Mem­oir, and more. We highly rec­om­mend most of his books. Above all, for any­one inter­ested in brain health, this is a must read and very fun: Why Zebras Don't Have Ulcers- Robert SapolskyWhy Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide To Stress, Stress Related Dis­eases, and Cop­ing. We are hon­ored to bring you a guest arti­cle series by Robert Sapol­sky, thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine.)


Peace Among Pri­mates

Any­one who says peace is not part of human nature knows too lit­tle about pri­mates, includ­ing ourselves.

–By Robert M. Sapolsky

It used to be thought that humans were the only sav­agely vio­lent pri­mate.  “We are the only species that kills its own, nar­ra­tors intoned por­ten­tously in nature films sev­eral decades ago. That view fell by the way­side in the 1960s as it became clear that some other pri­mates kill their fel­lows aplenty. Males kill; females kill. Some use their tool­mak­ing skills to fash­ion big­ger and bet­ter cud­gels. Other pri­mates even engage in what can only be called war­fare, orga­nized, proac­tive group vio­lence directed at other populations.

Yet as field stud­ies of pri­mates expanded, what became most strik­ing was the vari­a­tion in social prac­tices across species. Yes, some pri­mate species have lives filled with vio­lence, fre­quent and var­ied. But life among oth­ers is filled with com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism, egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, and coop­er­a­tive child rear­ing. Read the rest of this entry »

Physical and Mental Exercise: Why Pitch One Against the other?

Reader Theresa Cerulli just for­warded this Let­ter to the Edi­tor that she had sent to the New York Times and went unpub­lished. The let­ter addresses the OpEd men­tioned here (pitch­ing phys­i­cal vs. men­tal exer­cise), and refers to the Cogmed work­ing mem­ory train­ing pro­gram, whose results have been stud­ied in mul­ti­ple papers pub­lished in top med­ical and sci­en­tific jour­nals.


Dear Edi­tor:

I applaud San­dra Aamodt and Sam Wang for throw­ing some cold water on the cur­rent brain fit­ness craze in their recent New York Times Mag­a­zine Opin­ion Edi­to­r­ial “Exer­cise on the Brain.”  They are cor­rect in label­ing the host of “men­tal fit­ness” prod­ucts that tar­get aging baby boomers as “inspired by sci­ence “  not to be con­fused with actu­ally proven by sci­ence. For the last 30 years, terms like “brain plas­tic­ity” have been widely and casu­ally used, cre­at­ing hype that risks drown­ing out the real break­throughs that brain researchers are mak­ing in this area.

How­ever, I would like to dis­tin­guish the “men­tal fit­ness” trend that Aamodt and Wang rightly crit­i­cize from actual researched-based cog­ni­tive train­ing such as the Cogmed pro­gram devel­oped in Swe­den. Unlike “men­tal fit­ness” pro­grams, cog­ni­tive train­ing pro­grams focus very nar­rowly on spe­cific cog­ni­tive func­tions that research has shown to be plas­tic. This is in stark con­trast to com­pil­ing a smat­ter­ing of exer­cises or activ­i­ties that are gen­er­ally thought to be Read the rest of this entry »

Marian Diamond on the brain

Quotes from a great arti­cle, Pro­fes­sor, 81, proves brain stays young:

- In 1960, Dia­mond became the first female fac­ulty mem­ber in Cal’s sci­ence depart­ment, achiev­ing full pro­fes­sor­ship in 1974. She still teaches anatomy with her 81st birth­day two weeks away.

- Dia­mond, a pro­fes­sor of anatomy at UC Berke­ley, deter­mined that the brain can stay young through stim­u­la­tion, which can be achieved through her five-point plan: diet, exer­cise, chal­lenge, new­ness and ten­der lov­ing care.

- Using her plan, how is she challenged?

- “Every stu­dent who sits in that chair,” she said, point­ing across the desk in her fifth-floor office in the Life Sci­ences Build­ing on cam­pus. “They come in here ask­ing ques­tions, and you bet­ter have the answers.”

- What new­ness, then, is in her life?

- “I have grand­chil­dren,” she said. “What could be bet­ter, decid­ing new things for them, to stim­u­late their brains.”

- She has four chil­dren, four grand­chil­dren and a hus­band, Arnold Schei­del, who teaches anatomy at UCLA. They see each other on school weekends,

- Dia­mond feels her own brain growing.

Keep read­ing here.

Related resources

A pre­vi­ous post list­ing a num­ber of her essays: Mar­ian Dia­mond and the Brain Revolution

Her great book Magic Trees of the Mind: How to Nur­ture Your Child’s Intel­li­gence, Cre­ativ­ity, and Healthy Emo­tions from Birth Through Ado­les­cence, by Berkeley’s Mar­ian Dia­mond and Janet L. Hopson.

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