Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Exercise your brain at these events

Here are the dates and loca­tions of some upcom­ing events where I will be pre­sent­ing. Please intro­duce your­self if you are attending!

» Sep­tem­ber 4-5th, San Fran­cisco, CA: sev­eral Brain Health Pro­mo­tion ses­sions, at the Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging conference.

» Octo­ber 9th, Van­cou­ver, Canada: Exer­cis­ing Our Brains 101 and Nav­i­gat­ing The Brain Fit­ness Maze, at the British Colum­bia Seniors Liv­ing Asso­ci­a­tion annual conference.

» Octo­ber 11th, San Jose, CA: The Sci­ence and Prac­tice of Brain Fit­ness, at San Jose State University’s Osher Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute. (Infor­ma­tion here).

» Octo­ber 23rd, Pocatello, Idaho: Cog­ni­tive and Emo­tional Train­ing for Healthy Aging, at the Idaho Con­fer­ence on Health Care. (Infor­ma­tion here).

» Novem­ber 1st, Berke­ley, CA: The Sci­ence and Prac­tice of Brain Fit­ness, at UC-Berkeley’s Osher Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute. (Infor­ma­tion here).

» Novem­ber 7-9th, Dubai: Global Agenda Coun­cils Inau­gural Sum­mit in Dubai, orga­nized by the World Eco­nomic Forum. (Infor­ma­tion here).

» Novem­ber 17th, New York City: The Emerg­ing Brain Fit­ness Field: Research and Impli­ca­tions, at New York Pub­lic Library.

» Decem­ber 5th, San Anto­nio, Texas: The Emerg­ing Brain Fit­ness Field: Overview of Research and Tools, at the Inter­na­tional Coun­cil on Active Aging con­fer­ence. (Infor­ma­tion here).

As always, I will share the main take-aways via this blog. I hope to meet some of you down the road!

Cognitive Fitness @ UC-Berkeley Osher Lifelong Learning Institute

Quick post for my UC-Berkeley OLLI stu­dents: here are the links I promised.

- Col­lec­tion of 50 Brain Teasers.

- Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series includ­ing in-depth notes of inter­views with lead­ing sci­en­tists and practitioners.

- Build Your Cog­ni­tive Reserve-Yaakov Stern: which talks about the Cog­ni­tive Reserve and Alzheimer’s symp­toms, and includes a great clip on the famous “nun study”.

- Arti­cles and Papers: a col­lec­tion of good read­ing materials.

- Books: the selec­tion of books we discussed.

- YouTube Chan­nel: some clips you will enjoy to refresh your class memories.

Enjoy!

 

Brain Wellness: Train Your Brain to Be Happier

I am delighted to par­tic­i­pate in LifeTwo’s “How to be Hap­pier” week with this post. Hap­pi­ness is still largely unchar­tered ter­ri­tory for neu­ro­science. It sounds like a hid­den, elu­sive El Dorado. How­ever, once one fol­lows pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy research and Harvard’s Dr. Ben-Shahar’s advice, “The ques­tion should not be whether you are happy but what you can do to become hap­pier”, the hap­pi­ness quest starts to become more tan­gi­ble and work­able accord­ing to lat­est neu­ro­science research.

We are now going to explore the four key con­cepts of Dr. Ben-Shahar’s state­ment — 1) “you”, 2) “can”, 3) “do”, and 4) “hap­pier” — from a neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal perspective.

1) Who is “you”? Accord­ing to lat­est sci­en­tific under­stand­ing, what we expe­ri­ence as “mind”, our Frontal Lobesaware­ness, emerges from the phys­i­cal brain. So, if we want to refine our minds, we bet­ter start by under­stand­ing and train­ing our brains. A very impor­tant real­ity to appre­ci­ate: each brain is unique, since it reflects our unique life­time expe­ri­ences. Sci­en­tists have already shown how even adult brains retain a sig­nif­i­cant abil­ity to con­tin­u­ally gen­er­ate new neu­rons and lit­er­ally rewire them­selves. So, each of us is unique, with our own aspi­ra­tions, emo­tional pref­er­ences, capac­i­ties, and each of us in con­tin­u­ally in flux. A pow­er­ful con­cept to remind our­selves: “you” can become hap­pier means that “you” are the only per­son who can take action and eval­u­ate what works for “you”. And “you” means the mind that emerges from your own, very per­sonal, unique, and con­stantly evolv­ing, brain. Which only “you” can train.

2) Why the use of “can”? Well, this reminds me a great quote by Span­ish neu­ro­sci­en­tist San­ti­ago Ramon y Cajal, who said that “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculp­tor of his own brain”. Each of us has immense poten­tial. How­ever, in the same way that Michaelangelo’s David didn’t spon­ta­neously appear out-of-the-blue one day, becom­ing hap­pier requires atten­tion, inten­tion, and actual practice.

Atten­tion: Every sec­ond, you choose what to pay atten­tion to. You can focus on the neg­a­tive and thereby train your brain to focus on the neg­a­tive. You can Read the rest of this entry »

carnival of the capitalists with a brain– September 17, 2007

                

Wel­come to the Sep­tem­ber 17, 2007 edi­tion of car­ni­val of the capitalists.

First, a puzzle. Why do we have the brains we have? specif­i­cally, why do humans have pro­por­tion­ally big­ger and bet­ter con­nected frontal lobes (the blue area behind our foreheads) than any other species? The answer: to be able to learn and adapt to chang­ing envi­ron­ments dur­ing our life­time. Neu­ro­sci­en­tists say that the frontal lobes are the “CEO of the brain”, and that we need that type of frontal lobes to exer­cise our so-called “Exec­u­tive Func­tions” that enable us to 1) Under­stand our envi­ron­ments, 2) Set goals and define strate­gies to accom­plish our goals, 3) Exe­cute those strate­gies well.Frontal Lobes

Now, let’s see how all these car­ni­val con­trib­u­tors are putting their frontal lobes to good use. Given the vol­ume of sub­mis­sions received, we had to be really selec­tive. Enjoy!

 

1) Under­stand­ing our envi­ron­ment: macro­econ­omy, real estate slow­down, and lobbying.

James won­ders, “Can the Fed begin as it must to cut the tar­get rate and still avoid Tim’s slip­pery slope? I think so, and here’s how.”

Ian presents a force­ful case that No, Greenspan Doesn’t Get To Reha­bil­i­tate His Rep­u­ta­tion, at Fire­doglake. Very timely post, given that Greenspan is releas­ing his book today. 

The recent sub-prime mort­gage fiasco and its effect on our invest­ments prompted us to recon­sider our portfolio’s risk tol­er­ance capa­bil­ity”, says FIRE Finance, out­lin­ing these Invest­ment Risks at a Glance. Along sim­i­lar lines, we can read that “I am not hop­ing for the mar­ket to get worse. I just know it will, because that is the nature of mar­ket cycles” at Is The Hous­ing Cri­sis and Stock Mar­ket Decline Bad Enough Yet?, by My Wealth Builder.

If you won­der what may have con­tributed to the real estate mess grow­ing so big, you may enjoy read­ing Pork: Wha’ss On The Bar­beque In Con­gress Is Your Future. The Ago­nist says: “In the United States today, the sim­plest, eas­i­est and safest way to make money is to Read the rest of this entry »

Executive Functions and Google/ Microsoft Brain Teasers

Inter­est­ing arti­cle: Want a job at Google? Try these brain­teasers first (CNN)

Quote: “Seem­ingly ran­dom ques­tions like these have become com­mon­place in Sil­i­con Val­ley and other tech out­posts, where com­pa­nies aren’t as inter­ested in the cor­rect answer to a tough ques­tion as they are in how a prospec­tive employee might try to solve it. Since busi­nesses today have to be able to react quickly to shift­ing mar­ket dynam­ics, they want more than engi­neers with high IQs and good col­lege tran­scripts. They want peo­ple who can think on their feet.”

Com­ment: What are those com­pa­nies (Google, Microsoft, Ama­zon) after? Employ­ees with good Exec­u­tive Func­tions. You can try some of the fun teasers in the article:

1) How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?

  • About 500,000, assum­ing the bus is 50 balls high, 50 balls wide, and 200 balls long

2) You’re shrunk and trapped in a blender that will turn on in 60 sec­onds. What do you do?

Some options:

1. Use the mea­sure­ment marks to climb out

2. Try to unscrew the glass

3. Risk rid­ing out the air current

3) How much should you charge to wash all the win­dows in Seattle?

  • Assum­ing 10,000 city blocks, 600 win­dows per block, five min­utes per win­dow, and a rate of $20 per hour, about $10 million

 

PS: Enjoy these 50 brain teasers to test your cog­ni­tive abil­ity. Free, and fun for adults of any age!

 

Top Ten Tips for Women Who Lead Men

Thinking menEllen recently wrote a nice post titled Top Ten Tips for Men Who Lead Women, and asked for vol­un­teers to offer a com­ple­men­tary per­spec­tive. I hope you enjoy!

  1. We men know we are hard to lead, and that can be stress­ful for you and for us. You should know that stress affects short term mem­ory, so it is impor­tant to be able to man­age stress well, with med­i­ta­tion or other meth­ods. Check here your level of stress to see how much this point applies to you. Please remem­ber, laugh­ing is good for your brain.
  2. Don’t think too much–we don’t. If we do, we try to find ways to self-talk us out of that uncom­fort­able state.
  3. Please remem­ber our hum­ble ori­gins. We are tool-using ani­mals, which is why we like play­ing with all kinds of toys, from a car to that blackberry.
  4. When we are stub­born, you are enti­tled to remind us that even apes can learn–if you help us see the point. Show us that change is pos­si­ble at any age. Believe it or not, we can lis­ten.
  5. Espe­cially if we can find com­mon ground: what about chat­ting about sports psy­chol­ogy?.
  6. Please moti­vate us to lis­ten and be open minded to learn with wise words. If that doesn’t work, please per­se­vere with nice words. Please don’t ever say that we are worse than pink dol­phins–if we feel attacked, we’ll just disengage.
  7. Some­times we don’t coop­er­ate enough?. Please give us time for our brains to fully evolve, we have been try­ing for a while!
  8. You can help us grow. For the next lead­er­ship work­shop, buy us copies of the Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain book. You may think we don’t need this… but at our core we really want to get bet­ter at Grat­i­tude and Altru­ism. We want to be able to play with the ulti­mate toy: our genes!
  9. If that book is sold out, we could also ben­e­fit from read­ing Damasio’s Descartes Error and dis­cover how emo­tions are impor­tant for good decision-making. Or help us improve our abil­ity to read emo­tional mes­sages. As long as we believe we can some­how ben­e­fit from it, we’ll try!
  10. If you lead some­one with Bill Gates-like Frontal Lobes, con­grat­u­late him for his brain. If you don’t, encour­age him to fol­low track. Please be patient

Now, any tak­ers for Top Ten Tips for Women Who Lead Women or Men Who Lead Men?

Bill Gates Harvard commencement speech (and his Frontal Lobes)

Bill Gates deliv­ered a very inspir­ing com­mence­ment speech in Har­vard last week. I rec­om­mend read­ing the full Remarks of Bill Gates and reflect­ing on his core mes­sage, which may be sum­ma­rized in its last sentence:

  • And I hope you will come back here to Har­vard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your tal­ent and your energy. I hope you will judge your­selves not on your pro­fes­sional accom­plish­ments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deep­est inequities  on how well you treated peo­ple a world away who have noth­ing in com­mon with you but their humanity.”

A note­wor­thy aspect of the speech was the dis­play of what neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists call Exec­u­tive Func­tions, which are mostly located in our Frontal Lobes–the most recent part of our brains in evo­lu­tion­ary terms, and that enable us to learn and adapt to new envi­ron­ments. What makes a “sharp brain”. You can read more about this in our post Exec­u­tive Func­tions and MacArthur “Genius Grants”.

See here Bill Gates’ advice on how to find solu­tions in com­plex environments-and how he applies a learned pat­tern to guide his actions in the field of AIDS prevention:

  • Cut­ting through com­plex­ity to find a solu­tion runs through four pre­dictable stages: deter­mine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, dis­cover the ideal tech­nol­ogy for that approach, and in the mean­time, make the smartest appli­ca­tion of the tech­nol­ogy that you already have whether it’s some­thing sophis­ti­cated, like a drug, or some­thing sim­pler, like a bednet.”
  • The AIDS epi­demic offers an exam­ple. The broad goal, of course, is to end the dis­ease. The highest-leverage approach is pre­ven­tion. The ideal tech­nol­ogy would be a vac­cine that gives life­time immu­nity with a sin­gle dose. So gov­ern­ments, drug com­pa­nies, and foun­da­tions fund vac­cine research. But their work is likely to take more than a decade, so in the mean­time, we have to work with what we have in hand and the best pre­ven­tion approach we have now is get­ting peo­ple to avoid risky behavior.”
  • Pur­su­ing that goal starts the four-step cycle again. This is the pat­tern. The cru­cial thing is to never stop think­ing and work­ing  and never do what we did with malaria and tuber­cu­lo­sis in the 20th cen­tury  which is to sur­ren­der to com­plex­ity and quit.”
  • The final step  after see­ing the prob­lem and find­ing an approach  is to mea­sure the impact of your work and share your suc­cesses and fail­ures so that oth­ers learn from your efforts.”

Cer­tainly, good advice for us too to refine our Brain Fit­ness efforts. Here you have a rel­e­vant frag­ment of my (AF)recent inter­view with Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg (EG):

AF: Please tell us more about what the Frontal Lobes are

EG: We researchers typ­i­cally call them the Exec­u­tive Brain. The pre­frontal cor­tex is young by evo­lu­tion­ary terms, and is the brain area crit­i­cal to adapt to new sit­u­a­tions, plan for the future, and self-regulate our actions in order to achieve long-term objec­tives. We could say that that part of the brain, right behind our fore­head, acts as the con­duc­tor of an orches­tra, direct­ing and inte­grat­ing the work of other parts of the brain.

I pro­vide a good exam­ple in The Exec­u­tive Brain book, where I explain how I was able to orga­nize my escape from Rus­sia into the US.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the path­ways that con­nect the frontal lobes with the rest of the brain are slow to mature, reach­ing full oper­a­tional state between ages 18 and 30, or maybe even later. And, given that they are not as hard-wired as other parts of the brain, they are typ­i­cally the first areas to decline.

Well, I’d say Mr. Gates has pretty mature and solid pathways!

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