Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Our culture seems obsessed with violent sports…Don’t mess with a brain!”

Ques­tion by Janet:
Given the grow­ing con­cern about sports-related con­cus­sions, what do you think schools should be doing? abol­ish or severely reduce var­sity teams? spon­sor only “safe” sports? Is there research on how con­cus­sions may inter­fere with learn­ing and aca­d­e­mic results?

Robert_Sylwester

Answer by Dr. Robert Syl­wester:
I don’t know how to respond respon­si­bly to your ques­tion, except that I share what I think are your con­cerns. Our cul­ture seems obsessed with vio­lent sports (and per­haps mak­ing sports that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily vio­lent into becom­ing vio­lent). To be frank, as much as I enjoy watch­ing sports, I’m pleased that none of our grand­chil­dren have got­ten into any of the more vio­lent school-level sports.

I expect that changes will occur, and they’e over­due. Don’t mess with a brain!

> Read full tran­script of Q&A with Prof. Syl­wester
> Read full Q&A series
> Read The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fitness

Brain Study Links Emotional Self-Regulation and Math Performance

Brain Study Points to Poten­tial Treat­ments for Math Anx­i­ety (Edu­ca­tion Week):

  • The study, pub­lished this morn­ing in the jour­nal Cere­bral Cor­tex, is a con­tin­u­a­tion of work on highly math-anxious peo­ple being con­ducted by Sian L. Beilock, asso­ciate psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago, and doc­toral can­di­date Ian M. Lyons. In prior research, Beilock has found that just the thought of doing math prob­lems can trig­ger stress responses in peo­ple with math anx­i­ety, and adult teach­ers can pass their trep­i­da­tion about math on to their stu­dents.” Read the rest of this entry »

SharpBrains Council Monthly Insights: How will we assess, enhance and repair cognition across the lifespan?

When you think of how the PC has altered the fab­ric of soci­ety, per­mit­ting instant access to infor­ma­tion and automat­ing processes beyond our wildest dreams, it is instruc­tive to con­sider that much of this progress was dri­ven by Moore’s law. Halv­ing the size of semi­con­duc­tor every 18 months catal­ysed an expo­nen­tial accel­er­a­tion in performance.

Why is this story rel­e­vant to mod­ern neu­ro­science and the work­ings of the brain? Because trans­for­ma­tive tech­no­log­i­cal progress arises out of choice and the actions of indi­vid­u­als who see poten­tial for change, and we may well be on the verge of such progress. Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age (Frontiers in Neuroscience article!)

(Editor’s note: this arti­cle belongs to the excel­lent May 2009 spe­cial issue on Aug­ment­ing Frontiers in Neuroscience Augmenting CognitionCog­ni­tion of sci­en­tific jour­nal Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science, Vol­ume 3, Issue 1. You can order this issue, for 50 euros, here. Highly rec­om­mended for sci­en­tists and tech­ni­cal read­ers inter­ested in the sci­ence. This arti­cle, an indus­try overview, is repro­duced here with autho­riza­tion by the Fron­tiers Research Foun­da­tion).

Prepar­ing Soci­ety for the Cog­ni­tive Age

- By Alvaro Fernandez

Ground­break­ing cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science research has occurred over the last 20 years — with­out par­al­lel growth of con­sumer aware­ness and appro­pri­ate pro­fes­sional dis­sem­i­na­tion. “Cog­ni­tion” remains an elu­sive con­cept with unclear impli­ca­tions out­side the research community.

Ear­lier this year, I pre­sented a talk to health care pro­fes­sion­als at the New York Acad­emy of Med­i­cine, titled “Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware: Help­ing Con­sumers Sep­a­rate Hope from Hype”. I explained what com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive assess­ment and train­ing tools can do (assess/enhance spe­cific cog­ni­tive func­tions), what they can­not do (reduce one’s “brain age”) and the cur­rent uncer­tain­ties about what they can do (i.e., delay Alzheimer’s symp­toms). At the same sym­po­sium, Dr. Gary Kennedy, Direc­tor of Geri­atric Psy­chi­a­try at Mon­te­fiore Med­ical Cen­ter, pro­vided guid­ance on why and how to screen for exec­u­tive func­tion deficits in the con­text of dementia.

I could per­ceive two emerg­ing trends at the event: 1) “Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion” research is most com­monly framed as a health­care, often phar­ma­co­log­i­cal topic, with the tra­di­tional cog­ni­tive bias in med­i­cine of focus­ing on detec­tion and treat­ment of dis­ease, 2) In addi­tion, there is a grow­ing inter­est in non-invasive enhance­ment options and over­all lifestyle issues. Research find­ings in Aug­ment­ing Cog­ni­tion are only just begin­ning to reach the main­stream mar­ket­place, mostly through health­care chan­nels. The oppor­tu­nity is immense, but we will need to ensure the mar­ket­place matures in a ratio­nal and sus­tain­able man­ner, both through health­care and non-healthcare channels.

In Jan­u­ary 2009, we polled the 21,000 sub­scribers of Sharp­Brains’ mar­ket research eNewslet­ter to iden­tify atti­tudes and behav­iors towards the “brain fit­ness” field (a term we chose in 2006 based on a num­ber of con­sumer sur­veys and focus groups to con­nect with a wider audi­ence). Over 2,000 decision-makers and early adopters responded to the survey.

One of the key ques­tions we asked was, “What is the most impor­tant prob­lem you see in the brain fit­ness field and how do you think it can be solved?”. Some exam­ples of the sur­vey free text answers are quoted here, together with my suggestions.

Most impor­tant prob­lems in the brain fit­ness field

Pub­lic aware­ness (39%): “To get peo­ple to under­stand that hered­ity alone does not decide brain func­tion­ing”. We need to ramp up efforts to build pub­lic aware­ness and enthu­si­asm about brain research, includ­ing estab­lish­ing clear links to daily liv­ing. We can col­lab­o­rate with ini­tia­tives such as the Dana Foundation’s Brain Aware­ness Week and use the recent “Neu­ro­science Core Con­cepts” mate­ri­als devel­oped by the Soci­ety for Neu­ro­science to give talks at schools, libraries and workplaces.

Claims (21%): “The lack of stan­dards and clear def­i­n­i­tions is very con­fus­ing, and Read the rest of this entry »

Can You Outsmart Your Genes? An Interview with Author Richard Nisbett

(Editor’s Note: inter­view­ing Richard Nis­bett, author of the excel­lent Intelligence and How to Get Itrecent book Intel­li­gence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cul­tures Count, was in our To Do list. We then found that fel­low blog­ger David DiS­alvo was faster than we were and did a great job, so here we bring you David’s inter­view and take.)

While the debate over intel­li­gence rages on many fronts, the bat­tle over the impor­tance of hered­ity rages loud­est. It’s easy to see why. If the camp that argues intel­li­gence is 75 to 85 per­cent genet­i­cally deter­mined is cor­rect, then we’re faced with some tough ques­tions about the role of edu­ca­tion. If intel­li­gence is improved very lit­tle by schools, and if the IQ of the major­ity of the pop­u­la­tion will remain rel­a­tively unchanged no mat­ter how well schools per­form, then should school reform really be a priority?

More to the point, if our genes largely deter­mine our IQ, which in turn under­lies our per­for­mance through­out our lives, then what is the role of school? For some in this debate the answer to that ques­tion is sim­ply, “to be the best you can be.” But that seems lit­tle com­fort for those who aspire to “be” more than what their IQ cat­e­gory pre­dicts they will.

Those on the other side of this debate ques­tion whether hered­ity plays as big a role as the strong hered­i­tar­i­ans claim. And for the role it does play, they ques­tion whether hered­itabil­ity implies immutabil­ity. Hered­ity of height, for exam­ple, is about 90 per­cent, and yet aver­age height in sev­eral pop­u­la­tions around the world has been steadily increas­ing due to non-genetic influ­ences, like nutri­tion. If such a strong hered­i­tary trait can be rad­i­cally altered by envi­ron­men­tal factors–and height is but one exam­ple of this–then why is intel­li­gence different?

It is not, argues the camp that might best be described as intel­li­gence opti­mists. For them, the pes­simism that col­ors the strong hered­i­tar­ian posi­tion isn’t only dis­cour­ag­ing, it’s dan­ger­ous. Too much is hang­ing in the bal­ance for pes­simism about the poten­tial of our chil­dren to prevail.

Richard NisbettRichard Nis­bett is a cham­pion of the intel­li­gence opti­mist camp, and with his lat­est book, Intel­li­gence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cul­tures Count , he has emerged as the most per­sua­sive voice mar­shalling evi­dence to dis­prove the heredity-is-destiny argu­ment. Intel­lec­tual advance­ment, Nis­bett argues, is not the result of hard­wired genetic codes, but the province of con­trol­lable fac­tors like schools and social environments–and as such, improv­ing these fac­tors is cru­cially impor­tant. Read the rest of this entry »

8 Tips To Remember What You Read

Horizontal Stacked BooksDespite tele­vi­sion, cell phones, and Twit­ter, tra­di­tional read­ing is still an impor­tant skill. Whether it is school text­books, mag­a­zines, or reg­u­lar books, peo­ple still read, though not as much as they used to. One rea­son that many peo­ple don’t read much is that they don’t read well. For them, it is slow, hard work and they don’t remem­ber as much as they should. Stu­dents, for example,may have to read some­thing sev­eral times before they under­stand and remem­ber what they read.

Why? You would think that schools teach kids how to read well. Schools do try. I work with middle-school teach­ers and they tell me that many stu­dents are 2–3 years behind grade level in read­ing pro­fi­ciency. No doubt, tele­vi­sion, cell phones, and the Web are major con­trib­u­tors to this prob­lem, which will appar­ently get worse if we don’t empha­size and improve read­ing instruction.

Some of the blame can be placed on the fads in read­ing teach­ing, such as phon­ics and “whole lan­guage,” which some­times are pro­moted by zealots who don’t respect the need for both approaches. Much of the blame for poor read­ing skills can be laid at the feet of par­ents who set poor exam­ples and, of course, on the young­sters who are too lazy to learn how to read well.

For all those who missed out on good read­ing skills, it is not too late. I sum­ma­rize below what I think it takes to read with good speed and comprehension.

  1. Read with a purpose.
  2. Skim first.
  3. Get the read­ing mechan­ics right.
  4. Be judi­cious in high­light­ing and note taking.
  5. Think in pictures.
  6. Rehearse as you go along.
  7. Stay within your atten­tion span and work to increase that span.
  8. Rehearse again soon.

1) Know Your Purpose

Every­one should have a pur­pose for their read­ing and think about how that pur­pose is being ful­filled dur­ing the actual read­ing. The advan­tage for remem­ber­ing is that check­ing con­tin­u­ously for how the pur­pose is being ful­filled helps the reader to stay on task, to focus on the more rel­e­vant parts of the text, and to rehearse con­tin­u­ously as one reads. This also saves time and effort because rel­e­vant items are most attended.

Iden­ti­fy­ing the pur­pose should be easy if you freely choose what to read. Just ask your­self, “Why am I read­ing this?” If it is to be enter­tained or pass the time, then there is not much prob­lem. But myr­iad other rea­sons could apply, such as:

  • to under­stand a cer­tain group of peo­ple, such as Mus­lims, Jews, Hin­dus, etc.
  • to crys­tal­lize your polit­i­cal posi­tion, such as why a given gov­ern­ment pol­icy should be opposed.
  • to develop an informed plan or proposal.
  • to sat­isfy a require­ment of an aca­d­e­mic course or other assigned reading.

Many of us have read­ings assigned to us, as in a school envi­ron­ment. Or the boss may hand us a man­ual and say Read the rest of this entry »

From Distress to De-Stress: helping anxious, worried kids (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, in this article’s first part, we dis­cussed the impor­tance of actu­ally teach­ing chil­dren how to get them­selves into a phys­i­cal state of being relaxed, explored sev­eral sug­ges­tions I hope you found useful.

Let’s con­tinue.

Teach­ers can help stu­dent over­come stress by teach­ing them to iden­tify the imped­i­ments they might encounter in doing a cer­tain task.

The teacher can ask:

What’s going to get in the way of you doing this work?
He or she may have to jump-start the stu­dents think­ing by sug­gest­ing such things as:
– com­pet­ing events (fam­ily activ­i­ties, friends call, IM-ing, new video game, etc.)
– lack of ade­quate place to study
– inad­e­quate prior prepa­ra­tion or skills
– a neg­a­tive atti­tude (this is not nec­es­sary, I can’t do math, I’ll never need to know this, etc).
– health fac­tors (I’m sick; I’m tired)

Con­versely, teach­ers have to teach stu­dents to iden­tify the enhancers; What’s going to make it more likely that you will do this, and do this well?
(exam­ples)
– I have con­fi­dence in my abil­ity
– I feel com­pe­tent in this skill
– I am com­mit­ted to learn­ing this because: I have the nec­es­sary resources to com­plete this task, such as mate­ri­als, sources of infor­ma­tion, peo­ple sup­ports; par­ents, tutor, other kids

Teach­ers can turn dis­tress into de-stress by using the Lan­guage of Success

The key is to de-emphasize PRAISE and empha­size SELF-APPRAISAL.

Teach­ers can encour­age self-evaluation by Read the rest of this entry »

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