Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Not all mental activity is created equal (quick brain teaser)

Quick! Say aloud what color you see in every word — DON”T just read each word.


Not easy, right! The Stroop test is used in neuropsychological evaluations to measure mental vitality and flexibility, since performing well requires strong attention and self-regulation capability. We used this little brain test/ teaser in our online course this Wednesday to make the point that not all mental activity is created  equal, which is why the “Use It or Lose It”, while a great starting point, must be expanded to provide better guidelines on the How to use it.

You can enjoy many other Mind and Brain Teasers.

Research: How Exercise Benefits the Brain

How Exercise Benefits the Brain (NewYork Times):

“To learn more about how exercise affects the brain, scientists in Ireland recently asked a group of sedentary male college students to take part in a memory test followed by strenuous exercise.

First, the young men watched a rapid-fire lineup of photos with the faces and names of strangers. After a break, they tried to recall the names they had just seen as the photos again zipped across a computer screen. Read the rest of this entry »

Mea­sure Your Men­tal Speed and Flex­i­bil­ity with this Interactive Stroop Test

Here is a fun and interactive version of the famous Stroop test. This test is used in neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal eval­u­a­tions to mea­sure men­tal speed and flex­i­bil­ity, the hallmarks of executive functions. Performing well on the test requires strong atten­tion and self-regulation.

Your job is to name the colors of the words. Do NOT read the words but the color of the ink used to write the words. For example, if the word “GREEN” is printed in a red color, you should say “RED” (and refrain from saying “GREEN”!)

Speed matters so try to say the colors as fast as you can. A nice feature here: You will be able to record your reaction times.

Ready. Set. GO


More brain teaser games:

Top Ten Brain Teasers and Games for Kids and Adults alike

Over the last Hourglass four years we have posted over 100 puzzles, teasers, riddles, illusions, and every form of mental exercise that both challenges and enlightens our minds.

Below you have a selection of the ten most popular ones among SharpBrains readers. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

Training Attention and Emotional Self-Regulation – Interview with Michael Posner

(Editor’s Note: this is one of the 20 interviews included in the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age)

Michael I. Posner is a prominent scientist in the field of cognitive neuroscience. He is currently an emeritus professor of neuroscience at the University of Oregon (DepartmentMichael Posner of Psychology, Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences). In August 2008, the International Union of Psychological Science made him the first recipient of the Dogan Prize “in recognition of a contribution that represents a major advance in psychology by a scholar or team of scholars of high international reputation.”

Dr. Posner, many thanks for your time today. I really enjoyed the James Arthur Lecture monograph on Evolution and Development of Self-Regulation that you delivered last year. Could you provide a summary of the research you presented?

I would emphasize that we human beings can regulate our thoughts, emotions, and actions to a greater degree than other primates. For example, we can choose to pass up an immediate reward for a larger, delayed reward.

We can plan ahead, resist distractions, be goal-oriented. These human characteristics appear to depend upon what we often call “self-regulation.” What is exciting these days is that progress in neuroimaging and in genetics make it possible to think about self-regulation in terms of specific brain-based networks.

Can you explain what self-regulation is?

All parents have seen this in their kids. Parents can see the remarkable transformation as their children develop the ability to regulate emotions and to persist with goals in the face of distractions. That ability is usually labeled ‚ self-regulation.

The other main area of your research is attention. Can you explain the brain-basis for what we usually call “attention”?

I have been interested in how the attention system develops in infancy and early childhood.

One of our major findings, thanks to neuroimaging, is that there is not one single “attention”, but three separate functions of attention with three separate underlying brain networks: alerting, orienting, and executive attention. Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Teasers to Exercise Our Minds: Our Top Five

Here you have 4 of the most popular brain games in our blog, plus a bonus stress management tip.

Brain Teaser 1. In which direction is the bus pictured below traveling?


Read the rest of this entry »

10 Highlights from the 2007 Aspen Health Forum

AspenThe Aspen Health Forum gathered an impressive group of around 250 people to discuss the most pressing issues in Health and Medical Science (check out the Program and the Speakers bios), on October 3-6th. It was the first conference, by the way, where I have heard a speaker say: “I resuscitated a woman yesterday”.

Key highlights and trends:

1- Global health problems require the attention of the scientific community. Richard Klausner encouraged the scientific community to focus on Global Problems: maternal mortality rates, HIV/ AIDS, nutrition, cancer, clean water.  Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader, added to that list the increasing epidemic risks of global zootic diseases (transmitted between humans and animals), supported by 2 interesting data points: at any one moment, there are 500,000 people flying worldwide; in a year, airlines transport the equivalent of 2 billion passengers.

2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ireland, a Catholic country. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ideology kills..we need more empathy with reality, and to work with local women in those countries who need things like female condoms.” She was implicitly criticizing the large budget devoted to unrealistic abstinence programs. This session included a fascinating exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audience to defend the role of US aid, explaining how 60% of retroviral drugs in African countries have been funded by the American taxpayer, highlighting President Bush’s courage to make HIV/AIDS a top agenda item in many developing countries, and criticizing other countries for not doing enough. Which made Nobel Prize Laureate Peter Agre, also in the audience, stand up and encourage the US to really step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a number of European countries do, instead of 0.1%.

3- Where is the new “Sputnik”?: Basic science is crucial for innovation and for economic growth, but it is often underappreciated. Scientists are not “nerds”, as sometimes they are portrayed in popular culture, but people with a deep curiosity and drive to solve a Big problem. Many of the speakers had been inspired by the Sputnik and the Apollo missions to become scientists, at a time when the profession was considered cool. Two Nobel Prize Laureates (Peter Agre, Michael Bishop), talked about their lives and careers trying to demystify what it takes to be a scientist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grateful to the taxpayers dollars that funded their research, and insist we must do a better job at explaining the Sputnikscientific process to society at large. Both are proud of having attended small liberal arts colleges, and having evolved from there, fueled by their great curiosity and unpredictable, serendipitous paths, into launching new scientific and medical fields.  Bishop listed a number of times where he made decisions that were considered “career suicide” by mentors and colleagues, and mentioned “I was confused” around 15 times in 15 minutes…down to earth and inspiring.

4- We need a true Health Care Culture: Mark Ganz summarized it best by explaining how his health provider group improved care when they redefined themselves from “we are 7,000 employees” to “we are a 3 million strong community”, moving from Read the rest of this entry »

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