Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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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 »

Brain Teaser: Mea­sure Your Men­tal Speed and Flexibility

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 to have fun? GO

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 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?

Schoolbus

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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