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 »

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?


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 »

May 2015 Online Course: How to Nav­i­gate Con­ven­tional and Com­ple­men­tary ADHD Treat­ments for Healthy Brain Development

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