Brain Fitness, Cultivating Cognition, and Brain Science

Chris Chat­man writes a good intro­duc­tion to what we do, in his entry Cul­ti­vat­ing Cog­ni­tion: the “Brain Fit­ness” Move­ment. I real­ly enjoy his use of the word “cul­ti­vat­ing”, since we want to help inspire a cul­tur­al change that places nur­tur­ing, exer­cis­ing, cul­ti­vat­ing, our brains and minds at the same lev­el as exer­cis­ing and train­ing our bodies.

He is as impressed as we were when we saw that “It’s notable that the effects of CogMed’s train­ing seem to trans­fer or gen­er­al­ize beyond the specifics of their train­ing par­a­digm”.

What does this mean? well, imag­ine you buy a game tomor­row. You get hooked. You spend hours and more hours play­ing. You become the world mas­ter at that game. Does that trans­late into a more “fit brain” or “fit mind”? Not nec­es­sar­i­ly. We always become bet­ter at what we train. The key is to know whether that train­ing TRANSFERS into our over­all cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties and men­tal fac­ul­ties, as mesured inde­pen­dent­ly from the game itself, and enables you to have a bet­ter improve mem­o­ry, con­cen­tra­tion, deci­sion-mak­ing, plan­ning skills, reac­tion time, capac­i­ty to learn, abil­i­ty to man­age stress, or oth­er men­tal abilities.

You can read in more depth about a cou­ple of areas he touch­es on, such as some high­lights from the clin­i­cal work and books by Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg , and an inter­view with Cogmed’s Dr. Torkel Kling­berg, the lead­ing sci­en­tist behind RoboMemo.

Chris con­cludes by say­ing that “Brain fit­ness is a field where basic research is being put direct­ly into real-world use. It’s impor­tant for both the users of these new prod­ucts and for the field as a whole that these prod­ucts are ground­ed in rig­or­ous science.”

We agree. There is much new recent basic research around Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, Cog­ni­tive Reserve, Cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion and Cog­ni­tive train­ing, Cog­ni­tive Sim­u­la­tions, Biofeed­back. Yet, that research is not enough to show the effect of spe­cif­ic Brain Fitness pro­grams. Those spe­cif­ic Brain Fit­ness Pro­grams need to be proven on their own, which is why we don’t devel­op our pro­grams from scratch but work with research insti­tu­tions and/ or affil­i­at­ed com­pa­nies world­wide who have a sol­id sci­en­tif­ic team behind, stud­ies on the spe­cif­ic impact on the inter­ven­tions, and at least hun­dreds of users who have ben­e­fit­ed from them.

For bet­ter con­text, let me know pro­vide a brief overview of the Sci­ence of Brain Fitness:

Thanks to new neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, described by Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg to be “as impor­tant for neu­ro­science as tele­scopes were for astron­o­my”, neu­ro­sci­en­tists are find­ing that the brain has a num­ber of “core capac­i­ties” and “men­tal mus­cles” that can be exer­cised through nov­el­ty, vari­ety and prac­tice, and that exer­cis­ing our brain influ­ences the gen­er­a­tion of new neu­rons and their connections.

Pre­vi­ous beliefs about our brain and how it works have been proven false. Some beliefs that have been debunked include claims that adult brains can not cre­ate new neu­rons (proven false by Berke­ley sci­en­tists Dr. Mar­i­an Dia­mond and Dr. Mark Rosen­zweig and Salk Institute’s Fred Gage), notions that work­ing mem­o­ry has a max­i­mum lim­it of 6 or 7 items (proven false by Karolin­s­ka Institute’s Dr. Torkel Kling­berg), and assump­tions that the brain’s basic process­es can not be reor­ga­nized by repeat­ed prac­tice (proven false  by UCSF’s Drs.Paula Tal­lal and Michael Merzenich).

The “men­tal mus­cles” we can train include atten­tion, stress and emo­tion­al man­age­ment, mem­o­ry, visual/ spa­tial, audi­to­ry process­es and lan­guage, motor coor­di­na­tion and exec­u­tive func­tions like plan­ning and problem-solving.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion is impor­tant if done in the right sup­port­ive and engag­ing envi­ron­ment. Stanford’s Robert Sapol­sky has proven that chron­ic stress and cor­ti­cal inhi­bi­tion, which may be aggra­vat­ed due to imposed men­tal stim­u­la­tion, may prove coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Hav­ing the right moti­va­tion is essential.

A sur­pris­ing and promis­ing area of sci­en­tif­ic inquiry is Mind­ful­ness-Based Stress Reduc­tion (MBSR). An increas­ing num­ber of neu­ro­sci­en­tists (such as UMass Med­ical School’s Jon Kabat-Zinn and Uni­ver­si­ty of Wisconsin-Madison’s Richard David­son) are inves­ti­gat­ing the abil­i­ty of trained med­i­ta­tors to devel­op and sus­tain atten­tion and visu­al­iza­tions and to work pos­i­tive­ly with pow­er­ful emo­tion­al states and stress through the direct­ed men­tal process­es of med­i­ta­tion practices.

You can find stud­ies pub­lished by those sci­en­tists at PubMed, and read a selec­tion of Arti­cles and Books.

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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