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 ofÃ‚Â specific Brain FitnessÃ‚Â 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 DiamondÃ‚Â 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 falseÃ‚Â 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.