Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Is brain fitness scientifically proven to improve cognitive skills?

Here is the fourth install­ment of ques­tions from Brain Fit­ness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Ques­tions. To down­load the com­plete ver­sion, please click here.

Ques­tion:Brain Working Out
Is brain fit­ness sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly proven to improve cog­ni­tive skills?

Key Points:

  • Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy and the under­stand­ing of brain mech­a­nisms of cog­ni­tion took off in 1861 when Pierre-Paul Bro­ca pub­lished a paper on brain local­iza­tion of lan­guage.
  • Cog­ni­tive train­ing and behav­ioral ther­a­py has been in use in hos­pi­tals and the mil­i­tary for 40 years or more.

Answer:
Thanks to new neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, said to be “as impor­tant for neu­ro­science as tele­scopes were for astron­o­my,” and oth­er state-of-the-art research meth­ods, neu­ro­sci­en­tists are find­ing 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 can­not cre­ate new neu­rons (proven false by Prince­ton sci­en­tist Dr. Eliz­a­beth Gould, UC-Berke­ley sci­en­tists Dr. Mar­i­an Dia­mond and Dr. Mark Rosen­zweig, and Salk Institute’s Dr. 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 skills, audi­to­ry process­es and lan­guage, motor coor­di­na­tion, and exec­u­tive func­tions like plan­ning and prob­lem solv­ing.

While there is much basic research around neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty, cog­ni­tive reserve, cog­ni­tive train­ing, and neu­ro­feed­back, that research alone is not enough to show the effect of spe­cif­ic brain fit­ness pro­grams. To be use­ful, the spe­cif­ic skills exer­cised in brain fit­ness pro­grams need to trans­fer into our over­all cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties and enable you to have a bet­ter mem­o­ry, con­cen­tra­tion, deci­sion-mak­ing, plan­ning skills, reac­tion time, capac­i­ty to learn, abil­i­ty to man­age stress, or oth­er men­tal abil­i­ties.

The sci­en­tists who have cre­at­ed the pro­grams we fea­ture at Sharp­Brains have pub­lished exten­sive stud­ies show­ing the effec­tive­ness of their prod­ucts.

Fur­ther Read­ing

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