Neuroplasticity and Lifelong Learning

What a month. We promised you with our blog title 7 months ago that we would be your “Win­dow into the Brain Fit­ness Rev­o­lu­tion”, but we could­n’t have pre­dict­ed that CBS, Time Mag­a­zine, WSJ, NYT and oth­er main­stream media would be such great allies in this neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty effort.

Spe­cial Offer: For a lim­it­ed time, you can receive a com­pli­men­ta­ry copy of our Brain Fit­ness 101 e‑Guide: Answers to your Top 25 Ques­tions, writ­ten by Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg and Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, by sub­scrib­ing to our month­ly newslet­ter. You can sub­scribe Here.

Brain Fit­ness for All

Let’s start with (Wall Street Jour­nal Sci­ence Edi­tor) Sharon Beg­ley’s arti­cle titled How The Brain Rewires Itself, based on her Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain book. She pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing overview, sum­ma­rized as

FOR DECADES, THE PREVAILING DOGMA IN neu­ro­science was that the adult human brain is essen­tial­ly immutable, hard­wired, fixed in form and func­tion, so that by the time we reach adult­hood we are pret­ty much stuck with what we have. Yes, it can cre­ate (and lose) synaps­es, the con­nec­tions between neu­rons that encode mem­o­ries and learn­ing… . The doc­trine of the unchang­ing human brain has had pro­found ram­i­fi­ca­tions. …But research in the past few years has over­thrown the dog­ma. In its place has come the real­iza­tion that the adult brain retains impres­sive pow­ers of “neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty” — the abil­i­ty to change its struc­ture and func­tion in response to expe­ri­ence. These aren’t minor tweaks either.

In short, the brain is not that dif­fer­ent from a mus­cle (bet­ter said, a group of mus­cles). It can be trained. At any age. Not with mag­i­cal pills or cures, but with focus and dis­ci­plined training.

Brain Fit­ness for Students

Just today we found out that Sharp sums in the head aim to blunt impact of TV, on a top­ic we have been dis­cussing for a few weeks with sev­er­al of our sci­en­tif­ic advi­sors. We quote:

  • Gilles de Robi­en, the Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter (in France), has ordered chil­dren to car­ry out between 15 and 20 min­utes of cal­cul men­tal (men­tal arith­metics) every day from the age of 5.
  • Mr de Robi­en moved after a report from the French Sci­ence Acad­e­my said that chil­dren who prac­ticed sums in their heads had bet­ter mem­o­ries and quick­er brains.
  • Ques­tions for the final year of French pri­ma­ry school
  • Cal­cu­late in your head
    1. Half of 48, 72, 414, 826 and 1,040
    2. Three times 41, 52, 109, 212 and 503
    3. A third of 12, 66, 93, 309, 636 and 3,024
    4. 76–9, 987–9, 456–19, 497–19 and 564–29
    5. 15x4, 25x4, 30x4, 35x4, 40x4 and 45x4
  • (The answers in the article)

What a great men­tal train­ing pro­gram, and exam­ple of the role schools can play in cul­ti­vat­ing the minds of stu­dents and devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive skills beyond the typ­i­cal focus on tra­di­tion­al aca­d­e­m­ic disciplines.

Talk about neu­ro­science applied to edu­ca­tion: we will be report­ing from a fas­ci­nat­ing con­fer­ence in San Fran­cis­co, Feb­ru­ary 15–17, titled Learn­ing & the Brain: Enhanc­ing Cog­ni­tion and Emo­tions for Learn­ing And Stu­dent Per­for­mance, spon­sored by lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties and the Dana Alliance for Brain Ini­tia­tives.

  • Speak­ers include a tru­ly “Dream Team” of neu­ro­sci­en­tists and edu­ca­tors such as Michael S. Gaz­zani­ga, William C. Mob­ley, John D.E. Gabrieli, Robert M. Sapol­sky, Robert Syl­west­er, and many many oth­ers. You can check the pro­gram here
  • The descrip­tion of the event is: “Use this explo­sion of sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge to cre­ate new, pow­er­ful par­a­digms for teach­ing and health­care. Cut­ting-edge dis­cov­er­ies in neu­ro­science may soon trans­form edu­ca­tion­al and clin­i­cal inter­ven­tions by enhanc­ing mem­o­ry and cog­ni­tion. Dis­cov­er the influ­ences of emo­tions, gen­der and the arts. Explore new ways to enhance cog­ni­tion and to assess poten­tial ben­e­fits and pit­falls of using phar­ma­col­o­gy, tech­nol­o­gy and ther­a­py to boost performance.”

The orga­niz­ers of the con­fer­ence extend­ed a very kind offer to Sharp­Brains readers.

A) The nor­mal price for the con­fer­ence is $499 before Jan­u­ary 30th, and $545 afterwards.

B) For Sharp­Brains read­ers, you can reg­is­ter at the reduced price of $475 if you do so before Feb­ru­ary 2nd. You can reg­is­ter here, mak­ing sure to write SharpBrains1 in the com­ments section

Brain Fit­ness for Seniors

A great Chica­go Tri­bune arti­cle a cou­ple of days ago, titled Seniors see improve­ment in brain-train­ing class­es, includes

  • Over the next few years, we will see these [brain health] pro­grams burst into the main­stream with great force,” pre­dict­ed Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, a clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine and co-founder of Sharp Brains, a com­pa­ny that eval­u­ates and helps mar­kets brain-fit­ness pro­grams. A grow­ing body of sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies sup­ports the trend.”
  • The major find­ing was stun­ning: Rel­a­tive­ly short train­ing reg­i­mens — 10 ses­sions of 1 to 1.5 hours each over five or six weeks — improved men­tal func­tion­ing as long as five years lat­er. Boost­er ses­sions helped advance these gains, and some peo­ple found it eas­i­er to per­form every­day tasks, such as man­ag­ing finances, after men­tal workouts.”
  • I think what this shows, con­clu­sive­ly, is that when healthy old­er peo­ple put effort into learn­ing new things, they can improve their men­tal fit­ness,” said Michael Mar­siske, a mem­ber of the research team and an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da at Gainesville. “And even if struc­tured learn­ing is rel­a­tive­ly brief, you should be able to see the ben­e­fits of that learn­ing for some time to come.”
  • Not all train­ing is alike, how­ev­er. In the ACTIVE study, each form of men­tal train­ing (for mem­o­ry, speed or rea­son­ing) affect­ed only the func­tion tar­get­ed with­out cross­ing over into oth­er realms. Train­ing results were strongest for speed of men­tal pro­cess­ing and weak­est for memory.
  • What this tells us is that spe­cif­ic brain func­tions may need dif­fer­ent types of train­ing,” said Dr. Jef­frey Elias, chief of the cog­ni­tive-aging pro­gram at the Nation­al Insti­tute on Aging, which helped fund the ACTIVE study.
  • With that in mind, researchers prob­a­bly will design com­pre­hen­sive pro­grams with mul­ti­ple types of train­ing to fore­stall age-relat­ed men­tal decline, Elias predicted.”

Brain Fit­ness for All

Stu­dents and seniors can train their brains. Which means: all the rest of us can do so, too. More and more sci­ence-based and struc­tured pro­grams will appear-now there are only a hand­ful of them. We will keep you informed in this blog and site.

Remem­ber our Spe­cial Offer: For a lim­it­ed time, you can receive a com­pli­men­ta­ry copy of our Brain Fit­ness 101 e‑Guide: Answers to your Top 25 Ques­tions, writ­ten by Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg and Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, by sub­scrib­ing to our month­ly newslet­ter. You can sub­scribe Here.


  1. Won on January 25, 2007 at 4:37

    Wow, this is a ter­rif­ic site! I’ve recent­ly start­ed up a blog on Word­Press (link above), and the info on your site is exact­ly the sort of extra infor­ma­tion I’d like to refer to and com­ment on in my blog.

  2. Alvaro on January 25, 2007 at 5:20

    Won, thanks for the nice words. I checked your blog, and am hap­py that you are help­ing bring this type of infor­ma­tion to the world of education. 

    Best luck, and see you around!

  3. Won on January 25, 2007 at 9:05

    Would it alright to copy and paste snip­pets of your posts from time to time and com­ment on them, in my blog? I find this stuff fas­ci­nat­ing, and I strong­ly believe this sort of knowl­edge is in many ways just as impor­tant as the knowl­edge stu­dents accu­mu­late in schools. I’d of course cred­it your blog as the source of infor­ma­tion. But I’ll under­stand if you don’t feel com­fort­able with it. Thanks!

  4. Alvaro on January 26, 2007 at 9:56

    We agree that cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al train­ing is as impor­tant as, and com­ple­men­tary to, the typ­i­cal aca­d­e­m­ic disciplines.

    What you pro­pose is per­fect. Feel free to bor­row up to 1–2 para­graphs, link­ing to the orig­i­nal arti­cle for peo­ple who want to learn more, and com­ment on them.

    Look­ing for­ward to see­ing your blog grow

  5. Won on January 27, 2007 at 10:58

    Thanks for the per­mis­sion! I real­ly appre­ci­ate it. I was won­der­ing, though, since I’m fair­ly new to this blog, if it’s pos­si­ble to link direct­ly to a spe­cif­ic post. Or would I have to click on the post and copy and paste the url from the address bar?

  6. Alvaro on January 27, 2007 at 12:04

    The eas­i­est way is sim­ply to copy the title of the post (it takes the embed­ded HTML too) and paste it in your post. Try it, and let me know if it works.

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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