Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Jogging our Brains for Brain Vitality, Healthy Aging-and Intelligence!

Stroop Test

Quick: say the col­or in which each word in this graph­ic is dis­played (don’t just read the word!):

Here you have a round-up of some great recent arti­cles on mem­o­ry, aging, and cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties such as self-con­trol:

1) How to Boost Your Willpow­er (New York Times).

- “The video watch­ers were lat­er giv­en a con­cen­tra­tion test in which they were asked to iden­ti­fy the col­or in which words were dis­played. (Note: now you see why we start­ed with that brain exer­cise…) The word  for instance, might appear in blue ink. The video watch­ers who had sti­fled their respons­es did the worst on the test, sug­gest­ing that their self-con­trol had already been deplet­ed by the film chal­lenge.”

- “Final­ly, some research sug­gests that peo­ple strug­gling with self-con­trol should start small. A few stud­ies show that peo­ple who were instruct­ed for two weeks to make small changes like improv­ing their pos­ture or brush­ing their teeth with their oppo­site hand improved their scores on lab­o­ra­to­ry tests of self-con­trol. The data aren’t con­clu­sive, but they do sug­gest that the quest for self-improve­ment should start small. A vow to stop swear­ing, to make the bed every day or to give up just one food may be a way to strength­en your self-con­trol, giv­ing you more willpow­er reserves for big­ger chal­lenges lat­er.”

Com­ment: learn­ing, build­ing abil­i­ties, are process­es that require prac­tice and grow­ing lev­els of dif­fi­cul­ty. Like train­ing our mus­cles in the gym. So the advice to start small and pro­gres­sive­ly do more makes sense. Many times the ene­my of learn­ing is the stress and anx­i­ety we pro­voke by try­ing to do too many things at the same time…

2) Jog­ging Your Mem­o­ry (Newsweek) Thanks Chris for alert­ing us!

- “No one should expect mir­a­cles soon, if at all. But the deep­er sci­en­tists peer into the work­ings of mem­o­ry, the bet­ter they under­stand what helps to stave off age-relat­ed declines and the clos­er they come to devis­ing poten­tial drugs to help.”

- “That’s why many sci­en­tists are more inter­est­ed in what we can accom­plish nat­u­ral­ly, with­out drugs. “With a rea­son­able amount of effort, you can improve your mem­o­ry 30 to 40 per­cent,” says Dr. Bar­ry Gor­don, founder of the mem­o­ry clin­ic at Johns Hop­kins. In the past year, research has shed new light in par­tic­u­lar on the ben­e­fits of both men­tal and phys­i­cal activ­i­ty.”

- “That’s why a pre­sen­ta­tion last month at the Geron­to­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca seemed so intrigu­ing. In a study of 524 healthy adults ages 65 and over, those who worked an hour a day for eight weeks on a com­put­er-based learn­ing pro­gram called Brain Fit­ness 2.0 from Posit Sci­ence showed improve­ments in a vari­ety of unre­lat­ed mem­o­ry tasks. “The gains were equiv­a­lent to turn­ing back the clock 10 years,” says lead inves­ti­ga­tor Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki of the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.”

Com­ment: we report­ed on the GSA study, have already inter­viewed lead inves­ti­ga­tor Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki, and will be pub­lish­ing it over the next few days so stay tuned. Good news is the well-tar­get­ed cog­ni­tive exer­cise can help build abil­i­ties, offer­ing a com­ple­ment to oth­er good lifestyle habits such as phys­i­cal exer­cise.

3) Men­tal Reserves Keep Brains Agile (New York Times). Thanks Tom for the heads up!

- “Cog­ni­tive reserve, in this the­o­ry, refers to the brain’s abil­i­ty to devel­op and main­tain extra neu­rons and con­nec­tions between them via axons and den­drites. Lat­er in life, these con­nec­tions may help com­pen­sate for the rise in demen­tia-relat­ed brain pathol­o­gy that accom­pa­nies nor­mal aging.”

- “Observ­ing this, Dr. Stern, a neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, and oth­ers set out to deter­mine how peo­ple can devel­op cog­ni­tive reserve. They have learned thus far that there is no “quick fix”  for the aging brain, and lit­tle evi­dence that any one sup­ple­ment or pro­gram or piece of equip­ment can pro­tect or enhance brain func­tion  adver­tise­ments for prod­ucts like gink­go bilo­ba to the con­trary.”

- “Nonethe­less, well-designed stud­ies sug­gest sev­er­al ways to improve the brain’s via­bil­i­ty. Though best to start ear­ly to build up cog­ni­tive reserve, there is evi­dence that this account can be replen­ished even late in life.”

- “If you’re doing the same thing over and over again, with­out intro­duc­ing new men­tal chal­lenges, it won’t be ben­e­fi­cial, she said in an inter­view. Thus, as with mus­cles, it’s “use it or lose it.” The brain requires con­tin­ued stress­es to main­tain or enhance its strength.”

Com­ment: you can read our in-depth inter­view with Dr. Yaakov Stern here on how to build our cog­ni­tive reserves. And this arti­cle that sum­ma­rizes much of the recent research on Ten Impor­tant Truths About Aging.

4) I.Q. wars (The New York­er), a superb arti­cle by Mal­colm Glad­well

- “…if I.Q. varies with habits of mind, which can be adopt­ed or dis­card­ed in a gen­er­a­tion, what, exact­ly, is all the fuss about?”

- “The mind is much more like a mus­cle than we’ve ever real­ized, Fly­nn said. “It needs to get cog­ni­tive exer­cise. It’s not some piece of clay on which you put an indeli­ble mark. The les­son to be drawn from black and white dif­fer­ences was the same as the les­son from the Nether­lands years ago: I.Q. mea­sures not just the qual­i­ty of a per­son­’s mind but the qual­i­ty of the world that per­son lives in.”

- “If I.Q. is innate, it should­n’t make a dif­fer­ence whether it’s a mixed-race child’s moth­er or father who is black. But it does: chil­dren with a white moth­er and a black father have an eight-point I.Q. advan­tage over those with a black moth­er and a white father.”

Com­ment: As we wrote here, genes pre­dis­pose us, but it is the com­bi­na­tion of our envi­ron­ments and our actions that we bet­ter focus on. This last arti­cle sets the stage very well for why intel­li­gence is not a pure­ly genet­ic attribute, and the pre­vi­ous three arti­cles offer very use­ful sug­ges­tions for becom­ing “smarter” and main­tain our men­tal abil­i­ties over time.

What would you add?

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9 Responses

  1. rest and activ­i­ty of the brain makes it more agile and improve mem­o­ry pow­er through med­i­ta­tion.

  2. the brain cor­re­sponds with exer­cis­ing the body? I think that is what the arti­cle is imply­ing — because what oth­er pur­pose would brush­ing your teeth with your left hand serve? I think it’s a very inter­est­ing the­o­ry and I would­n’t at all be sur­prised. While I try to do things like watch my pos­ture, I’m not sure how much it con­trols my sense of self-dis­ci­pline. Thanks for the post.

  3. Alvaro says:

    Hel­lo Ang, med­i­ta­tion indeed pro­vides very good men­tal train­ing. There was a good recent arti­cle in the LA Times,1,7691038.story

    To the oth­er com­menter: what is self-dis­ci­pline? the abil­i­ty to self-mon­i­tor our behav­ior and con­cious­ly decide what we want to do despite inter­nal urges to do oth­er­wise. For exam­ple, could you resist the temp­ta­tion to eat a hamburger/ drink a beer…if it is in your hands while you are watch­ing a cool ad for that hamburger/ beer? Brush­ing your teeth with your non-dom­i­nant hand is an exam­ple of an activ­i­ty that exer­cis­es self-dis­ci­pline while you are doing it, and the more you do oth­er exer­cis­es like that in real life the more that abil­i­ty gets inter­nal­ized and wired.

    Can you try that exer­cise for a cou­ple of weeks and let us know what you find 🙂

  4. C.G. Walters says:

    An excel­lent bit of work, Alvaro. Thank you.
    Peace and won­der,

  5. Ken says:

    Do you have pod­casts on the net?

  6. Alvaro says:

    Thanks, C. G.

    Ken, we don’t have a pod­cast now, but are indeed eval­u­at­ing options. It is not clear to us how much of a pri­or­i­ty this is, vs. oth­er projects such as video. Hap­py to hear sug­ges­tions and feed­back!

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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