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3. Brain Training vs. Mental Activity

High­lights from Sec­tion 3: Brain Train­ing vs. Men­tal Activ­i­ty

  • Men­tal or brain exer­cise goes beyond men­tal activ­i­ty. It is the struc­tured use of cog­ni­tive exer­cis­es or tech­niques aimed at improv­ing spe­cif­ic brain func­tions.
  • Men­tal exer­cise (or brain train­ing) can be deliv­ered in a num­ber of ways: med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­a­py, cog­ni­tive train­ing.
  • Com­put­er­ized brain train­ing pro­grams can help get a com­plete men­tal work­out

In this sec­tion we focus on men­tal exer­cise “ which we will call brain train­ing, to clear­ly dis­tin­guish it from men­tal activ­i­ty in gen­er­al. First we try to define what brain train­ing is.  Then we high­light the dif­fer­ent way you can get some brain train­ing. Final­ly we focus on brain train­ing soft­ware pro­grams.

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What is mental exercise or brain training?

Men­tal activ­i­ty takes place when­ev­er one is awake, rang­ing from mere­ly day dream­ing to read­ing a book or learn­ing a new lan­guage. Men­tal exer­cise or brain train­ing refers to the struc­tured use of cog­ni­tive exer­cis­es or tech­niques. Its aim is to improve spe­cif­ic brain func­tions. Keep read­ing.

Different types of brain training

Cog­ni­tive ther­a­py (CT) is based on the idea that the way peo­ple per­ceive their expe­ri­ence influ­ences their behav­iors and emo­tions. Med­i­ta­tion has been shown to improve spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive func­tions such as atten­tion. Biofeed­back hard­ware devices mea­sure and graph­i­cal­ly dis­play var­i­ous phys­i­o­log­i­cal vari­ables such as skin con­duc­tiv­i­ty and heart rate vari­abil­i­ty, so that users can learn to self-adjust. Things are chang­ing as a vari­ety of com­mer­cial pro­grams is now mak­ing brain train­ing avail­able to the pub­lic.  Keep read­ing.

Therapy Session

Cognitive therapy as brain training

Cog­ni­tive ther­a­py (CT) was found­ed by Dr. Aaron Beck. It is based on the idea that the way peo­ple per­ceive their expe­ri­ence influ­ences their behav­iors and emo­tions. The ther­a­pist teach­es the patient cog­ni­tive and behav­ioral skills to mod­i­fy his or her dys­func­tion­al think­ing and actions. Keep read­ing.

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Meditation as brain training

You may be won­der­ing what med­i­ta­tion has to do with brain train­ing. In fact, med­i­ta­tion has been shown to improve spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive func­tions such as atten­tion. As such it can be con­sid­ered as a brain train­ing tech­nique. Keep read­ing.

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Biofeedback as brain training

Biofeed­back hard­ware devices mea­sure and graph­i­cal­ly dis­play var­i­ous phys­i­o­log­i­cal vari­ables such as skin con­duc­tiv­i­ty and heart rate vari­abil­i­ty, so that users can learn to self-adjust. It has been used for decades in med­i­cine. Recent­ly, this tech­nol­o­gy has emerged in rea­son­ably-priced appli­ca­tions for con­sumers who want to learn how to man­age stress bet­ter. Keep read­ing.

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Computerized cognitive training as brain training

For many years, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists have helped indi­vid­u­als suf­fer­ing from trau­mat­ic brain injuries relearn how to talk, walk or make deci­sions, etc.  Among oth­er tools, cog­ni­tive exer­cis­es (includ­ing com­put­er-assist­ed strate­gies) have been used to retrain abil­i­ties. Things are chang­ing as a vari­ety of com­mer­cial pro­grams is now mak­ing brain train­ing avail­able to the pub­lic. The chal­lenge is to make informed deci­sions on which tools may be appro­pri­ate for spe­cif­ic needs and goals. Keep read­ing.

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Brief history of brain training software

Struc­tured sets of brain exer­cis­es designed to train spe­cif­ic brain areas and func­tions have been used by the mil­i­tary and by clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­o­gists for a long time. What is hap­pen­ing now is that this approach is being repack­aged and com­mer­cial­ized for new and wider audi­ences. Keep read­ing.

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Do brain training software programs and “brain games” work?

To deter­mine if some­thing works we first need to define what we mean by work. A machine to train abdom­i­nal mus­cles prob­a­bly won’t work if what we mea­sure is blood pres­sure. In the same way, a pro­gram train­ing audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing speed may not work if visu­al func­tions are mea­sured for a bet­ter under­stand­ing of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. Keep read­ing.

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The need for better education and standards

Brain train­ing is now a house­hold expres­sion for many fam­i­lies, cour­tesy of Nin­ten­do. What is less vis­i­ble than Nintendo’s suc­cess is the grow­ing num­ber of sci­ence-based com­pa­nies that aim to train spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive skills. Posit Sci­ence has been get­ting increas­ing lev­els of atten­tion, includ­ing a PBS Spe­cial. Keep read­ing.

Keep learn­ing by read­ing more arti­cles in the Resources sec­tion, and also please con­sid­er join­ing our free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewslet­ter

This new online resource is based on the con­tent from the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fer­nan­dez and Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg.

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.