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5 Tips on Lifelong Learning and Neuroplasticity for the Adult Brain

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Learn­ing & the Brain is a con­fer­ence that gets marked on my cal­en­dar annu­al­ly because I always return home hav­ing either been exposed to new infor­ma­tion, or with a new per­spec­tive on an old top­ic. Last month’s con­fer­ence in Cam­bridge, MA, themed Using Emo­tions Research to Enhance Learn­ing & Achieve­ment, was no excep­tion. As with pre­vi­ous con­fer­ences, in addi­tion to the many keynote ses­sions, I focused on the adult learn­ing strand, since so much of my time is spent pro­vid­ing pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment for, and col­lab­o­rat­ing with adults. Here are five con­fer­ence cues as they relate to edu­ca­tion.

1. CHALLENGE YOURSELF WITH NEW LEARNING

Aaron Nel­son stat­ed that our mem­o­ry starts to decline between ages twen­ty-five and thir­ty, or to phrase it a bit more pos­i­tive­ly, Sam Wang says our mem­o­ry peaks around age thir­ty. On the oth­er end of the age spec­trum, accord­ing to Ken Kosik, there is unequiv­o­cal evi­dence that edu­ca­tion pro­tects against Alzheimer’s. Both Nel­son and Kosik men­tioned the the­o­ry of cog­ni­tive reserve, which trans­lates rough­ly to the more we learn, the more con­nec­tions we cre­ate, and there­fore the greater the neu­ronal buffer we have to draw upon as we age.

Elkhonon Gold­berg of The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness stat­ed at last April’s con­fer­ence that “as one ages, the domain of the nov­el shrinks, and the domain of what is known grows”. He cau­tioned the audi­ence to beware of being on men­tal autopi­lot. Thus, the goal is not to sim­ply get bet­ter at doing more of the same. The type of learn­ing that makes a dif­fer­ence con­sists specif­i­cal­ly of new, nov­el chal­lenges. The result of such engage­ment is that Read the rest of this entry »

Darwin’s adult neuroplasticity

Charles Darwin 1880Charles Dar­win (1809–1882)‘s auto­bi­og­ra­phy (full text free online) includes some very insight­ful refec­tions on the evo­lu­tion of his own mind dur­ing his mid­dle-age, show­cas­ing the pow­er of the brain to rewire itself through expe­ri­ence (neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty) dur­ing our whole life­times-not just when we are youngest.

He wrote these paragraphs at the age of 72 (I have bold­ed some key sen­tences for empha­sis, the whole text makes great read­ing):

I have said that in one respect my mind has changed dur­ing the last twen­ty or thir­ty years. Up to the age of thir­ty, or beyond it, poet­ry of many kinds, such as the works of Mil­ton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shel­ley, gave me great plea­sure, and even as a school­boy I took intense delight in Shake­speare, espe­cial­ly in the his­tor­i­cal plays. I have also said that for­mer­ly pic­tures gave me con­sid­er­able, and music very great delight. But now for many years I can­not endure to read a line of poet­ry: I have tried late­ly to read Shake­speare, and found it so intol­er­a­bly dull that it nau­se­at­ed me. I have also almost lost my taste for pic­tures or music. Music gen­er­al­ly sets me think­ing too ener­get­i­cal­ly on what I have been at work on, instead of giv­ing me plea­sure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquis­ite delight which it for­mer­ly did. On the oth­er hand, nov­els which are works of the imag­i­na­tion, though not of a very high order, have been for years a won­der­ful relief and plea­sure to me, and I often bless all nov­el­ists. A sur­pris­ing num­ber have been read aloud to me, and I like all if mod­er­ate­ly good, and if they do not end unhap­pi­ly– against which a law ought to be passed. A nov­el, accord­ing to my taste, does not come into the first class unless it con­tains some per­son whom one can thor­ough­ly love, and if a pret­ty woman all the bet­ter.

This curi­ous and lam­en­ta­ble loss of the high­er aes­thet­ic tastes is all the odd­er, as books on his­to­ry, biogra­phies, and trav­els (inde­pen­dent­ly of any sci­en­tif­ic facts which they may con­tain), and essays on all sorts of sub­jects inter­est me as much as ever they did. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grind­ing gen­er­al laws out of large col­lec­tions of facts, but why this should have caused the atro­phy of that part of the brain alone, on which the high­er tastes depend, I can­not con­ceive. A man with Read the rest of this entry »

Feed Your Brain with Fun Neuroscience

Thinking menTo all new read­ers-Wel­come!. The Digg Tsuna­mi has brought over 40,000 vis­i­tors so far…and it con­tin­ues. We need to thank Andrey for his excel­lent tech­ni­cal work in help­ing us ride such a beau­ti­ful wave.

Let me give you an overview of what you can find in our blog, bridg­ing neu­ro­science research and brain health/ “brain exer­cise” prac­tice. First, here you have a few of my favorite quotes from the 10 inter­views we have done with neu­ro­science and psy­chol­o­gy experts in cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al train­ing in our Neu­ro­science Inter­view Series. You can read the in-depth inter­view notes for each if you want to stim­u­late those neu­rons…

  • Learn­ing is phys­i­cal. Learn­ing means the mod­i­fi­ca­tion, growth, and prun­ing of our neu­rons, con­nec­tions called synaps­es and neu­ronal net­works, through experience…we are cul­ti­vat­ing our own neu­ronal net­works.- Dr. James Zull, Pro­fes­sor of Biol­o­gy and Bio­chem­istry at Case West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty: Read Inter­view Notes
  • Exer­cis­ing our brains sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly ways is as impor­tant as exer­cis­ing our bod­ies. In my expe­ri­ence, “Use it or lose it should real­ly be “Use it and get more of it.- Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, and dis­ci­ple of the great neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Alexan­der Luria: Read Inter­view Notes
  • Indi­vid­u­als who lead men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing lives, through edu­ca­tion, occu­pa­tion and leisure activ­i­ties, have reduced risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms. Stud­ies sug­gest that they have 35–40% less risk of man­i­fest­ing the dis­ease - Dr. Yaakov Stern, Divi­sion Leader of the Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Divi­sion of the Sergievsky Cen­ter at the Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons of Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, New York: Read Inter­view Notes

Vitruvian ManWhat research has shown is that Read the rest of this entry »

Working Memory Training from a pediatrician perspective, focused on attention deficits

Arthur Lavin Today we inter­view Dr. Arthur Lavin, Asso­ciate Clin­i­cal Pro­fes­sor of Pedi­atrics at Case West­ern School of Med­i­cine, pedi­a­tri­cian in pri­vate prac­tice, and one of the first providers of Cogmed Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing in the US (the pro­gram whose research we dis­cussed with Dr. Torkel Kling­berg and Dr. Bradley Gib­son). Dr. Lavin has a long stand­ing inter­est in tech­nol­o­gy-as evi­denced by Microsoft’s recog­ni­tion of his paper­less office- and in brain research and appli­ca­tions-he trained with esteemed Mel Levine from All Kinds of Minds-.

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Key take-aways:

- Schools today are not yet in a posi­tion to effec­tive­ly help kids with cog­ni­tive issues deal with increas­ing cog­ni­tive demands.

- Work­ing Mem­o­ry is a cog­ni­tive skill fun­da­men­tal to plan­ning, sequenc­ing, and exe­cut­ing school-relat­ed work.

- Work­ing Mem­o­ry can be trained, as evi­denced by Dr. Lavin’s work, based on Cogmed Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing, with kids who have atten­tion deficits.

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Con­text on cog­ni­tive fit­ness and schools

AF (Alvaro Fer­nan­dez): Dr. Lavin, thanks for being with us. It is not very com­mon for a pedi­a­tri­cian to have such an active inter­est in brain research and cog­ni­tive fit­ness. Can you explain the source of your inter­est?

AL (Arthur Lavin): Through­out my life I have been fas­ci­nat­ed by how the mind works. Both from the research point of view and the prac­ti­cal one: how can sci­en­tists’ increas­ing knowl­edge improve kids’ lives? We now live in an tru­ly excit­ing era in which sol­id sci­en­tif­ic progress in neu­ro­science is at last cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to improve people’s actu­al cog­ni­tive func­tion. The progress Cogmed has achieved in cre­at­ing a pro­gram that can make great dif­fer­ences in the lives of chil­dren with atten­tion deficits is one of the most excit­ing recent devel­op­ments. My col­league Ms. Susan Glaser and I recent­ly pub­lished two books: Who’s Boss: Mov­ing Fam­i­lies from Con­flict to Col­lab­o­ra­tion (Col­lab­o­ra­tion Press, 2006) and Baby & Tod­dler Sleep Solu­tions for Dum­mies (Wiley, 2007), so I not only see myself as a pedi­a­tri­cian but also an edu­ca­tor. I see par­ents in real need of guid­ance and sup­port. They usu­al­ly are both very skep­ti­cal, since Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Training: the Art and the emerging Science

Tom alerts us (thanks!) of a fun book review in the New York Times today, by Abi­gail Zuger, titled The Brain: Mal­leable, Capa­ble, Vul­ner­a­ble, on the book The Brain That Changes Itself (Viking, $24.95) by psy­chi­a­trist Nor­man Doidge. Some quotes:

  • In book­stores, the sci­ence aisle gen­er­al­ly lies well away from the self-help sec­tion, with hard real­i­ty on one set of shelves and wish­ful think­ing on the oth­er. But Nor­man Doidge’s fas­ci­nat­ing syn­op­sis of the cur­rent rev­o­lu­tion in neu­ro­science strad­dles this gap: the age-old dis­tinc­tion between the brain and the mind is crum­bling fast as the pow­er of pos­i­tive think­ing final­ly gains sci­en­tif­ic cred­i­bil­i­ty.”
  • So it is for­giv­able that Dr. Doidge, a Cana­di­an psy­chi­a­trist and award-win­ning sci­ence writer, recounts the accom­plish­ments of the “neu­ro­plas­ti­cians,”  as he calls the neu­ro­sci­en­tists involved in these new stud­ies, with breath­less rev­er­ence. Their work is indeed mind-bend­ing, mir­a­cle-mak­ing, real­i­ty-bust­ing stuff, with impli­ca­tions, as Dr. Doidge notes, not only for indi­vid­ual patients with neu­ro­log­ic dis­ease but for all human beings, not to men­tion human cul­ture, human learn­ing and human his­to­ry.”
  • Research into the mal­leabil­i­ty of the nor­mal brain has been no less amaz­ing. Sub­jects who learn to play a sequence of notes on the piano devel­op char­ac­ter­is­tic changes in the brain’s elec­tric activ­i­ty; when oth­er sub­jects sit in front of a piano and just think about play­ing the same notes, the same changes occur. It is the vir­tu­al made real, a sol­id quan­tifi­ca­tion of the pow­er of thought.”
  • The new sci­ence of the brain may still be in its infan­cy, but already, as Dr. Doidge makes quite clear, the sci­en­tif­ic minds are leap­ing ahead.”

Here you have some of our inter­views with a few “sci­en­tif­ic minds” that have, for years, been “leap­ing ahead” beyond “pos­i­tive think­ing” into “pos­i­tive train­ing”:

And a cou­ple of relat­ed blog posts:

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