Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Working Memory Training can Influence Brain Biochemistry

I want­ed to alert you to a very inter­est­ing find­ing pub­lished in a recent issue of Sci­ence, one of the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals.

The study was led by Dr. Torkel Kling­berg and his col­leagues from the Karolin­s­ka Insti­tute Torkel Klingbergin Swe­den. The goal was to learn whether Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing is asso­ci­at­ed with changes in brain bio­chem­istry, thus sug­gest­ing a mech­a­nism by which train­ing may lead to enhanced work­ing mem­o­ry capac­i­ty and a reduc­tion in atten­tion prob­lems. Thus, although Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing has pre­vi­ous­ly shown promis­ing results as a treat­ment for work­ing mem­o­ry and atten­tion dif­fi­cul­ties, this was a basic sci­ence study rather than a treat­ment study.

The major find­ing was that increased work­ing mem­o­ry capac­i­ty fol­low­ing train­ing was asso­ci­at­ed with changes in brain bio­chem­istry. Specif­i­cal­ly, the researchers found changes in the den­si­ty and bind­ing poten­tial of cor­ti­cal D1 dopamine recep­tors in brain regions that are acti­vat­ed dur­ing work­ing mem­o­ry tasks.

Results from this study sug­gest a bio­log­i­cal basis for the improve­ment in work­ing mem­o­ry capac­i­ty and reduc­tions i Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Training (Cogmed) Changes the Brain More Than We Thought

Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Can Alter Bio­chem­istry Of The Brain (Sci­ence Dai­ly)

- “Researchers at the Swedish med­ical uni­ver­si­ty Karolin­s­ka Insti­tute have shown for the first time that the active train­ing of the work­ing mem­o­ry brings about vis­i­ble changes in the num­ber of dopamine recep­tors in the human brain.”

- ““Brain bio­chem­istry does­n’t just under­pin our men­tal activ­i­ty; our men­tal activ­i­ty and think­ing process can also affect the bio­chem­istry,” says Pro­fes­sor Torkel Kling­berg, who led the study.”

- “Changes in the num­ber of dopamine recep­tors in a per­son does­n’t give us the key to poor mem­o­ry,” says Pro­fes­sor Lars Farde, one of the researchers who took part in the study. “We also have to ask if the dif­fer­ences could have been caused by a lack of mem­o­ry train­ing or oth­er envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors. Maybe we’ll be able to find new, more effec­tive treat­ments that com­bine med­ica­tion and cog­ni­tive train­ing, in which case we’re in extreme­ly inter­est­ing ter­ri­to­ry.”

Com­ment:  could­n’t agree more with “Maybe we’ll be able to find new, more effec­tive treat­ments that com­bine med­ica­tion and cog­ni­tive train­ing, in which case we’re in extreme­ly inter­est­ing ter­ri­to­ry.” This study adds a very impor­tant angle to the grow­ing lit­er­a­ture on work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing, show­ing a more fun­da­men­tal, struc­tur­al impact, that once thought (such as the well-known effect that “cells that fire togeth­er wire togeth­er”). The com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive pro­gram used in the study was Cogmed work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing.

More on Torkel Kling­berg’s research:

- Arti­cle writ­ten by Torkel Kling­berg on The Over­flow­ing Brain & Infor­ma­tion Over­load

- His recent book, which was The Sharp­Brains Most Impor­tant Book of 2008: The Over­flow­ing Brain: Infor­ma­tion Over­load and the Lim­its of Work­ing Mem­o­ry

- 2006 Inter­view with Dr. Kling­berg: Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing and RoboMemo: Inter­view with Dr. Torkel Kling­berg

Use It or Lose It, and Cells that Fire together Wire together

Every­one has heard of “Use It or Lose It.” Now…what is “It”?

Last week I gave a talk at the Ital­ian Con­sulate in San Fran­cis­co, and one of the areas atten­dees seemed to enjoy the most was learn­ing about what our brains are and how they work, peak­ing into the “black box” of our minds. With­out under­stand­ing a few basics, how can we make good deci­sions about brain health?

At a quick glance:, the brain is com­posed of 3 “brains” or main sub-sys­tems, each named after the evo­lu­tion­ary moment in which the sub-sys­tem is believed to have appeared. 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 »

Information Overload? Seven Learning and Productivity Tips

We often talk in this blog about how to expand fun­da­men­tal abil­i­ties or cog­ni­tive func­tions, like atten­tion, or mem­o­ry, or emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion. Think of them as mus­cles one can train. Now, it is also impor­tant to think of ways one can use our exist­ing mus­cles more effi­cient­ly.

Let’s talk about how to man­age bet­ter the over­whelm­ing amount of infor­ma­tion avail­able these days.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of new books, ana­lyst reports, sci­en­tif­ic papers pub­lished every year. Mil­lions of web­sites at our googletips. The flow of data, infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge is grow­ing expo­nen­tial­ly, stretch­ing the capac­i­ty of our not-so-evolved brains. We can com­plain all day that we can­not process ALL this flow. Now, let me ask, should we even try?

Prob­a­bly not. Why engage in a los­ing propo­si­tion. Instead, let me offer a few strate­gies that can help man­age this flow of infor­ma­tion bet­ter.

1. Pri­or­i­tize: strate­gic con­sult­ing firms such as McK­in­sey and BCG train their staff in the so-called 80/20 rule: 80% of effects are caused by the top 20% of caus­es. In a com­pa­ny, 80% sales may come from 20% of the accounts. Impli­ca­tion: focus on that top 20%; don’t spend too much time on the 80% that only account for 20%.

2. Lever­age a sci­en­tif­ic mind­set. Sci­en­tists shift through tons of data in effi­cient, goal-ori­ent­ed ways. How do they do it? By first stat­ing a hypoth­e­sis and then look­ing for data. For exam­ple, an untrained per­son could spend weeks “boil­ing the ocean”, try­ing to read as much as pos­si­ble, in a very frag­men­tary way, about how phys­i­cal exer­cise affects our brain. A trained sci­en­tist would first define clear hypothe­ses and pre­lim­i­nary assump­tions, such as “Phys­i­cal exer­cise can enhance the brain’s abil­i­ty to gen­er­ate new neu­rons” or “Those new neu­rons appear in the hip­pocam­pus”, and then look specif­i­cal­ly for data that cor­rob­o­rates or refutes those sen­tences, enabling him or her to refine the hypothe­ses fur­ther, based on accu­mu­lat­ed knowl­edge, in a vir­tu­ous learn­ing cycle.

3. Beat your ene­mies-like exces­sive TV watch­ing. Watch­ing TV five hours a day has an effect on your brain: it trains one’s brain to become a visu­al, usu­al­ly unre­flec­tive, pas­sive recip­i­ent of infor­ma­tion. You may have heard the expres­sion “Cells that fire togeth­er wire togeth­er”. Our brains are com­posed of bil­lions of neu­rons, each of which can have thou­sand of con­nec­tions to oth­er neu­rons. Any thing we do in life is going to acti­vate a spe­cif­ic net­works of neu­rons. Visu­al­ize a mil­lion neu­rons fir­ing at the same time when you watch a TV pro­gram. Now, the more TV you watch, the more those neu­rons will fire togeth­er, and there­fore the more they will wire togeth­er (mean­ing that the con­nec­tions between them become, phys­i­cal­ly, stronger), which then cre­ates auto­mat­ic-like reac­tions. A heavy TV-watch­er is mak­ing him­self or her­self more pas­sive, unre­flec­tive, per­son. Exact­ly the oppo­site of what one needs to apply the oth­er tips described here. Con­tin­ue Read­ing

About SharpBrains

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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