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ETech09: on Life Hacking and Brain Training

Here you have the pre­sen­ta­tion I deliv­ered on Tues­day at ETech 2009 (this year’s O’Reilly Emerg­ing Tech­nol­o­gy Con­fer­ence):

Emerg­ing Research and Tech­nol­o­gy for Life Hacking/ Brain Train­ing

(click to open pre­sen­ta­tion in new win­dow)

Descrip­tion: Life hack­ing. Brain train­ing. They are one and the same. The brain’s frontal lobes enable our goal-ori­ent­ed behav­ior, sup­port­ing exec­u­tive func­tions, such as deci­sion-mak­ing, atten­tion, emo­tion­al self-reg­u­la­tion, goal-set­ting, and work­ing mem­o­ry. These func­tions can be enhanced with tar­get­ed prac­tice  such as life hack­ing. This ses­sion will pro­vide an overview of the cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science under­pin­ning life hack­ing, and review the state-of-the-art of non-inva­sive tools for brain train­ing: neu­ro­feed­back, biofeed­back, soft­ware appli­ca­tions, cog­ni­tive sim­u­la­tions, Tran­scra­nial Mag­net­ic Stim­u­la­tion, and plain-old med­i­ta­tion.

It was great to meet fel­low blog­gers and pre­sen­ters, such as Shel­ley Batts of Of Two Minds and Chris Patil of Ouroboros, and very inquisite and through­ful audi­ence mem­bers. Get­ting ready to speak at ASA/ NCOA and IHRSA next week!

Videogames for Cognitive Training?

There were a few inter­est­ing research papers pre­sent­ed at the last  Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion con­ven­tions around the theme:

Play­ing Video Games Offers Learn­ing Across Life Span, Say Stud­ies
— Skills Trans­fer to Class­room, Sur­gi­cal Pro­ce­dures, Sci­en­tif­ic Think­ing (press release)
.

Prob­a­bly the most inter­est­ing study was that of 303 laparo­scop­ic sur­geons, which “showed that sur­geons who played video games requir­ing spa­tial skills and hand dex­ter­i­ty and then per­formed a drill test­ing these skills were sig­nif­i­cant­ly faster at their first attempt and across all 10 tri­als than the sur­geons who did not the play video games first.”

The note goes fur­ther to explain the impli­ca­tions from this research:

The big pic­ture is that there are sev­er­al dimen­sions on which games have effects, includ­ing the amount they are played, the con­tent of each game, what you have to pay atten­tion to on the screen, and how you con­trol the motions,” said Gen­tile. “This means that games are not “good’ or bad,’ but are pow­er­ful edu­ca­tion­al tools and have many effects we might not have expect­ed they could.”

Very thought­ful quote. Please note a few ele­ments about Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Health: Physical or Mental Exercise?

Our fel­low blog­ger Jere­my over at Psy­Blog has writ­ten a thought­ful post com­par­ing the val­ue of a num­ber of cog­ni­tive enhanc­ing tools. His over­all ver­dict?

The evi­dence for exer­cise boost­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion is head-and-shoul­ders above that for brain train­ing, drugs, nutri­tion­al sup­ple­ments and med­i­ta­tion. Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, on the cur­rent evi­dence, exer­cise is the best way to enhance your cog­ni­tive func­tion. And as for its side-effects: yes there is the chance of an injury but exer­cise can also reduce weight, low­er the chance of demen­tia, improve mood and lead to a longer life-span. Damn those side-effects!”

Arti­cle: Which Cog­ni­tive Enhancers Real­ly Work: Brain Train­ing, Drugs, Vit­a­mins, Med­i­ta­tion or Exer­cise?

Jere­my, I start­ed writ­ing this as a com­ment to your post in your blog, but then it got too long. Let me write my reac­tion to your post here.

While I appre­ci­ate your analy­sis and share most of your points, I think the “rank­ing” effort (this type of inter­ven­tion is bet­ter than that one) is ulti­mate­ly mis­lead­ing.  It is Rubik's Cube brain exercisebased on a faulty search for a gen­er­al solution/ mag­ic pill for every­one and every­thing.

If only things were so sim­ple. Per­haps one day there will be research to sup­port that view, but cer­tain­ly not today. A num­ber of inter­ven­tions have shown their val­ue. In dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions, and con­texts. For “exer­cise is the best way to enhance your cog­ni­tive func­tion” to be true, one needs to have a pret­ty spe­cif­ic under­stand­ing of “best”, “your” and “cog­ni­tive func­tion”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Neurotechnology, Health and Brain Fitness News

Today we have a num­ber of indus­try announce­ments:

1) New edi­tions of these Blog Car­ni­vals (col­lec­tions of blog posts around spe­cif­ic top­ics)

2) The Neu­rotech­nol­o­gy Indus­try Orga­ni­za­tion has launched a Neu­rotech Job Board ded­i­cat­ed to com­mer­cial neu­ro­science (most­ly focused on clin­i­cal appli­ca­tions, like drugs and devices, not so much on pre­ven­tion, health & well­ness). And the Kaiser Foun­da­tion Reha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter is look­ing for a Research Project Man­ag­er.

3) The Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Sci­ence has final­ly released a report of the human enhance­ment work­shop that took place in June 2006. Read more about it at Zack’s blog.

4) Stephanie West Allen and Dr. Jef­frey Schwartz announce the Sched­ule of Events for their Brains On Pur­pose™ Sem­i­nars (“look­ing at con­flict and the process of con­flict res­o­lu­tion through the lens of neu­ro­science”): Col­orado in Octo­ber and Port­land in Novem­ber.

5) Reg­is­tra­tion is now open for my class on The Sci­ence of Brain Health and Brain Fit­ness (more here), Octo­ber 9 30, at UC Berke­ley Osh­er Life­long Learn­ing Insti­tute (OLLI).

6) A cou­ple of great Read the rest of this entry »

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