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Memory Improvement Techniques and Brain Exercises

Fitness TrainerA read­er (thanks Mike!) sends us this fun arti­cle, titled A mat­ter of train­ing, on how to train our mem­o­ry. Some quotes:

It’s a skill, not a tal­ent. It’s some­thing any­one could have picked up … I’m not born with this. It’s about train­ing and tech­nique, he says, explain­ing his unusu­al abil­i­ty. Anant holds the Lim­ca Record  the Indi­an equiv­a­lent of the Guin­ness Record œ for mem­o­ris­ing 75 tele­phone num­bers, along with the names of their own­ers, in less than an hour. He is recog­nised as “the man with the most phe­nom­e­nal mem­o­ry in India.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, most peo­ple think that mem­o­ris­ing is very dif­fi­cult. The moment they see some­one demon­strate some­thing like this, they think it’s out of this world.

If you want to remem­ber some­thing, you have to link it to some­thing you already know. Asso­ci­a­tion is the nat­ur­al prin­ci­pal. For exam­ple, if you need direc­tions to a place, a land­mark is often used as a point of ref­er­ence. And if you derive plea­sure from some­thing you do, there’s a good chance you’ll remem­ber it. Since the brain already works in this man­ner, why don’t we take con­trol of it?

To me, an intel­li­gent per­son is some­one who is able to put togeth­er more of his skills to solve a prob­lem. Intel­li­gence is about using strate­gies.

The key con­cept here is that mem­o­ry, as well as oth­er cog­ni­tive skills, can be trained through 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

Brain Teasers and Games for the Brain: Test your Brain

Frontal LobesIt is always good to stim­u­late our minds and to learn a bit about how our brains work. Here you have a selec­tion of the 50 Brain Teasers that peo­ple have enjoyed the most in our blog and speak­ing engage­ments.

Fun exper­i­ments on how our brains work

1. Do you think you know the col­ors?: try the Stroop Test.

2. Can you count?: Bas­ket­ball atten­tion exper­i­ment (Inter­ac­tive).

3. Who is this?: A very impor­tant lit­tle guy (Inter­ac­tive).

4. How is this pos­si­ble?.

5. Take the Sens­es Chal­lenge (Inter­ac­tive).

6. Are there more brain con­nec­tions or leaves in the Ama­zon?.

Atten­tionTwo In One Task

7. How are your divid­ed atten­tion skills? check out “Inside and Out­side” (Inter­ac­tive, from Mind­Fit).

8. Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? try “Two in One” (Inter­ac­tive, from Mind­Fit)

9. Count the Fs in this sen­tence.

10. What do you see? can you alter­nate between 2 views?.

Mem­o­ryPicasso Task

11. Easy one…draw the face of a pen­ny, please. Read the rest of this entry »

Working Memory: an image that says much

Working memory

(Graph Source: Kling­berg et al, 2005)

Work­ing mem­o­ry is a key cog­ni­tive func­tion that allows you to hold sev­er­al units of infor­ma­tion in mind “online” for brief peri­ods of time, typ­i­cal­ly a few sec­onds, and man­age them.

For exam­ple, if I tell you the 7 dig­its of my tele­phone num­ber, would you remem­ber them? and, could you tell them back to me…in reverse order?

Ques­tions:

- What if that curve could be moved upwards?

- What activ­i­ties may help kids and youth expand work­ing mem­o­ry?

- What activ­i­ties can help adults over 30 reduce that rate of decline?

- And what is the rela­tion­ship between work­ing mem­o­ry and the brain?

To Be Con­tin­ued…

Best of the Brain from Scientific American

Best of Brain, Scientific American

The Dana Foun­da­tion kind­ly sent us a copy of the great book Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, a col­lec­tion of 21 superb arti­cles pub­lished pre­vi­ous­ly in Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can mag­a­zine. A very nice­ly edit­ed and illus­trat­ed book, this is a must for any­one who enjoys learn­ing about the brain and spec­u­lat­ing about what the future will bring us.

Some essays, like the ones by Eric Kan­del (The New Sci­ence of Mind), Fred Gage (Brain, Repair Your­self), Carl Zim­mer (The Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy of the Self) and that by Steven Hol­lon, Michael Thase and John Markowitz (Treat­ing Depres­sion: Pills or Talk), are both intel­lec­tu­al feasts and very rel­e­vant to brain fit­ness. And final­ly start­ing to per­co­late into main­stream con­scious­ness.

Let me quote some quotes and reflec­tions as I was read­ing the book a cou­ple of days ago, in the court­yard of a beau­ti­ful French cafe in Berke­ley:

1) On Brain Plas­tic­i­ty (the abil­i­ty of the brain to rewire itself), Fred Gage says: “With­in the past 5 years, how­ev­er, neu­ro­sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that the brain does indeed change through­out life-…The new cells and con­nec­tions that we and oth­ers have doc­u­ment­ed may pro­vide the extra capac­i­ty the brain requires for the vari­ety of chal­lenges that indi­vid­u­als face through­out life. Such plas­tic­i­ty offers a pos­si­ble mech­a­nism through which the brain might be induced to repair itself after injury or dis­ease. It might even open the prospect of enhanc­ing an already healthy brain’s pow­er to think and abil­i­ty to feel”

2)  and How Expe­ri­ence affects Brain Struc­ture: Under the sec­tion title “A Brain Work­out”, Fred Gage says “One of the mot strik­ing aspects of neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (Note: the cre­ation of new neu­rons) is that expe­ri­ence can reg­u­late the rate of cell divi­sion, the sur­vival of new­born neu­rons and their abil­i­ty to inte­grate into the exist­ing neur­al circuits…The best way to aug­ment brain func­tion might not involve drugs or cell implants but lifestyle changes.”

3) Biol­o­gy of Mind: Eric Kan­del pro­vides a won­der­ful overview of the most Read the rest of this entry »

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